Article: An Insider’s Guide to ULE880 Sustainability Standard

This was an article written by Barbara Englehart for the 2011 Green Business Forum.

Workshop Summary: An Insider’s Guide to ULE880 Sustainability Standard

Date: Thursday, February 18, 2011

Speaker: Craig Coulter, Business Manager, Sustainability Services

UL Environment (ULE) and GreenBiz Group have joined forces to create a standard of uniform global metrics for rating company sustainability performance worldwide - ULE880: Sustainability for Manufacturing Organizations.  Craig Coulter, Business Manager of ULE’s Sustainability Services says that ULE880 brings “a standard for Audited Organizational Sustainability.  ULE880 is a consistently applied, verifiable, measurable roadmap for sustainability policies, practices, and performance.  It will improve risk management, data quality, and established performance measures in your industry. “

UL’s traditional focus had been on safety certifications at the product level – the 130 UL safety marks on household products that are currently in the average US home.  ULE880 is a certification at the company level focused on manufacturing firms.  It covers a comprehensive range of practices including: 
  • Sustainability Governance:  sustainability strategic planning, board oversight, internal stakeholder engagement, ethics policies, and creating the infrastructure and fostering the behaviors that create a culture of sustainability
  • Environment:  product stewardship, sustainable resource use, environmental management systems, energy efficiency and carbon management, materials optimization, facilities and land use, habitat restoration, and waste prevention
  • Work Force: professional development, workplace integrity, employee satisfaction and retention, workplace safety, and employee health and well-being
  • Customers and Suppliers:   fair marketing practices, product safety, customer support and complaint resolution, and sustainable supply chain management, monitoring and improvement
  • Community Engagement and Human Rights:  community impact assessment, community investment, and human rights issues
ULE880 is scored on a point based system with tiers of achievement.  100 indicators are measured with a corresponding 1000 points available.  An applicant must first meet seven prerequisites to be considered for certification.  19 primary indicators worth 159 points are the minimum to achieve certification.  Applicants can establish leadership on another 74 indicators worth 841 points.  Additional innovation points are available to encourage progress and what will be the future standards.  The score will be certified through a third-party audit process.  ULE is still working on how the results will be published.  The audience expressed concern about the low bar of 159 points, equivalent to 16% of available points, for certification.  Craig pointed out that “the intent is to encourage engagement while also providing transparency.  Published scores would provide transparency and incentive to achieve more than the minimum requirements.  Higher scores could become a competitive differentiator in the marketplace.”  This is an area that continues to be worked. 
Craig commented that the audience’s questions during the session reflect the significant issues raised and discussed during the comment period. 

Is the checklist and scoring approach really going to transform companies into being sustainable?   The certification process is intended to be educational for companies.  As they go through certification, companies will learn what it means to be sustainable and how to implement sustainable practices.  ULE880 provides guidance to those who are learning.  A company who scores low in an initial audit can progressively implement sustainable practices and show improvements in subsequent annual reviews.

Will ULE880 overlap with existing standards?  ULE880 is not intended to create new standards where widely accepted practices already exist.  It integrates widely-used guidelines and frameworks such as the Global Reporting initiative (GRI), Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), and International Organization to Standardization (ISO).  UL likes the work B-Lab is doing to certify benefit corporations (also presented at the DC State of Green Business Conference), but B-Lab is targeted toward a different audience, smaller corporations. 

Will ULE880 apply to manufacturing operations overseas?  ULE880 is a global standard targeted to large manufacturing companies.  It applies to multinational companies with factories in the US and overseas.  The certification reviews company-wide policies and procedures with a site visit to at least one significant manufacturing facility. 

After the initial review, what is the frequency of subsequent reviews?  Annually.  The depth of evaluation will be based on scope, corporate changes, and revisions to standard (major revisions expected every 3-4 years).

The Interim Sustainability Requirements under the title ULE ISR 880 is currently posted online and continues to be open for public comment.  Simultaneously, ULE is planning to start the pilot program in March 2011 and is actively recruiting interested participants.  There are plans for a standard ULE881 to cover the service sector; tentative timeframes are late 2011 or more likely 2012.


  1. Hi Barbara,
    Hey, I know Craig. If I'd known you were going to see him, I would have told you to say hi.

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