If you’ve already read our two earlier posts: Minimizing a Product’s ‘Cradle to Grave’ Environmental Impact and Designing New Products With A Cradle To Cradle Cycle In Mind, no doubt you have seen some of the benefits of making more sustainable products. ‘Cradle to Cradle,’ in particular, is one of the more popular eco certifications and so in this post, we’re going to explore how to obtain your Cradle to Cradle certification and join the circular economy…
Who is the C2C institute?
The full name of the C2C body is ‘The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (C2CPII).’ Their mission is:
To lead, inspire and enable all stakeholders across the global economy to create and use innovative products and materials that positively impact people and planet.
The Institute has HQs in Oakland, California and Amsterdam, the Netherlands with offices in Washington DC, too. They are funded through the fees paid to become C2C certified and the support of foundations and sponsors.
They provide a solid introduction to C2C, as well:
Cradle to Cradle was developed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, two pioneers merging intentional design, chemistry, and products for industry. Originally used loosely as a term with different meanings as contraindication to “cradle to grave,” Cradle to Cradle is a beneficial design approach integrating multiple attributes: safe materials, continuous reclamation and re-use of materials, clean water, renewable energy, and social fairness.
Cradle to Cradle products are specifically designed to eliminate the concept of ‘waste,’ use renewable energy, and celebrate diversity (technological and biodiversity, fair working conditions, etc).
You’ll come across the word ‘cycles’ quite often during your journey to Cradle to Cradle certification and the cycles are central to how materials for new products are obtained, used, and then cycled ready for future use, rather than becoming waste that is simply disposed of.
(Image credit: Schueco.com)
You can see that materials must either be biologically or technically cycled. Here you see cycles for nondurable and durable consumer goods and nowhere in either cycle do you see the words disposal or landfill. The materials and components used in C2C certified products must either biodegrade causing no harm to the environment or be reclaimable (via disassembly) and then cycled back into the supply chain for use in new products rather than thrown out. In the case of the technical cycle, the use of virgin materials created by taking resources from the planet is also reduced.
What is cradle to cradle certification?
Cradle to Cradle certification is, according to the C2CPII site:
The global standard for products that are safe, circular and responsibly made.
The certification program, currently following C2C standard V4.0 at the time of writing in April 2022, assesses the safety, circularity and responsibility of materials, sub-assemblies, and finished products across these categories:
- Material health (Can the materials used negatively affect the health of the environment or users? For instance, the use of lead which is a toxic element. C2C provide a banned list of chemicals).
- Product circularity (Can the product feed into the circular economy by using materials and components that can be reused, repaired, recycled, etc, to prevent the use of virgin raw materials as much as possible?).
- Clean air & climate protection (Does the product’s manufacturing process avoid or reduce emissions and use renewables instead of fossil fuel energy?)
- Water & soil stewardship (Does the manufacturing of the product use a lot of water and emit pollution as wastewater?)
- Social fairness (Does the company pay a fair wage, avoid Human Rights violations, and stand up for an equal society?)
Only physical products are assessed, not entire businesses, although some aspects of how the business is run are also examined by the C2C assessor. In practice, this means that a brand may have a range of products that are C2C certified, for example, while others are not. This makes cradle to cradle certification more accessible to all brands that have yet to become completely sustainable. They can start with one product or range and build from there.
Why get certified?
Today’s consumers are more environmentally savvy and demanding of sustainable products than ever before. Additionally, governments around the world are bringing in legislation to reduce the environmental impacts of products, services, etc.
Businesses gain positive recognition and a good way to differentiate themselves from their competitors is by becoming more sustainable, however, consumers will not accept lip service and that’s where a real eco certification like C2C becomes helpful.
Consumers can see your cradle to cradle certification on your site, product labelling and tags, and listed on their site. This demonstrates that you have more environmentally friendly, safer, and more ethical products, suppliers, and business practices than others.
If you manufacture products in a category where consumers place a value on health and environmental impact, drinking bottles are an example whereas oil-burning heaters are not, the question increasingly is: why not get C2C certified?
How to get started with your certification?
To get cradle to cradle certification, first, consider the following points (suggested by the institute) about the product in question:
- Does it fall within the scope of certification, or is it ineligible due to its type?
- Does it contain any chemicals that the C2CPII have placed on their list of banned substances?
- Are you able to commit to continuous improvement and product optimization?
- Are you selling a private label version of a currently C2C certified product? If so you may be able to obtain private label certification without going through the rigorous certification process from scratch.
Once you’ve confirmed that your product is eligible and you’re able to commit to C2C’s ongoing requirements you need to officially register your interest in the Cradle to Cradle certification by completing the Certification Inquiry Form to connect with the C2CPII and start the process.
