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A friend recently passed on this article about professional certifications in the sustainability field. The writer covers more than 30 professional certification programs for sustainability professionals and even provides an admonishment that this list is rather incomplete:

The list does not include certifications for products (such as Forest Stewardship Council for wood products) or companies (such as B Corp for values-led companies), professional training that does not earn a credential …, graduate programs or university-based certificates. I’m 100 percent confident that I’ve missed an incredible certification program.

Wow. I actually have a little trouble processing that. And I can’t help wondering: with so many ESG certifications out there, are any of them really valuable, or is it a case that none are?

This is an unfortunate side effect of the recent growth of and interest in ESG. Demand for education and awareness has morphed into a cottage industry of training, certifications and certificates – some valuable, others questionable. With no centralized oversight, clear market leader or legal guardrails, there are no real limitations on creators of these programs.

What You Can Do

Certifications or education programs that result in abbreviations after your name on a business card can be hallmarks of rigorous academic credentials or third-party testing against validated protocols. Other times, the extra letters mean little more than a registration fee was paid. When assessing the value of ESG certifications – whether for your own professional development or in looking at potential consultant/auditor qualifications – it is best to maintain a level of skepticism, especially given the huge number of options.

  • Research the issuing organization. Certification, or certificate issuing, organizations range from credible (governments, well-established international standards organizations, universities, professional organizations and industry associations for instance) to less credible or unknown (short online courses that serve as sales tools, consultants, marketing & communications firms, general corporate training providers).
  • Ask a certificate holder about the program. How long did it take to obtain the certification? What was the test like? What qualifications are required? How frequently do they use the learnings in their work? Would they recommend it to others?
  • Ask others in your company or industry about their thoughts on the program. Is the certification meaningful to their work? Or do they think it was just a money-making scheme for the organization that issued the certification?

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile