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A Business Earning Certifications

Updated List of Ethical Certifications for Businesses in 2024

When it comes to ethics, there are two types of businesses. There are the businesses that say the words and the businesses that walk the walk. If you want to show the world that you make a tangible difference and that you aren’t afraid to prove it, sustainability certifications are a good way to go about it.

The trick is, there are a lot of certifications and labels, and not all of them are valid. Some of them are from such small “authorities” that they might as well be vanity labels. Some of them are vanity labels. Some of them are made effectively in-house by the company they certify.

Others are valid but may not be relevant. For example, Fairtrade is a top-tier, international certification that your business is working ethically throughout your entire supply line. That’s great, and it’s an excellent and rigorous certification to obtain. At the same time, it’s completely irrelevant to a huge number of industries since it’s heavily focused on farms and raw material producers. If you don’t qualify as part of that supply line, you can’t earn that certification, even if you meet all of their standards.

Fortunately, there are quite a few good certifications out there you can pursue if they’re relevant to your business. They may take some legwork, some investment, and some time, but the results speak for themselves.

Fairtrade Certification

Fairtrade International, and the various nation-level Fairtrade organizations, is an auditing and authoritative body that oversees and attempts to regulate (or at least put pressure on) businesses and, more specifically, farms and material producers. The goal is for ethical, sustainable, and equitable production. Fairtrade offers validation of fairtrade goods and offers a somewhat expensive certification process for businesses and for farms and producers. For farms, they recognize that it’s much less expensive to do things in an exploitative way, so they offer financial support to those farms that would operate in ethical, equitable, and eco-friendly ways.

A Fairtrade Certified Business

Fairtrade is tricky for many businesses because you can only be Fairtrade certified if your products are wholly made with Fairtrade materials. For a company like ours, with hundreds of products, there’s usually bound to be some that aren’t fairtrade-qualified, so such businesses can’t earn the fairtrade label. Still, Fairtrade is one of the best international ethical certifications you can get if you can get it.

B Corporation

B Corporation is a designation that a business – virtually any business, large or small, in any industry – can earn. It’s a validation of business practices and proof that the business operates in an ethically transparent, accountable, socially progressive, and environmentally sustainable way. They’re right up there with Fairtrade in terms of being a trusted, international, and widely recognized proof of power. Unlike Fairtrade, they work with pretty much any kind of business, as long as that business is committed to social and environmental performance.

B Corporation

B Corp certification is variable depending on the type and size of the business seeking certification. It can be quite difficult, but it is well worth obtaining for the label and prestige it can give you. You can read more about it here.

Global Organic Textile Standard

The Global Organic Textile Standard, or GOTS, is a worldwide certification awarded to organic fiber and textile products that meet certain criteria. It’s kind of like Fairtrade, but specifically for organic textiles.

Global Organic Textile Standard

Cotton producers and producers of hemp and other fibers can qualify if they’re willing to undergo the certification process. The entire process, from farm to manufacturing, is analyzed as part of the certifying inspection, so it’s fairly comprehensive and rigorous. You can learn more about the certification, the organization, and the process here.

Positive Luxury

Positive Luxury, also known as the Butterfly Mark, is a sustainability certification for luxury brands. The Butterfly Mark requires extensive analysis, auditing, and assessment of the business, including your social structures, business governance, and environmental commitment. You have to meet at least 80% of the criteria they issue in order to earn the mark.

Positive Luxury

Positive Luxury requires a high degree of commitment to environmental sustainability and ethical production. It also puts some emphasis on innovation, and they don’t award it much to brands just doing the same old things. It’s aimed primarily at high-end luxury products, in particular.

1% For the Planet

1% for the Planet is an interesting twist on the usual certification process. Rather than a certification about your own business commitments, structure, or processes, it’s purely a financial commitment. There’s really not actually much to it; you apply and discuss your values and goals with the organization. They then link you with a nonprofit organization that shares those values.

1 Percent For the Planet

This is where the 1% part comes in. By participating in 1% for the Planet, your brand agrees to donate 1% of your gross sales profit to the nonprofit you’ve linked to. This is a tangible commitment of a portion of your profits that goes directly to an organization dedicated to progressive, ethical, and sustainable initiatives. In return, you can use the icon on your products, which lets consumers know that some portion of their purchase is going towards making a positive impact.

ISO 14001

ISO 14001 is an international standard that was initially published in its current form in 2015 and last reviewed in 2021 to remain updated. It’s a framework for organizational design and environmental performance meant to provide businesses with a set of standards they can use to achieve at least a minimum baseline level of ethical standardization. It’s not the most rigorous standard in the world, but in general, ISO standards are widely recognized and trusted, so you know it’s at least somewhat valid and useful simply because of what it is.

ISO 14001

You can view the ISO documentation here. There are also plenty of companies that will help you audit your processes and achieve compliance, if you want to work with a third-party vendor for that process.

Standard 100

Standard 100 is from OEKO-TEXO and is one of many such labels. It’s another relatively narrow certification, but it can be very important to the kinds of people who care about what it means. So what does it mean?

