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What’s Behind Cradle to Cradle’s New Certified Product Standard 4.0

The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute has released Version 4.0 of its Certified Product Standard–the most ambitious and actionable yet for designing and making products today that enable a healthy, equitable and sustainable tomorrow.

For more than a decade, leading brands, designers and manufacturers have relied on the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard to optimize products for immediate and long-term positive impacts.

“Cradle to Cradle Certified has long been regarded as the most trusted and advanced science-based standard for designing and manufacturing products that maximize health and well-being for people and our planet,” institute president and CEO Peter Templeton said. “The fourth version of Cradle to Cradle Certified builds on this legacy by equipping brands, retailers, designers and manufacturers with actionable guidance and best practices for choosing safer materials, driving meaningful innovation, and creating products, systems and business models that have a positive impact on humans and the environment today and in the future.”

The new standard is a comprehensive framework that enables companies to prioritize action across five sustainability focus areas.

These are “material health,” ensuring materials are safe for humans and the environment; “product circularity,” enabling a circular economy through regenerative products and process design; “clean air and climate protection,” promoting clean air and renewable energy, and reducing harmful emissions; “water and soil stewardship,” safeguarding clean water and healthy soils, and “social fairness,” respecting human rights and contributing to a fair and equitable society.

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The new standard also enacts roadmaps for change, from product innovation to operations; transforms business models, systems and collaboration throughout the value chain; verifies sustainability performance and measure progress; and leads industry transformation toward a safe, circular and equitable future.

Companies in every sector face growing pressure from investors, customers, employees and other stakeholders to demonstrate environmental, social and governance performance and to communicate progress in credible and transparent ways, according to Dr. Christina Raab, vice president of strategy and development for the Institute.

“Cradle to Cradle Certified Version 4.0 offers businesses of all sizes an ambitious solution for advancing from commitment to action by addressing interconnected sustainability topics, and developing safe and circular products,” Raab told Sourcing Journal. “By benchmarking performance against the standard’s ascending levels of achievement, companies can set strategy, measure progress, and clearly communicate their impact and leadership to their stakeholders.”

Raab said 4.0 provides a framework to make products in a “very holistic way,” looking at sustainability, circularity and product safety. The interconnectivity of those topics gets increasing important, she noted, as the challenges companies face grow.

The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute has released Version 4.0 of its Certified Product Standard.

“The product circularity and the social fairness of this new version are what really stand out,” Raab said. “The social fairness category has been updated to reflect the best practices around human rights topics, and diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s really about business operations and the practices in the supply chain.”

The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute developed the new standard through a multi-stakeholder process informed by diverse technical subject matter experts, leading manufacturers, independent assessors and other market representatives serving on the Institute’s Standards Steering Committee, as well as its Stakeholder Advisory Council and Technical Advisory Groups.

The standard has been tested in the market through the Cradle to Cradle Certified Version 4.0 Pilot Program. Eight companies have participated in the program by working to certify products to draft requirements of the new standard. The first products certified to Cradle to Cradle Certified Version 4.0 will be announced this spring.

Materials and products that meet the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard requirements may achieve Cradle to Cradle certification. The Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard verifies products and materials that are safe, circular and responsibly made.

To earn product certification, organizations must work with an independent third-party assessor to determine a product’s achievement levels across the sustainability performance categories. The product is then assigned an achievement level for each category–Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. The lowest level of achievement among the five categories determines the product’s overall certification level awarded by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.

Looking ahead, Raab feels the industry is making step-by-step progress “and that is, of course, not satisfactory. Accelerated progress is required and more collective progress.”

“Our standard is a leadership standard that requires deep commitment throughout a company and its supply chain,” she added. “And being in it for the long term. We hope this new framework can provide a means to accelerate industry progress toward circularity.”