Environmental Certification as a Tool for Scoping Options

Environmental decisions are naturally complex. They involve a multitude of stakeholders, complex systems, goals, risks, etc. Most people may see themselves distant from making environmental decisions, not to mention using environmental tools such as GIS or Climate Models. However, certification is an inclusive tool that provides everyone with the power of comparing their options and choosing what suits their goals. When we go to the supermarket, we can do an economical comparison of two 500g packs of cereal depending on their price. We can also compare their nutritional value by checking the calories, proteins and fibres they have. Certification works the same way; it is a form of comparing different products but on their environmental impact.


Figure 1. Some examples of environmental certification in products.

Environmental certification occurs when a company voluntarily chooses to comply with certain regulations and objectives set by the certification service [1]. Otherwise known as ‘ecolabels’, businesses are able to demonstrate a corporate responsibility for mitigating environmental impacts. Such standards exist in nearly every productive sector. Some of the most well known relate to rainforest derived products (Rainforest Alliance) and construction (BREEAM, LEED) but it can also be applied to services such as tourism [2].

Media 1. “Follow the Frog” video encouraging the public to choose Rainforest Alliance certified products (Source: Youtube, Rainforest Alliance).

Environmental certification has the potential to make people consider the environment when weighing their consumer options. However, it also has its negative aspects as well. Companies may be driven to enhance sales through ecolabelling rather than an environmental commitment towards sustainable or ethical princples. Furthermore, they are also quite expensive, for which the price is generally paid by the consumer. But the implementation of certifications is definitely valuable. Relating to Gregory’s characteristics of good alternatives, it gives the products a value focus and it makes them distinctive [3], while adding another important variable that empowers environmental influences in people’s day to day decisions.

[1] Environmental certification. (2016, August 19). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13:16, August 30, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Environmental_certification&oldid=735219730

[2] Font, X. (2002). Environmental certification in tourism and hospitality: progress, process and prospects. Tourism management23(3), 197-205.

[3] Gregory, R., Failing, L., Harstone, M., Long, G., McDaniels, T., and Ohlson, D. (2012). Creating Alternatives. In: Gregory et al. (Eds). Structured decision making: a practical guide to environmental management choices. Wiley-Blackwell: Chichester (UK), pp. 150-172.

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