[Commentary] Summary on the expanding environmental certification system.
~ Integration of social aspects ~.

With the global need to work towards a sustainable society, companies and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of environmental considerations. A certification system that has developed historically in this context is the 'environmental label', which indicates the environmental friendliness of products and services. Environmental labels are marks that indicate that environmentally friendly designs and processes have been adopted for products and services. In recent years, the social certification aspect has become increasingly important due to growing interest not only in these environmental aspects, but also in social aspects such as the protection of workers' rights.

This article provides an overview of environmental and social certification and explains the significance of using certification systems in business activities.

Table of Contents
Environmental certification overview and environmental labels
 Classification of environmental labels
Introducing social aspects in certification.
 Benefits of environmental and social certification
 Points to note on environmental and social certification.
Certification schemes that also take into account the social aspects that are evolving.

Environmental certification overview and environmental labels

Environmental certification has a long history of global development, which has been accompanied by increasing international interest in climate change. In particular, there are many 'environmental labels' in Japan and around the world that provide consumers with a reference for environmental protection when selecting products for consumption.

An environmental label is "a mark or marker that tells you how a product or service contributes to reducing environmental impact" (Ministry of the Environment). There are two main types of information provision methods that environmental labels have (seeZEROC).

The following are some examples of products and services that contribute to the reduction of environmental impact (e.g. marks).
Organisation and provision of information on the environmental impact of goods and services (display/provision of environmental impact data).

Environmental labels are closely related to our daily lives in a wide range of areas, including products, packaging and restaurant signage. A typical example is the 'Recycled paper use mark', granted to products that use used PET bottles.PET bottle recycling recommendation markThe list includes, among others, the following. According to the Ministry of the Environment, environmental labels are issued by a wide range of sources, from 'national and third-party organisations', 'business associations', 'local authorities' to 'foreign countries'.

Classification of environmental labels

The main environmental labels in operation worldwide are broadly classified by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) into three types
*There are also environmental labels that do not fall into these three types.

Type I (third-party certification)The environmental impact of the entire product life cycle is assessed and certified by an independent third party. Typical examples in Japan are the "ecological markThe following is a list of the most common examples. It is specified in the international standard ISO 14024. Internationally, the Germanblue angelfish (Holacanthus isabelita)is the world's first environmental label certification system.
Type II (self-declaration)It is a voluntary declaration by a company of the environmental considerations relating to an aspect of its products. As it is an environmental claim made by a company, it is important that the basis for the information is clearly disclosed, as stipulated in ISO 14021.
Type III (environmental information disclosure)Quantitative data on the environmental impact of a product, e.g. carbon footprint and eco-efficiency, as specified in ISO 14025. In Japan, the Japan Environmental Management Association for Industry'sEcoLeaf environmental labelling systemThe following are some of the examples. In other countries, the Swedish Government-supported system is also known as the "Product Environmental Declaration (EPD)The 'I' in the name of the government is listed in the following table.

Type I and III both require certification by a third-party body, while Type II is based on self-declaration and may be seen as kind of disadvantageous in terms of the credibility of the information. However, Type II allows for a flexible system design in which companies can claim voluntary methods and grounds, which can be expected to have a public relations effect by showing that the company is sensitive to the antennae of consumers with increasing environmental awareness.

The difference between Type I and Type III is that Type I applies to products and services that meet the acceptance criteria of a third-party organisation, while Type III judges and certifies whether the 'quantitative data' has been correctly calculated. From this point of view, the final decision on Type III is left to the consumer.

Introducing social aspects in certification.

From the perspective of 'sustainability', attention is beginning to focus on concepts that take into account not only environmental but also social and economic aspects. As a result, the nature of environmental labels is also changing. This is the move to integrate social aspects into existing certification schemes. Green purchasing, which takes into account environmental considerations in purchasing products (Ministry of the Environment) concept, the importance of environmental labels integrating social aspects (human rights, working environment, etc.) has recently been academically found out through interview surveys (Rubik, Prakash and Riedel, 2022.).