The assessment is done by an accredited third-party C2C assessment body, so it is not as open to abuse for greenwashing purposes as some eco certifications which are self-assessed. Companies should note that only the C2C institute can provide the certification, although its standard can be used as a scorecard of sorts for you to self-assess where you’re doing well and understand areas for improvement in your business and products and set goals to remedy them, even if you finally choose not to undergo cradle to cradle certification.
How much does certification cost?
The current costs for cradle to cradle certification are US$3600 for a new application, with additional costs of US$2000 for re-certification every 2 years. You can find out more about C2C certification costs here.
How is C2C certification scored?
There are 5 levels of C2C certifications: Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.
Each level has its own minimum criteria for each product in the 5 criteria categories mentioned above: material health, product circularity, etc.
Products can be C2C certified and still have issues that need to be improved. So a bronze level product may still do some ‘harm’ to the environment, for instance by using an amount of non-recyclable materials, but the company will be committed to reducing that over time as they re-certify and try to move up to silver, and so on. The certification process encourages improvement.
As you move up through the levels the criteria become increasingly demanding and, furthermore, you are expected to progress to higher levels over time by committing to continuous improvement and product optimization otherwise certification will be after 2 years when re-certification is required.
You can see a typical scorecard here:
The same goes for circularity. Single-use products are traditionally less environmentally kind, and the only way for them to qualify as C2C is to meet the more stringent circularity standards in gold or above (more on standards per level later).
Which products cannot be cradle to cradle certified?
Not every product can be certified. In fact, cradle to cradle certification is usually more appropriate for products made up of a relatively small amount of different materials. Think apparel, furniture, materials, homeware, and others like this (you can refer to the list on the institute’s website to see the kinds of companies and products that are certified).
C2C publish a list of non-eligible products, but to give you an idea of what cannot be certified here are a few examples:
- Products using non-renewable fuels
- Products containing animal materials, such as down or skins
- Herbicides, pesticides, etc, that specifically use toxic chemicals
- Non-circular products such as many single-use plastics like tableware
- Packaging that is not circular and throwaway in nature
Exploring the C2C certification’s requirements
When obtaining the cradle to cradle certification you will be assessed by your performance against 5 categories that together make your organisation and product a functioning part of the circular economy.
In the following sections, you’ll see summaries of the requirements (excerpts are taken directly from the official C2C certification document, so all credit to the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute for the following images).
General requirements for the C2C certification
In general, at bronze level and above, you will at least be expected to put in place the following to obtain cradle to cradle certification:
- A compliance assurance system to assure that certification requirements are met and maintained (designated staff, management system, controlling material changes if and when they occur)
- An environmental policy and management intent (risk assessment, policy based on risks, buy-in from management)
- Demonstrate measurable improvement when re-certified (minimum 1 improvement from the 5 certification categories)
As you progress to silver through platinum, the general requirements become stricter (a feature of C2C certification as a whole). You can see the general requirements here:
Requirements for material health
The cradle to cradle certification priorities for material health are:
- Only chemicals and materials that don’t harm humans or the environment should be used in the product wherever possible.
- The aim is to positively impact the quality of materials available for future use and cycling (e.g. materials that are meant to become ‘waste’ won’t be selected).
The material health requirements per level are shown below (as with all C2C requirements, to obtain a higher level you must already fulfill the requirements of the levels below):
- Compliance with the list of restricted substances. It provides a rating based on if the materials and chemicals used in products are hazardous and likely to expose end-users to potentially damaging health effects during normal use. Materials on the banned list include metals like lead and mercury, arsenic, flame retardant chemicals, phthalates, triorganotin compounds, and PAHs.
- Doing a material and chemical inventory and assessing chemicals. The chemicals and materials in the product must be examined and listed in increasing amounts so action can be taken to replace harmful ones.
- Material health optimization strategy. A strategy is put in place to use only optimized materials that are not harmful to humans or the environment.
- VOC emissions to be reduced. Volatile organic compounds should be avoided where possible as they have a negative effect on health.
- Optimizing chemistry in the supply chain. Reduction in use and eventual elimination of any harmful chemicals and materials in the supply chain.
The goal here is to eliminate any materials and chemicals that appear on the restricted substances list, have an extremely comprehensive understanding of the makeup of the product, and increase the use of optimized materials (those that are non-harmful to people and the environment). You can see that a key milestone for higher levels is the higher percentage of ‘optimized’ chemicals and materials used in products, so a platinum material health rating demands at least 50% of input materials or chemicals to be gold or platinum C2C certified.
Tests must be performed by an ISO 17025 accredited laboratory that is experienced in materials analysis during the initial certification and then again upon recertification which will be around 2 years later. You will need to provide comprehensive material data, outlining all of the elements in the product, including fabrics, adhesives, fasteners, and more.
Requirements for product circularity
Products are intentionally designed to be perpetually reused in another application or, at least, compost down or biodegrade with little impact on the environment.
