Sustainability Standards and Certifications, Explained

By Shamitha Kuppala
January 29, 2024
10 min read

As a business owner in the early stages of starting a company, crafting a sustainability vision, or researching environmental standards, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the vast variety of options for networks to join and certifications to acquire. In this blog post, we provide a brief overview of the wide array of ESG, sustainability, and impact standards and certifications out there and explain their differences, helping you to decide which one may best serve your company depending on its size, industry, and needs. Information about each standard or certification comes directly from its website, which is linked in each section.

Sustainability Disclosure Standards


CDP, originally the “Carbon Disclosure Project” when developed in 2000, is an international nonprofit organization that helps companies and governments assess and report their environmental impact. CDP evaluates each entity’s relationship with 1) climate change, 2) forests, and 3) water security in order to give them a score of A to D-. For companies reporting for the first time, the process involves creating a CDP account, completing and submitting the desired questionnaire(s), and paying an annual standard contribution fee of $2,725. 

Obtaining a score from CDP helps companies improve their standing with customers, investors, and other stakeholders; revamp their environmental values and actions; and prepare for any potential mandatory or requested disclosure. CDP is one of the largest and most widely recognized sustainability disclosure groups, which provides credibility to small companies hoping to gain a robust environmental reputation.

Learn more about how to disclose as a company here.

Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD)

The Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) was established in 2015 by the Financial Stability Board (FSB) and is currently chaired by Michael Bloomberg. TCFD encourages companies to report key information to aid stakeholders in accurately assessing climate change-related risks. In 2017, the organization developed recommendations for disclosure in four specific spheres of operation: governance, strategy, risk management, and metrics and targets. Since then, TCFD’s strategy has consisted of promoting disclosure of its suggested metrics and monitoring the range and use of its recommendations. 

In order to comply with TCFD’s guidance, firms must reexamine their commitment to climate impact and conduct an internal assessment of their operations. This is a great option for any companies unsure about which sustainability-related information to report. Aside from any individual assessment expenses, the disclosure process requires no arbitrary fees.

Learn more about how to monitor and report TCFD’s recommended financial information here.

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

The Global Reporting Initiative was developed by the UN Environment Programme in 1997 to provide best practices for how to report environmental impact. It offers a list of disclosure standards for firms to use, as well as certification courses that help leaders learn how to follow GRI standards and create an effective sustainability report. Reporting organizations can apply for membership of the international GRI network to gain access to like-minded organizations and exclusive education programs. GRI requires few resources and little prior environmental knowledge, so we recommend it for small or new companies looking to craft environmental impact reports.

Learn more about GRI’s sustainability reporting standards here.

General Sustainability Certifications

Green Business Bureau (GBB)

The Green Business Bureau (GBB) helps small and mid-sized businesses demonstrate their dedication to environmental and social responsibility, providing solutions that potentially require smaller financial and time commitments than other certification options. After completing the online EcoAssessment and paying a fee, companies can achieve the GBB member seal, which can later be upgraded to silver, gold, or platinum certification status. Members also have access to the GBB EcoPlanner, which offers companies digital guidance for improving their environmental impact. Becoming a member of the Green Business Bureau is a great option for smaller businesses interested in sustainability but without the capacity for a demanding certification process.

Learn more about the Green Business Bureau’s membership and certification options here.

B Corp

B Lab, a global nonprofit organization founded in 2006, issues the B Corp certification to companies that meet its rigorous standards for social, environmental, and governance best practices. These standards are revised by the B Lab team and other stakeholders yearly. While the exact certification process varies by company type and size, all candidates must attain a score of at least 80 on the B Impact Assessment, which evaluates companies’ impact performance, accountability, and transparency for environment, communities, customers, suppliers, employees, and shareholders. After receiving an adequate score, companies are required to pay an annual fee based on company size and structure and incorporate B Lab’s standards into their legal documents in order to join the network of more than 6,000 companies worldwide with the label. B Corps must also seek recertification every three years. 