The Japan Environment Association, which operates Japan's only third-party certification, the Eco Mark, has introduced initiatives to promote the social aspects of companies (human rights, labour, etc.) from April 2021. This is a self-assessment system through the distribution of a 'sustainability checklist' to Eco Mark-certified businesses and organisations. This means that applicants for Eco Mark certification (not including affiliated companies, supply chains, etc.) are required to check compliance with labour-related laws and regulations and to report any violations (Japan Environment Association). Certification systems that take social aspects into account have already started to be used, mainly in Europe, and the Eco Mark system has started to introduce them with reference to this trend.

JEMAI has set the scope of evaluation of social aspects of initiatives in Eco Mark certification with the aim of "promoting social aspects of the business activities of certified operators as a complement to product certification" (Japan Environment Association). This means that the scope of analysis of social aspects is limited to the "direct activities" of both the "EcoMark products" and "activities related to the business as a whole" elements, while the social effects and indirect activities for other products and consumption are excluded from the scope.

In today's society, where the concept of a sustainable society is evolving, certification schemes that focus not only on environmental but also social aspects are expected to become increasingly important, while at the same time offering significant benefits to businesses and consumers.

Benefits of environmental and social certification

The benefits for companies through the use of certification schemes are manifold. If the relevant certification scheme is awarded to a product, it is expected to 'improve the credibility' of the product itself and 'strengthen its market competitiveness'. Where certification is granted to the company itself, it can also "promote sustainable growth" by signifying an external assessment of the company's management policy, which in turn "improves the company's reputation with investors".

Improved reliabilityCertification provides third-party assurance that a company's products and services are environmentally and socially responsible. This increases the credibility of the company's products and services among consumers and business partners and enhances the company's brand value.
Strengthening market competitivenessCertification allows companies to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Consumers are more inclined to choose environmentally and socially friendly products, so products from companies with certification are more competitive on the market.
Promoting sustainable growthThrough the certification process, companies can identify areas for improvement for sustainable management. This allows companies to reduce their environmental impact, improve working conditions and increase their overall sustainability.
Improved reputation with investorsFor sustainability-minded investors, companies with environmental and social certifications are attractive investment targets. This facilitates access to capital and supports company growth.
Table 1: Benefits of environmental and social certification

Points to note on environmental and social certification.

Although many advantages for companies have been identified for environmental and social certification, it is also necessary to focus on points of caution. In particular, the 'costs' and 'time and resources' of the certification process cannot be ignored. In addition, 'compliance with standards' to be certified also requires ongoing action. These certifications are expected to have a long-term perspective, as their continued use will be recognised by consumers. Finally, the gap with 'market expectations' held by consumers and investors also needs to be considered. In the context of the large number of existing certifications, it will be necessary to discuss internally which certifications should be adopted.

important pointDescription.
Cost of certificationIn order to obtain certification, there are costs associated with assessment and auditing. For SMEs in particular, these costs can be burdensome. Therefore, cost-effectiveness should be fully considered.
Investment of time and resourcesCertification requires a lot of time and resources. It requires a company-wide effort, including reviewing and improving internal processes, collecting the necessary data and training employees.
Compliance with certification standardsIn order to maintain certification, the certification standards must be constantly adhered to. This includes regular assessments and audits, with the risk that certification may be withdrawn if standards are not met.
Gap with market expectationsIf the expectations of consumers and investors do not match the content of the certification, the certification may have the opposite effect. For example, if consumers do not fully understand what the certification represents, they may perceive it as disappointing.
Table 2: Environmental and social certification notes

Certification schemes that also take into account the social aspects that are evolving.

As mentioned above, certification schemes, including environmental labels, have developed to integrate social aspects. This section introduces the current status of social certification systems by presenting examples not only from Japan but also from around the world.