This category of the Cradle to Cradle certification focuses on using optimized materials that act as nutrients for another product or activity or the environment, and do not become waste that will be in landfills or incinerated. In addition, recycled materials are preferred over virgin materials as they have less impact on the environment.
The holder of the certificate will be challenged, at higher levels at least, to build an infrastructure where the materials from their products can be recovered or recycled in order to be used again.
To achieve your target level you must meet the requirements of all lower levels of the product circularity category that you can see below:
- Circularity education, defining cycles and preparing to actively cycle. You must explore the circularity potential of your product and identify opportunities and solutions to allow it to be actively cycled at end of use either biologically (product composts or biodegrades) or technically (materials collected and reused in new products). Then you’ll take steps to put in place activities to recover and recycle product materials. Ultimately, the product will be assessed on the active cycling system you’re expected to put in place to recover and recycle materials.
- Increasing demand: Incorporating cycled and/or renewable content. The use of virgin materials is reduced or eliminated and replaced by cycled or renewable
materials in the product. A closed-loop system is desired.
- Material compatibility for technical and/or biological cycles. Only materials that are most likely to be able to be cycled technically or biologically are used.
- Circularity data and cycling instructions. You make information publically available to help users understand how or where to submit the product for its materials to be recovered and recycled.
- Design for end-of-use cycling and design for disassembly. The product should be designed to increase the number of recycling options at the end of its normal use (such as using readily recycled materials and being more durable to lengthen its lifespan) and it should also be designed to be more easily disassembled into materials that can then be recycled.
The percentage of materials being reutilized will be assessed along with the efficacy of the cycling system’s recyclability or compostability rates. Your organization will need to collect, monitor, and improve on the data over time.
Requirements for clean air & climate protection
This category focuses on your product manufacturing’s impact on air quality, use of renewable energy, and emission of harmful greenhouse gases. As well as eliminating waste, one of the core tenets of C2C is to use renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions that negatively affect the climate.
The best-case goal is a net positive impact on the environment by the total elimination of emissions and the manufacturer becoming energy independent by producing its own renewable energy through solar panels or other methods.
As always, to achieve your target level of this section of the cradle to cradle certification you must meet the requirements of all lower levels of the clean air & climate protection category that you can see below:
- Air emissions compliance. The factory producing the products must comply with regulatory and/or industry best practice air emissions limitations. Dirty manufacturers won’t be accepted.
- Quantifying electricity use and greenhouse gas emissions. You need to quantify and verify greenhouse gas emissions and electricity usage. The situation as of now acts as a benchmark for future improvement.
- Clean air & climate protection strategy, and transparency. You’ll put in place targets aligned with international climate science and goals. The strategy spurs an increase in the amount of renewable energy you use to manufacture the product and the reduction or offsetting of any greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing in order to meet the targets. Stakeholders will be provided with emissions data, so your commitment to reducing environmental impact is transparent and clear.
- Design for energy efficiency. The product will be designed to be more energy efficient during normal usage by the end-users, and its energy efficiency will be clearly shown to help end-users make the choice.
The goal of this category of the cradle to cradle certification is for manufacturing organizations to have a net positive impact on the climate and environment. In order to do so, energy use and emissions are assessed so applicants must measure these. With energy usage and emissions data in hand, the next step is to make a plan to eliminate fossil fuel energy in favor of renewables and emit a healthy amount of carbon that doesn’t negatively impact the air and soil (usually a reduction in emissions).
Requirements for water & soil stewardship
C2C certified companies should treat water and soil carefully and take steps to protect them from pollution and damage. This helps all beings benefit from clean water and healthy soil, and this category drives the applicant to care for and manage their impact on water and soil by inspiring them to learn about and take responsibility for their water usage, how it is released as effluent and the impact that may have on ecosystems, and giving additional credit for organisations who place an emphasis on improving conservation, quality, and social fairness.
You can see the requirements per level below, and remember that to achieve your target level you must meet the requirements of all lower levels:
- Characterizing local and product relevant water & soil issues & quantifying water use. Identify how to reduce the impact of the manufacturing facility’s impact on its local water and soil – different areas will have different issues, such as a lack of water in dry areas, so every certification will identify unique challenges. Usage of water (withdrawal, consumption, discharge) at the product’s manufacturing facility will need to be calculated. This provides a benchmark for reductions and helps show where improvements can be made.
- Effluent quality compliance. The manufacturing facility of your product and some suppliers must comply with regulatory and/or industry best practice effluent limitations.
- Providing drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene. Staff must be given access to water for drinking, sanitation, and hygiene as a basic human right.
- Water and soil strategy and conservation. A strategy is made to protect water and soil moving forward. This plan is then put into action and steps will be taken and technology used (if appropriate) to reduce water usage, improve effluent quality, and improve soil quality.