B Corp certification is a great starting point for newly developing companies because of 1) the vast name recognition of the label, and 2) the opportunity offered to startups and other small companies of becoming a “Pending B Corp.” This option prepares developing companies to undergo the complex certification process once they have sufficient time and resources.

Learn more about becoming B Corp certified here.

Building Certifications

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

LEED is the most widely used system of scoring building sustainability in the world, developed in 1998 by the U.S. Green Building Council. Companies can achieve a LEED certification rank of either Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Certified depending on the number of points they accumulate based on the LEED standards for building health, emissions, and efficiency. In order to get certified, firms should register their construction project, complete assessment forms, pay registration and certification fees, and have their application reviewed by LEED’s certification partner, Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI). 

While LEED is a trusted and renowned option for building sustainability, it may be less accessible to new start-ups based on registration and certification fees. However, for more established firms or those without limited financial resources, obtaining LEED certification for a building is a recommended way to track, report, and improve environmental impact.

Learn more about how to get LEED certified here.


TRUE, like LEED, is a certification option affiliated with GBCI. TRUE offers companies the option to get their building or physical facility certified for minimizing solid waste. Interested companies must register their facility with GBCI, pay precertification fees, submit documents, and get successfully assessed by a third party assigned by GBCI. Costs include a flat registration fee of $1,500 and certification fees based on floor surface area. Obtaining this TRUE credential indicates to customers and stakeholders a commitment to sustainably reducing waste and disposing of resources.

Learn more about the TRUE certification process here.

WELL Building Standard

The WELL Building Standard was developed by the International WELL Building Institute to gauge a building’s impact on human wellness and contentment. The standard consists of dozens of criteria—both descriptive and performance-based—built on seven key concepts: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. WELL ratings and certification, also associated with GBCI, can be useful in improving employee satisfaction, stakeholder trust, and sustainability reputation. 

Interested companies can seek WELL ratings of their 1) health-safety, 2) performance, and/or 3) equity, and those aiming for a more comprehensive assessment can aim for overall WELL certification. WELL ratings in one of the three individual categories costs $5,000 for companies with a single location, and holistic WELL certification costs $2,500 + $0.16 per square foot. The WELL pricing is approximately on par with LEED pricing for small businesses, and may be out of reach depending on resource availability.

Learn more about WELL certification options and pricing here.

Product Certifications

Cradle to Cradle (C2C)

The Cradle to Cradle (C2C) Products Innovation Institute helps companies get their products globally certified for being circular and responsibly made. Getting C2C certified indicates to customers and stakeholders that a company’s product(s) and practices are environmentally sustainable. 

Interested companies can seek evaluation from an independent assessment body in the categories of material health, product circularity, clean air & climate protection, water & soil stewardship, and social fairness. After submitting an application and paying certification fees ($3,600) and community fees ($1,800 for small businesses), candidates that meet standards receive either platinum, gold, silver, or bronze level C2C certification. Seeking C2C certification is recommended for firms with sufficient financial resources.

Learn more about how to get C2C certified here.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

The Forest Stewardship Council, established in 1993, provides one of the most widely recognized certifications for material sustainability. The council provides certification that participants source, transport, and develop forest resources in a healthy and responsible manner. Interested companies must get an audit from an approved third party, complete an application and assessment, and pay administrative fees in order to obtain certification. The FSC label is strongly recommended for companies dealing heavily with wood and other forest products because of the credibility and reassurance it offers.

Learn more about obtaining an FSC Chain of Custody Certification here.

Interested in pursuing a sustainability certification for your company? Ecolytics provides tailored guidance for meeting the requirements of all the certifications listed above and more, for companies of any size and sector. Ecolytics’ sustainability management software provides a single platform for measuring your GHG emissions and waste and water use, offers data-driven insights and actionable recommendations for how to improve, and gives you custom-built reporting tools to showcase your sustainability performance and ESG impact to customers and investors alike. With Ecolytics, your company has access to ready-to-use templates and resources for ensuring compliance with several leading certifications and standards, as well as the ability to set and track progress towards goals like reaching net-zero or becoming carbon positive. Request a demo from our team today to learn more about the platform and its features.

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