Sustainability Audits: Just a Fig Leaf?

Sustainability audits are frequently conducted on products, businesses, college campuses and whole communities. How reliable are they? What effects do they have on anything?

Those are good questions, and it’s fairly disturbing that it should be so hard to find the answers. If sustainability audits as currently practiced are as important as it would seem, then you would think it would be easy to find some bit of infrastructure out there, something like a national or international Association of Sustainability Auditors that maintains a body of knowledge, best practices and education tracks and which does a bit of lobbying for its constituents.

If it’s out there, then it’s doing a darned good job of hiding from me. That’s the first red flag that I see, but it’s not the only one.

Companies such as GreenTick have engaged in “privately funded research” to develop their own methods of “independent sustainability certification”. So, we have the happy situation where one business is able to obtain “independent sustainability certification” from another business, with each of the industrious and presumably very profitable sustainability audit and certification companies operating in a bubble of its own design.

Government and the general public have no more information about the sustainability of a product, company or other entity after such a b2b “audit” than they did before.

As far as I can tell, this is just an attempt by an unsustainable, growth-mongering, commons-dumping business world to pretend to be policing itself.

How is that not just a fig leaf?

We need laws that require consumer and industrial products, for-profit and not-for-profit entities as well as governmental agencies and territorial jurisdictions to be subjected periodically to sustainability audits. Only then will our lawmakers not be abdicating their responsibility to protect the commons.

We need an international community of practice for sustainability auditors with an enforceable code of ethics, a comprehensive and continuously updated body of knowledge and transparent tie-ins to the educational infrastructure. Only then will the business of sustainability accounting itself be sustainable.

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