“We never fail when we try to do our duty; we always fail when we neglect to do it.” This is one of the most famous quotes from Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts movement.
How, though, do you measure how well a boy scout is performing or preparing to do his duty?
To answer this Baden-Powell came up with the merit badge scheme. This encourages scouts to reach a certain level of proficiency in a wide range of activities and a few are graded to show increasing levels of ability.
Scouts are encouraged to display each badge once it is awarded. Many sew them onto the arm of their uniform so that others can easily see their proficiencies.
Some, for reasons unknown, sew them onto their blankets.
It is precisely this spirit of badge collecting and fulfilment of duty which governments are relying upon to help encourage businesses down the path of sustainability.
This isn’t just to do with the areas of raw materials or energy efficiency which most people associate with certification schemes.
Finished goods such as carpets and furniture are also covered as are other resources which we take for granted, including indoor air quality and water use.
In addition, some schemes focus upon the design or manufacturing stages by assuring the elimination of waste or the labour standards applied.
As companies collect these certificates they’ll display them on their advertising material, websites and stationary as a way of differentiating themselves from their competitors.
Quis custodiet ipsos Badges
The greatest hindrance to this happening is the vast number of certification schemes currently being operated, often overlapping and in direct competition with each other.
Within a competitive consumer-oriented society there is nothing particularly wrong with this, but it can be very confusing for a company with limited resources wishing to gain a certification as a mark of distinction.
This is added to by the fact certification schemes are often very inward looking, being run by and for specific industries rather than all businesses as a whole.
Some sites, such as All Green Ratings, have started to draw certification schemes together into one place where they’re open and accessible to all.
This approach will greatly aid those companies trying to find out which certification marques they ought to look for and will undoubtedly give them idea of new ones to look out for or apply for themselves.
They will also aid transparency in competition between the competing schemes, allowing their B2B consumers see the differences between competing schemes and choose the ones which suit them best.
However, sites as good as All Green Ratings are few and far between and the take up of certification schemes would be greatly improved if there was greater emphasis on bringing proper organisation to this space.
It may be a stretch too far to call for a Robert Baden-Powell of the sustainability movement, especially given the idiosyncratic nature of that former soldier and spy.
Nevertheless, the hope has to remain that companies will start to collect and display these certification badges to prove their sustainability.
Then they’ll be able to sit around the campfire tucked snugly beneath their blankets, singing Ging Gang Gooley and comparing badges.
Should a customer happen to wander by, they’ll examine the badges on display and choose the set which best fits their needs.
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