The Pros and Cons of the 4 Major Green Certifications

The Pros and Cons of the 4 Major Green Certifications

Green certifications are useful in promoting a business’s green credentials to your customers, prospective clients and employees.

But which one is right for an SME?

In this article I have summarised the pros and cons of four mainstream green standards and environmental certifications.

ISO14001 – The Environmental Management System

The most recognised environmental certification is ISO14001.

The certification sets out how an organisation can improve its environmental performance and comply with its legal obligations. Core to the certification is the implementation of an environmental management system (EMS). Most businesses engage a consultant to help them setup an EMS. Once an EMS is in place a company has to engage a third party verifier to be externally evaluated on an annual basis.

Applicability: International

Pros: Internationally recognised. Often seen as the most compelling way to demonstrate superior environmental performance, particularly in tenders

Cons: Costly and can be very bureaucratic – a characteristic that most small businesses like to avoid


The British Standard, BS8555, helps SMEs achieve the ISO14001 standard through a six phase process. Because BS8555 separates ISO14001 into smaller, more manageable chunks it is often seen as an ideal way for a small business to incrementally develop a practical EMS.

Applicability: UK

Pros: Scaled approach to environmental management, more affordable than ISO14001 and simpler to implement internally

Cons: Takes a long time to finally get to ISO14001 certification

Carbon Trust Standard

The Carbon Trust standard certifies businesses for making carbon emission reductions and commitments. The Carbon Trust Standard requires businesses to meet three criteria:

1. Provide an accurate carbon footprint measurement

2. Be able to show an absolute reduction in carbon emission over a two year period – data can be backdated

3. Show that carbon governance, accounting, reduction methods and targets are in place

Applicability: UK

Pros: Seen as the most recognised carbon certification in the UK and is relatively affordable for a small business (price ranges from £1,000 for businesses with energy costs less than £50k, to £10,000 for businesses with energy spend more than £10m)

Cons: It is obviously only carbon focused and doesn’t consider wider environmental impacts (waste, transport, water etc.)

Green Seal

The Green Seal is a US certification for products, services, and companies that meet certain standards. Businesses that achieve the Green Seal can use their badge to show compliance with a rigorous set of sustainability leadership criteria

Applicability: US, but can be used in the UK

Pros: It is very rigorous and thorough, whilst remaining practical

Cons: Definitely not a light touch approach as the certification focuses on the full life-cycle performance of a business and its products / services

Which Certification should I choose?

There are many green standards and certifications that a business can choose. The challenge is to find one that best suits your appetite for making real improvements and of course your investment budget.

If your business has more than 100 people, revenues in excess of £5 million and international operations, then ISO14001 is the best.

For smaller businesses the other options listed above are more practical and affordable.

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