- Assessing and optimizing product relevant chemicals in effluent and sludge & optimizing their quality at the facility level. Chemicals on the restricted substances list shouldn’t be present in sludge and effluent created during manufacturing. Furthermore, the manufacturer should take steps to manage it responsibly with the aim of protecting local water quality and ecosystems.
- Transparency. Stakeholders will be provided with the water usage and treatment data, so your commitment to water stewardship is transparent and clear.
- Implementing a positive impact project. Higher levels will require the organisation to implement a project to improve local water and/or soil quality.
The assessor will examine both the main manufacturing facility or facilities (your own or your supplier’s) and certain sub-suppliers in the supply chain here, as the water and soil stewardship category is more focused on manufacturing processes and facilities rather than products.
Requirements for social fairness
Cradle to Cradle certified companies must commit to upholding human rights and applying fair and equitable business practices. Although the onus is on products that can be a part of the circular economy and reduce or eliminate harm to the environment, C2C also acts as a force for social good and sustainability, too.
C2C certified businesses must act ethically and drive ethical behavior throughout the supply chain, too. This means that this category assesses applicants on how responsibly they manufacture, whether they treat workers legally and humanely, and how far they go to implement social projects that benefit employees, the supply chain, and local people.
You can see the requirements per level below:
- Assessing human rights risks & opportunities & Human rights policy. You will audit your own manufacturing facility and supply chain to find potential human rights risks, such as modern slavery, child labor, underpayment, overly long working hours, and more. A human rights policy to uphold international standards needs to be implemented.
- Monitor and verify performance. Your adherence to the policy is monitored and corrective actions are made if issues are identified.
- Strategy for policy implementation. You make progress by putting in place a system to measure and monitor your human rights and social performance targets and identify areas for improvement.
- Demonstrating commitment, management systems, & grievance mechanisms. Company management show commitment to building a culture of respect for human rights, social fairness, and ethical business practices by actively promoting it and taking part. To ensure progress, a management system is put in place with responsible staff understanding their role in identifying and putting right any deviations from the human rights policy that affect working processes or staff. There will also be a grievance mechanism put in place to allow staff to report any issues so they can be solved.
- Positive impact project. Higher-level certifications will require the organization to implement a project that has a positive social impact on staff, local communities, or society connected to the products.
- Transparency and stakeholder engagement. The applicant company transparently reports how to monitor and act on any human rights issues. Stakeholders are made aware of the performance and how improvements are to be made if needed.
- Collaborating to solve social issues & fostering a culture of social fairness. Only applicable for platinum level, these requirements include your organisation collaborating with other industry players with the common goal to find solutions to social issues often experienced in that industry (such as child labor in chocolate). Furthermore, you need to adopt a culture of social fairness in how you run your company and do business, making it a core part of recruitment, training, remuneration, performance evaluation, and incentive structures.
*Note: For the Bronze level the focus is mainly on your manufacturing facility, but for higher levels, sub-supplier performances are also assessed.
Requirements for packaging, animal welfare, and private label products
A few more notable points applicants need to consider are briefly as follows:
- Packaging. The product’s packaging needs to reach high circularity standards in order to support the organisation’s C2C goals. It should be designed to be recycled, use recycled materials, and with access to realistic cycling (such as reclamation or recycling schemes).
- Animal welfare. The welfare of animals should be protected if animal products are used in a C2C certified product. A welfare policy will be implemented and suppliers’ adherence to it is mandatory and monitored on an ongoing basis.
- Private label products. If you sell a private label product that is an identical version of an already-C2C-certified product an application can be made to C2CPII who will check and approve it without a new certification being required.
The Cradle to Cradle certification on-site assessment and evaluation
During your cradle to cradle certification, you can expect an assessor from an accredited C2C certification body to visit your main manufacturing facility or facilities.
During the visit, they will examine:
- The product’s manufacturing process
- Materials and chemicals used
- The product BOM
- The percentages of materials and chemicals in products (different levels permit differing percentages)
For other less tangible aspects, such as water stewardship and the culture of social fairness, evidence and data from your organisation and supply chain will be examined and evaluated by the assessor against the standard C2C criteria we’ve been through earlier.
If areas for improvement are found the assessor works with you to develop strategies to optimize them before you submit your report for final review by the C2CPII.
Note: This information provided here is a general introduction to C2C based on the Cradle to Cradle certification standard v4.0 and is current as of April 2022.
We at Sofeast are not lawyers. What we wrote above is based only on our understanding of the regulatory requirements. We do not present this information as a basis for you to make decisions, and we do not accept any liability if you do so. Please consult a lawyer before taking action.
Interested in becoming a greener manufacturer?
We have created a number of interesting resources that you may also find helpful on our green manufacturing page, including white papers, videos, and blog posts.