The theme of sustainability sells and, if the value of green spending by Italians in 2021 reached 12.5 billion euros – as found by a Nielsen GS1 Italy research – advertising on ethical and sustainable development is now worth 23.6% of the total: it is increasingly difficult to distinguish true claims from false ones, also because there is a lack of effective instruments for checking the truthfulness of claims; in addition many projects of ethical and sustainable communication are not backed up by any type of validation as regards the supporting documentation.
In this context, however, it is possible for a company to operate with effective and creative marketing in terms of sustainable development, maintaining an ethical, legal and scientific profile in line with consumer expectations. Also thanks to the accredited verifications and validations of the ethical and sustainable claims based on the standard ISO/IEC 17029.
And it is on the basis of this standard that Accredia, the Italian Accreditation Body, has issued the first accreditation to the Verification and Validation Body EthicsGO which has defined a set of specific requirements in the scheme “certiClaim Sustainability Programme”.
Accredited sustainability verifications
The problem to be addressed, therefore, is not only that of greenwashing and ethicalwashing but also the diffusion of models and verification methods that have more to do with opinion polls and market surveys than with scientific and accredited certification. Many attestations of sustainable businesses are often based on questionnaires deriving from self-declarations, and not validated by independent third party attestations.
To give substance and concreteness to all the ethical claims of responsibility for sustainable development, standards and procedures have therefore been created that can be adopted by companies and verified by accredited Bodies: the ISO/TS 17033, which defines the requirements for supporting the definition, verification or development of verifiable, credible and accurate and non-misleading ethical claims, and the Italian Publicly Available Specification UNI/PdR 102, to which Accredia contributed, which provides to organizations a structured and shared path in the preparation and declaration of ethical claims that are intended to focus on sustainability issues.
ISO/TS 17033 “Ethical claims and supporting information – Principles and requirements” is aimed at every type of organization and concerns all types of ethical claims, from fair trade to energy saving, from animal welfare to sustainability, providing support information where specific standards are not applicable or to integrate those already active. The object of ISO/TS 17033 is only claims that can be qualified as “ethical”, as they contain references to the three dimensions of sustainable development: social justice, economic development, environmental protection.
ISO/TS 17033 does not apply if there are already specific rules governing claims, such as in the environmental field (e.g. emissions into the atmosphere during the product life cycle) or for specific product certifications (e.g. organic product, safe product guaranteed by the CE marking, the GI marks), or labelling required by law (e.g. without added sugar).
To provide the application guidelines regarding sustainability of the requirements of ISO/TS 17033, the Publicly Available Specification UNI/PdR 102 “Ethical claims of responsibility for sustainable development – Application guidelines to UNI ISO/TS 17033:2020” also applies in Italy; it is a national document resulting from the collaboration between Accredia and UNI (the Italian Standardization Body). Through the structured process guided by the practice UNI/PdR 102, which provides for the assessment of the impacts between generations in terms of sustainable development and the use of reporting tools already commonly used on the market, the organization can validate the actions underlying the claim also with reference to the fundamental issues of UNI ISO 26000 and the Objectives for Sustainable Development of Agenda 2030, attracting investors also thanks to the availability of non-financial information.
The evaluation according to UNI ISO/TS 17033 and UNI/PdR 102 is additional with respect to the verification conducted against a technical document – programme – to ensure the fulfilment of preparatory and essential requirements for the correct communication of the claim. The programme sets out the rules and procedures for performing the verification activities of the claim in the specific area or sector, indicating, among other things, the context of use, the criteria of competence, the gathering of evidence and reporting activities.
The scheme “certiClaim Sustainability Programme”
EthicsGO is the first Body accredited in Italy by Accredia against the standard ISO/IEC 17029, and it performs verification and validation activities on the basis of an owner scheme named “certiClaim Sustainability Programme”.
It is an instrument through which 400 parameters are analysed for each sector with regard to the 17 objectives of the UN 2030 Agenda, in turn set out in terms of the three environmental, economic and social dimensions required by PAS 102:2001. To simplify understanding, the scheme is represented by a graphic model in three trees of ethical and sustainable communication, whose leaves are identified with the parameters that companies must respect and provide evidence of.
To guarantee consumers a process of verification and validation in five criteria: the admissibility, truthfulness, conformity, ethics and sustainability of each claim (including the collective sustainability label) diffused on all types of media and in all communication contexts.
Accreditation against ISO/IEC 17029
By verifying the correct formulation of the claims on the subject of sustainable development, under all the aspects covered by the legislation, the bodies accredited against the standard ISO/IEC 17029 guarantee the validation of “ethical” claims, helping to protect consumers and the market from the risks associated with untruthful, incorrect or imprecisely formulated claims.
ISO/IEC 17029 requires the presence of specific programmes that are able to provide greater or lesser credibility to the required information. The term “programme”, the meaning of which is substantially equivalent to that of “scheme”, is cited continuously, reflecting its importance for correct application.
In order to clarify the fields of application, Accredia issued the Informative Circular DC N° 15/2020 “Update of the standard for the accreditation of Validation and Verification Bodies”.