OEKO-TEX Standard 100

Standard 100 applies to textiles and products in the textile industry, which includes everything from upholstery to household fabrics to fashion products. It’s a certification that the textile is made entirely without harmful substances. In addition to self-certifying and sending documentation to the OEKO-TEXO institute, you need to send a sample of your products and the chemicals involved in manufacturing them to validate that none of them are harmful.

Leaping Bunny

While it might seem whimsical, leaping bunny is one of the most deeply relevant certifications for ethical production today. It’s the certification that is issued by Cruelty-Free International, a global nonprofit that is working to remove animal testing and systemic animal cruelty.

Leaping Bunny

It’s largely aimed at personal care and cosmetic products but is also relevant for cleaning and other household goods. It certifies that your products are completely free of animal testing and animal cruelty, and that includes not just the production and manufacture but the manufacturing of ingredients and even the research to create the product in the first place. Certification requires a deep and careful audit to achieve.

Rainforest Alliance

The Rainforest Alliance is a group with the goal of supporting economic, environmental, and social sustainability. Their work is mostly with farmers, and aims to combat environmental destruction, deforestation, and similar mismanagement. They also help with farmer pay rates and working conditions; in many ways, they’re similar to Fairtrade. They also work with tourism companies and paper products.

Rainforest Alliance Certificate Holders

They’ve just recently – well, about four years ago, but still – released new guidelines and a new process, so if you’re in an industry and position where you can pursue their certification, you can read more here.

Green Business Benchmark

Formerly known as the Green Business Bureau, the GBB is less of a specific individual certification and more of a process and commitment.

Green Business Benchmark

The idea is that you sign up and work with them to develop specific goals and standards for your business to reach. These are meant to be somewhat progressive goals that require some effort to reach in a way that encourages improvement. Then, over time, as you maintain those standards, you can increase them to further the goals of sustainability and ethical business. Learn more here.

Vegan Standards

There are actually numerous organizations working to push vegan ideals and incentives, for vegan food products, as well as products that use plant materials.

The Certified Vegan Logo

These include:

  • Vegan.org’s Vegan Action Certified Vegan
  • The Vegan Society’s Vegan Trademark
  • PETA’s Vegan Approval

As you can see from the inclusion of PETA, these run the gamut from useful to wasteful. PETA is known for a lot of frankly quite harmful actions and malicious conduct, but that doesn’t reflect on the concept of veganism. Vegan-focused certifications are an avenue to pursue if you’re in that particular niche, regardless.

Green Business Certification Inc.

GBCI is not itself a certification; rather, it’s more like a certifying body. It’s a global organization that puts out standards for certain kinds of products, and those standards have associated certifications.

Green Business Certification Inc

They include:

  • LEED, a green building certification.
  • TRUE, a zero-waste certification.
  • SITES, a sustainable landscape development certification.
  • WELL, a certification for building design that improves human health.
  • PEER, a power system sustainability certification.
  • EDGE, a resource and efficiency rating and certification for buildings.

As you can see, most of their certifications center around architecture and building design. The design of our cities and buildings is a key part of our environmental impact, so it’s a good area to focus on when you can.

Cradle to Cradle

Cradle to Cradle certification is a five-fold certification aimed at circular product creation. They analyze and certify a product in terms of material health, circularity, social fairness, water/soil stewardship, and air and climate protection.

Cradle to Cradle

Since this can encompass many different kinds of products, you can see their certification on things ranging from interior finishes to household products to cosmetics, as well as furniture, electronics, and packaging products. It’s overall a fairly robust certification.

What Certification is Right for You?

We’ve covered a lot of certifications here today, but this is only scratching the surface. You can also look into things like:

  • Energy Star
  • EWG Verified
  • Social Accountability International
  • Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production
  • Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit
  • Responsible Wool Standard
  • Global Recycled Standard
  • Recycled Content Certification
  • Soil Association
  • Climate Neutral
  • Fair For Life
  • Goodwell
  • Marine Stewardship Council
  • Regenerative Organic Certified

There are many possible certifications. So, how do you know which one is right for you?

A Person Receiving a Certificate

First, consider the source. Is this a certification coming from a national or international nonprofit organization or some small group that only has a few dozen companies working with it, if that? The larger and more broadly recognized the certification, the better and more valuable it is.

Second, consider the certification process. How rigorous is it? Is there an audit? Are there third-party reviewers, lab tests, samples, and more? If so, it’s likely a better certification. If you’re just filing some paperwork, paying a fee, and self-certifying, you’re not really proving much.

Third, of course, consider the industry. A company producing coffee doesn’t need to pursue the responsible wool standard, right? Some certifications just aren’t relevant to you, and that’s okay.

Finally, remember that a certification isn’t a requirement to be ethical, sustainable, progressive, forward-thinking, and socially relevant. Doing the right thing is something we can all strive for, and as long as we put our best foot forward and move in the right direction, it’s the improvement and the action that counts, not the marketing.

At Ethix, for example, we don’t hold any of these certifications. For one thing, we source our products from local producers whenever possible, and many of them don’t seek certification even if they can, so we can’t validate their products for them. For another, though, we’re always trying to improve and do better, and oftentimes, the slow and tedious certification process delays and stagnates a business if it isn’t careful. We want to be ethical, agile, and not locked in.

If you want to learn more about our ethical stances or the sourcing of any of our products, we’d love to hear from you!