Travelers in the green sphere, those who desire products made using green or sustainable processes, have no end of choices in standards and organizational bodies to determine if particular products meet their definition of green. But what about the company that made that product? Does the company operate in a sustainable fashion, or does its operations totally negate any advantages of their green product? How do you rate the “greenosity” of a manufacturer?
The folks at Underwriters Laboratories were asking the same questions. So in late 2009, Underwriters Laboratory Environment (UL E) partnered with the GreenBiz Group to develop a way to identify and rate the sustainability of manufacturers. The result is a certification process called ULE 880: Sustainability for Manufacturing Organizations.
Today, more than two years later, ULE 880 is entering its first pilot programs after several rounds of development talks and conferences with stakeholders: individuals, companies and organizations that possess an interest in the development of the standard. First round talks generated over 1,500 comments from 740 stakeholders, the greatest number ever received for a UL standard.
ULE 880 was patterned after the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) model used to establish the green rating of buildings. Developed by the U. S. Green Building Council, LEED identifies and implements practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations, and maintenance through a point-based system. In similar fashion, manufacturers seeking ULE 880 certification receive point awards based on established auditable criteria as measured by outside third parties. The point value is submitted to UL Environment, who issues a certificate at a level complying with the manufacturer’s measured sustainability quotient.
Primarily, ULE 880 develops a uniform set of standards. This creates opportunities for manufacturers to heighten their green credentials by being seen as operating sustainably across a spectrum of issues.
The response to ULE 880 confirms the need for established procedures for independently auditing sustainability practices, particularly in light of increasing calls for transparency and combined financial and sustainability reporting. It also throws a spotlight on the growing need for companies to face the problems of difficult social conditions and environmental degradation and directly manage these external problems.
ULE 880 distills the best thinking on organizational sustainability into a single standard that helps companies and their customers understand what it takes to become a more sustainable corporate citizen.
ULE 880 architecture
ULE 880 defines five core areas of interest or domains for manufacturers: sustainability governance; environment; workforce; customers and supplies; and community engagement and human rights.
Sustainability governance includes strategic planning for sustainability, board oversight, internal stakeholder engagement, ethics, and creating infrastructure and fostering behaviors to create a culture of sustainability.
Environment covers aspects of product stewardship, sustainable resources use, environmental management, energy efficiency and carbon management, materials optimization, facilities and land use, habitat restoration, and waste prevention.
Workforce includes professional development, workplace integrity, employee satisfaction and retention, workplace safety, and employee health and well being.
Customers and suppliers cover fair marketing practices, product safety, customer support and complaint resolution, and sustainable supply-chain management, monitoring, and improvement.
Finally, community engagement and human-rights involves a community impact assessment, community investment, and human rights issues for members of the community.
Each domain breaks down into a series of prerequisites, core indicators, and leadership indicators. Overall, the standard includes seven prerequisites, 19 core indicators that can award up to 159 points, and 74 leadership indicators with 841 points available. The core and leadership indicators are weighted with a point value based on what’s currently happening in the manufacturing sector, what are considered best practices, and how much effort it takes to accomplish this indicator. All items are factored in and a point value is assigned to each indicator for a total of 1,000 possible points across the entire standard. In addition, there are 25 innovation indicators that recognize performance beyond these requirements that can add to the overall score.
An applicant for ULE 880 certification must first meet all seven prerequisites. Then the company must score a specified minimum number of points in all 19 core indicators across every domain before they are considered for certification. Earlier work with other standards showed companies could score big in one area while not scoring at all in other areas and still obtain certification. By demanding a minimum score in all core indicators, companies are forced to acknowledge that area in their operations.
Though a business must possess points in each core area, it need not and likely won’t receive all of the available points in any individual core item. Points are designed to be attainable but aspirational, meaning a company must possess exceptional practices to reach those higher point values. In addition, the leadership core states that the company must earn points beyond the core competencies for certification, especially if it wishes for recognition at higher levels. A company well on its way to green certification may score only 200 points or so of the 1,000 points available.
Businesses may gain an additional 25 points by submitting achievements for consideration in areas such as inventories and baselines, policy and procedures, performance, and reporting. For example, analysis of a company’s inventories and production baselines measures system performance using collected data. The company must outline the method by which the data is collected, and what steps are taken to assure its continued collection and maintenance over time. Operational processes and norms must be specified.
Once certified, a company may not rest on its laurels. It must set specific goals for the coming years with measured progress against each goal. Recertification demands an audit each year of company performance to meet these future goals. Meeting these performance indicators shows demonstrated improvement against the previously established goals, establishes new goals for the future, and verifies future performance against the new goals.
Why seek ULE 880 certification?
Aside from the bragging rights of certification, ULE 880 validates manufacturers sustainability achievements. There are customers and businesses that want to do business with “green” companies. In fact, many marketing and shopping groups are putting pressure on suppliers to improve their products by taking proactive sustainability measures. Some employees and job seekers also want to work for companies they see as “part of the solution” rather than “part of the problem.” And some investors want audited data to assess risks and opportunities associated with sustainability.
With the start of the pilot program, a training program for auditors is under development called the Sustainability Quotient (SQ) Program. UL Environment will be the only certifying agency, but auditing companies for certification will be handled by third parties. Audit results will be submitted to UL for examination.
Companies that reach ULE 880 certification can display a trademark identifying them as meeting ULE 880 goals with the tier level they’ve attained. However, they can not display that trademark on any of their products, as this is not a product-based standard. Proper use involves overall organization materials such as Web sites, shareholder reports, and other company-wide marketing materials.
There is one caveat for companies seeking certification. There is a legacy requirement built in that covers how the company acted and reacted to past environmental transgressions. For example, a large petroleum company would have trouble qualifying for green certification if they had a major oil spill from an offshore drilling accident in their history. However, it is possible to overcome prior legacy events based on actions taken during the spill, follow-up responses, and continuing high levels of green activities.
ULE 880 is only the first green standard for organizations. Getting ready to take center stage is ULE 881, a sustainability standard that targets companies in the service sector.