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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Cradle to Cradle Certified:
Ever Honing a Leading-Edge Standard for Product Sustainability

Shaw’s Tara Currier sat down with Elwyn Grainger-Jones, new ED of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, to learn more about how the Institute drives continued improvements in products across industries.

Elwyn Grainger-Jones, who joined the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute in June as Executive Director, recently took time to sit down with Tara CurrierShaw’s director of sustainability communications — to discuss the important role the Institute is playing in increasing the quality, safety and sustainability of products across industries; the value its certification program brings and what’s in store for the future.

Tara Currier: You have had an incredible background prior to joining Cradle to Cradle — including policy creation around climate change, agriculture and economic development. How has your diverse background prepared you for your new role?

Elwyn Grainger-Jones: When I came into this role, it was both a continuation of what I’ve been doing and a very significant shift — because I’d been leading change in major development banks and in the foreign-aid industry, and doing it largely through governments. So, this was a departure for me. But those skills are absolutely transferable; and the challenges don’t feel dissimilar.

Change management can be a delicate process, as the buy in from stakeholders is critical; but so too is understanding and defining the vision for the future and beginning the work toward that vision quickly. A lot of my experiences in change management have really helped me in terms of just the process one needs to follow. We all succeed when there is a very clear vision and people buy in to that vision.

TC: What are the 12- to 18-month primary goals and objectives for the Institute?

EGJ: There is an orchard full of “low-hanging fruit”: digitizing the process for certification, continuing to innovate the certification standard, further streamlining the way in which the certification process works, and continuing to build greater recognition of our certification by other voluntary and regulatory programs and labels. All of this will make it so much more beneficial for companies to see an environmental and financial return on investment when they participate in our program.

TC: Looking a little further out, what are your two- to five-year goals?

EGJ: We have about 500 companies using our label. We are active in five continents; we have about 1,000 certifications – about 70,000 products. But to have an impact on a global scale, we need to be many times that.

I hope in two to five years we identify and build a way for this certificate to be much more widely held and have a much greater impact across the business world without diminishing the ambition of the standard.

We want this to be a high-end standard but an achievable one; and we want it to be a journey for companies, just as many great companies like Shaw have already travelled. If you look at the progress that’s been made, it’s been incredible — and we want others to emulate that.

We want to be more present in fast-growing, emerging or emerged economies across the world to expand upon our strong presence in North America and certain EU markets. We also want to take advantage of technological transformation. Artificial intelligence is something we’re going to have to understand and explore further.

TC: What opportunities do you see for enhancing global recognition of Cradle to Cradle Certified products and the number of companies that are pursuing the certification?

EGJ: There is growing expectation from consumers to truly understand the impacts of the products being bought and used — including health impacts, environmental impacts, and impacts on people across the supply chain. This consumer demand coupled with its impact on the bottom line positions us well for filling a need on the validity of products addressing these impacts — especially where government regulations do not exist around some of these areas, or where regulations are coming into place and our standard helps companies get ahead of this. The quality of the product certification and the process through which it’s obtained needs to be an even more productive experience for our participating companies.

Next, we need to strengthen the recognition of this certification as something that is seen as valuable for aspiring companies to do. We have an incredible network of significant companies holding certificates — communicating that, peer-to-peer, having these businesses speak out and describe their journey is definitely an opportunity.

Third, working with retailers to ensure they recognize us. We are already recognized by Amazon as “Climate Pledge Friendly,” alongside other retailers. We need more of that. Major retailers can drive their suppliers to change.

We also have an opportunity to work more collaboratively with the certification “world” to avoid duplicative and repetitive certification. Businesses should not have to reprove their efforts if information has been vetted by a reputable organization.

TC: Cradle to Cradle certification is such a rigorous process — it’s the global standard for all the things that are ensuring, from an occupant and environmental standpoint, we are doing the right thing. So, where do you believe product circularity should rank among the multitude of climate-related challenges?

EGJ: I see circularity as an amazing tool that’s waiting to be used to a greater extent that, if we get it right, can help solve many of the environmental and societal challenges that are reflected in our standard. It’s essentially a tool that is underutilized right now and is just waiting to be scaled up. This certification program [is] pretty unique in having a circularity component. A great deal of thought was put into that part of the standard, which finally makes what can be a quite elastic concept very specific and clear for companies.

TC: We’ve talked about retailers and government agencies, but how critical are partnerships to the success of the Institute’s future?

EGJ: The Institute is essentially managing a partnership, so is part of a much bigger chain. Its purpose is to make sure the links are functional and that we are all collaborating. We view our 500 certificate-holding companies as partners – which we hope will be thousands over time. And our partnership with assessors is absolutely crucial, because they are the enterprises that work directly with companies to optimize and engender change.

That’s what I enjoy about this job. It’s bringing people together and seeing what happens when, with the right environment, with the right spirit, people collaborate for a common mission.

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