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New C2C Certified Product Standard Pushes Companies Beyond Compliance, Toward Leadership

V4.0 of the newly released Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard is designed to meet companies wherever they are on their sustainability journey and help them set achievable milestones through actionable pathways as they work towards their ultimate goals.

The corporate sustainability landscape has become an increasingly complex one to navigate in recent years. Interest in environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance has grown considerably — a trend compounded by rising stakeholder expectations around materiality, reporting, disclosure and accountability.

It is against this backdrop that the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute has released Version 4.0 of its Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard. According to the Institute, Version 4.0 is the most ambitious yet in terms of helping companies and product designers find those touchpoints where they can make the most difference and drive meaningful action at scale.

“We are a standard and certification programme, but our goal is really market transformation here,” Institute President and CEO Peter Templeton told Sustainable Brands™ in a recent interview. “We’re trying to enable everyone to take steps and make progress towards optimising their products towards health, sustainability and equity. So, as much as we have created a standard, we have also created a framework that helps them navigate through that process.”

Version 4.0 aims to help brands prioritise action across five sustainability focus areas:

Alongside this, the Standard is also designed to be an enabler to help unlock business innovation, effectively pushing companies beyond compliance towards a leadership position.

“Businesses want to be ahead of the game, but that is a risk — so they want to make sure they are setting a clear pathway to success. We’re trying to provide leadership recognition for those that are taking these steps — a big part of that is having the validation behind that,” Templeton says.

As well as helping to measure and verify sustainability performance, brands can use the Standard to guide them to make safer material choices to create circular products in a way that is both fair and equitable. The latest version has strengthened its requirements in respect to social fairness, which Templeton says is important.

Cradle to Cradle certification is good for two years, after which companies must re-certify. This is true for all currently Cradle to Cradle Certified products, though companies may begin the recertification process, in accordance with V4.0, in July of this year.

“There has been significant attention paid to social sustainability, particularly relating to fair and safe labour practices, and there’s tremendous learning that can be applied universally. We want to ensure that that learning is in place so that other organisations can follow the good examples that are being set.”

Lidl's C2C-certified slippers are Certified Gold | Image credit: Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute

Alongside the new frameworks for social fairness and product circularity, Version 4.0 also features enhanced requirements that promote urgent action to address climate change, and ensure clean water and healthy soils are available to all, as well as a new restricted substances list to align material-health criteria with leading chemical regulations and standards.

Standard 4.0 is also significant because it offers a multi-dimensional solution in many respects, enabling brands to integrate circular thinking into their wider sustainability agendas. It is also geared towards helping them bridge companies' intention-action gap. As Templeton explained:

“The higher expectations that are coming from stakeholders have driven companies to pay greater attention to their performance and impacts, but many of them still struggle with bridging it out between good intentions and best practice. For us, it is really important that we are mobilising that — putting principles into practice — and allowing companies to actually achieve some of the priorities and goals that they are setting out.”

The Standard does this through its practical framework, which is designed to meet companies wherever they are on their sustainability journey and help them set achievable milestones through actionable pathways as they work towards their ultimate goals.

Templeton says this milestone approach is critical to overcoming “sustainability paralysis,” a situation where people can quickly begin to feel overwhelmed — particularly if the commitments set out are highly ambitious and aligned with global benchmarks such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Science-Based Targets.

“Within the Cradle to Cradle certified requirements of the new standard, we clearly identify how it is that we connect to some of those external programmes and standards,” Templeton says. “Companies need to figure out how to operationalise those commitments. The greatest benefit is helping focus their investment on key areas that we know are going to be actioned, that are going to drive the most meaningful outcomes for them.”

He adds: “We do know that the scrutiny that’s being placed on this right now is going to turn beyond pledges into accountability for outcomes. We want to help companies anticipate this and get on that leadership journey as quickly as possible.”

And with leadership, comes greater transparency — another stakeholder touchpoint that the Standard can assist brands with, by enabling them to have a clearer understanding of where their raw materials and ingredients come from.

“Much of what we are doing reaches deep into the development of products and materials,” Templeton says. “It is giving greater visibility to what is happening throughout the supply chain, in the development and practices that are being used of these products and that is certainly a strong tool for quality control.”

While the Institute believes its Standard goes beyond many others out there in terms of scope, it is highly appreciative of the work being done in this space. Within Version 4.0, there is recognition of other standards and frameworks, and their contribution towards what progressive brands are trying to achieve.

“All these tools are helping to raise awareness and encourage action,” Templeton says, adding that there may be opportunities in the future to work with other certification programmes or standards bodies to leverage this work for the greater good.

“Whether it’s harmonisation or organisation, we’re trying to take a first step towards that at this point in time — and then work with those other organisations to see how this helps reinforce some of their goals and objectives, and where we can do more to streamline the process.

“I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for us that we all want to mobilise the momentum that exists currently to achieve the greatest outcomes possible.”

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