Certification NameYear of establishmentcountrydetailed explanation
Eco Mark certification1989JapanOperated by the Japan Environment Association, it is Japan's only official third-party certification and the first environmental labelling system in Japan, launched in 1989. It was one of the earliest certifications to be launched globally and belongs to the World Eco-Labelling Network, an association of environmental labelling organisations, which is responsible for promoting and improving the quality of the environmental labelling system in Japan. In recent years, a 'sustainability checklist' has been made available to EcoMark adopting companies with the aim of assessing their efforts on the social side (labour and legal compliance).
CARE Certification2023JapanIt is a private certification system established by the Institute of Metrology and Sustainability Studies in 2023. The system is designed to provide an appropriate assessment of products and services with regard to their working and natural environment. It differs from the Ecomark certification in that it includes both direct and indirect supply chains.
EcoVadis2007FranceThis evaluation company was established in France in 2007. The company provides evaluation services, mainly for buyer companies, of the CSR policies, measures and performance of supplier companies. It is characterised by the fact that it does not assess products but companies. It has set up a comprehensive evaluation system by including a wide range of factors beyond financial aspects, such as labour practices and human rights, ethics and the impact of sustainable procurement, as well as environmental aspects.
Table 3: Examples of organisations offering certification schemes with integrated social aspects

The following mainly act as 'federations', which do not grant certification but aim to share norms among participating companies.

organisation nameYear of establishmentoriginObjective.Key features.
Sedex.2001.United KingdomPromotion of sustainable corporate activities that take into account the social and environmental aspects of the company and its entire supply chain.Creation of the world's largest electronic online platform, providing tools for participating companies to analyse both social and environmental aspects in a centralised manner.
RBA (Responsible Business Alliance)2017 (name change).AmericaPromoting responsible corporate behaviour in global supply chains.Programme focused on labour, ethics, environment, health and safety standards
Table 4: Organisations aiming to operate their businesses in an environmentally and socially responsible manner

Thus, certification schemes that take into account social aspects have emerged since the beginning of the 21st century. In the future, it will be important for Japanese companies to appeal to consumers by actively adopting these certification systems.


Environmental labels and social certifications play an important role in today's world of sustainability initiatives. Environmental labels assess the environmental impact of products and services and demonstrate their consideration to consumers, and are classified according to ISO standards as Type I, Type II or Type III. This allows consumers to make environmentally friendly choices based on reliable information.

In recent years, social certification has become increasingly important, not only for environmental aspects in terms of sustainability, but also for social aspects such as working conditions and human rights protection. The Japan Environment Association, which operates the Eco Mark, is developing social certification of the product owners themselves. Its main target is the realisation of sustainable corporate activities through corporate self-assessment. The CARE certification, on the other hand, is a social certification that expands the perspective to the supply chain, even though the evaluation target is the same as the product itself.

Environmental and social certification offers many benefits, such as increased credibility, enhanced market competitiveness, promotion of sustainable growth and improved reputation with investors. On the other hand, certification requires an investment of costs and resources, and there are caveats such as compliance with certification standards and gaps with market expectations.

These certification schemes are important tools for companies to achieve sustainable management and gain the trust of consumers and investors. It is hoped that companies will actively adopt eco-labels and social labels to increase transparency and credibility, thereby contributing to building a sustainable future. The development of certification systems that fulfil both environmental and social responsibilities will be required in the future.

aiESG has developed and provides tools to analyse the environmental and social aspects of a company's activities with regard to their sustainability. If you are a company interested in analysing the sustainability of your business, going back through the supply chain, please contact us.


*Related page*.
Report list : Regulations/standards
[Commentary] Overview and amendments to the European Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD).
[Commentary] Understanding the European Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD): mandatory assessment of adverse human rights and environmental impacts.
[Commentary] Non-financial capital: trends in human and natural capital - domestic and international disclosure regulations and guidelines.
Commentary] The importance of social aspects in non-financial information disclosure.

[Commentary] Alphabet soup - Disorder and convergence of sustainability standards.