Samantha Barnes is a project leader for the Water Quality Association (WQA) who oversees the WQA Sustainability Certification program. Barnes can be reached at [email protected] or 630.929.2593.
Water quality is a hot topic for consumers these days, but as we all know, consumers do not just want products to be safe for themselves and their families, they also want products that are safe for the environment. There is no better way to communicate to consumers that a water treatment product is environmentally friendly than through third-party certification.
What is Sustainability Certification?
The Water Quality Association (WQA) Sustainability Certification program is geared to forward-thinking manufacturers who want to demonstrate to consumers and retailers that their products are manufactured with consideration for the needs of people and the planet. Driven by a combination of societal and economic forces, WQA Sustainability Certification gives manufacturers a way to improve their bottom line, as well as increase profits by connecting with eco-conscious markets while also assisting in reducing their ecological footprint. Its mission is to ensure that products and the companies that produce them continue to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Sustainability makes sense from a business standpoint. According to a Forbes magazine article, 66% of consumers would spend more on a product if it came from a sustainable brand. To add, a recent IBM consumer report states that 77% of consumers say it is at least moderately important that brands are sustainable and environmentally responsible. A great majority of those eco-conscious consumers are millennials, 53% of which say they would be willing to forgo a brand in order to buy products that are environmentally friendly. Since 2014, global sustainable and environmentally responsible investment is up 68% and now tops $30 trillion. This is just the beginning since these trends are expected to continue as millennials gain more purchasing power.
What is the Value of Sustainability Certification?
When it comes to water treatment products, the WQA Sustainability seal provides access to this growing marketplace. Once a product is certified, a company can use the seal in packaging and marketing literature, which not only helps the product to differentiate, but also communicates to consumers that the sustainability claims being made are trustworthy. With use of the WQA Sustainability seal, a company can leverage an environmentally friendly brand image and demonstrate commitment to sustainability.
This becomes more apparent as more and more products are purchased online. The Conference Board on Global Consumer Confidence determined that sustainable shoppers in the U.S. are 67% more likely to be digitally engaged. Even the non-eco-conscious consumer does extensive research before purchasing a product, according to a recent IBM consumer report. Not only does a product need to stand out at the store, but it also needs to stand out online.
WQA’s Sustainability Certification gives companies an advantage by reaching the digitally-engaged shopper through WQA’s certified web listings. Being listed gives a company more exposure on web searches, while also adding more credibility to a company’s sustainability efforts.
There are also hidden advantages to pursuing Sustainability Certification. Working to reduce a company’s ecological footprint is accomplished through improving efficiency in the overall production process. That directly affects the bottom line. As such, sustainability is more of an investment than an expense.
What is the Product Certification Process?
The certification process itself is similar to that of an audit. It includes product life-cycle analysis, self-assessment and final assessment by WQA sustainability auditors. Manufacturers must first meet specific prerequisite requirements in the standards.
Such prerequisites include testing to a material safety standard; however, this requirement is easily met if you are certified by an ANS- accredited certification body. The investment that a company has already made to obtain their product certification can be applied under the WQA sustainability standards, which reduces cost and eliminates redundancy.
The material safety prerequisite, as well as other standard requirements, ensure that all the major environmental hotspots identified through the life-cycle analysis are addressed. Therefore, when the company is awarded the WQA Sustainability Seal, consumers can be confident that the manufacturer has taken impactful steps to reduce the environmental footprint of that product.
Sustainability certification gives companies credit for things they are already doing to meet local regulations, such as monitoring air emissions and disposal of manufacturing biproducts, so obtaining sustainability certification is likely simpler than many imagine. Because WQA uses a points-based system that allows companies to choose from other potential sustainability initiatives to comply with the standard, it is not a one size fits all process
Finally, a company that is certified to sustainability is ahead of the curve on the road towards sustainability-related law and regulations. With the increased global concern for the environment, governments are moving forward with regulations for sustainable processes, such as disposal of manufacturing byproducts. Certifying to sustainability standards now will support a company in making efforts toward sustainable practices that will give them a head start on related regulations.
Aside from the obvious benefits to the planet and to consumers, certifying to sustainability is valuable to a company. The major benefits include allowing the company to access the expanding eco-conscious consumer market, a head start on potential regulations, spotlighting as a leader in the industry, and increased efficiency in production, which can lower operating expenses.
Given that sustainability is now a driving factor in consumer brand choice, it is essential that companies take action and focus on sustainable practices not only to be profitable, but also to protect people and the planet.