Service Providers Can Now Obtain Sustainability Certification

Service provider companies can now obtain sustainability certification, which was previously only available to product manufacturers. Certification to NSF Protocol P391, North America’s first protocol to define sustainable services, helps companies meet state and federal procurement guidelines for sustainable services as well as demonstrate their commitment to environmental, labor and social responsibility practices.

Environmental management company Marstel-Day not only became the first service provider certified to NSF P391, but also helped pilot test the protocol and is providing stakeholder input to convert the protocol into a national standard.

The Challenge
Sustainability certification was a natural fit for Marstel-Day, which has been committed to the environment since its founding over a decade ago. However, when Marstel-Day President and CEO Rebecca R. Rubin began researching certifications, she found most applied only to product manufacturers, not to service providers.

“There is a lot of confusion in the industry about which standard to certify to, and how to define and quantify sustainability,” Rubin says. “When we started looking for certification, none specifically targeted service providers. We wanted to certify to the strongest standard that covers the most requirements, and, if possible, help move the conversation on sustainability forward in the service industry.”

The Solution
To address the industry need for sustainability certification for service providers and to help mitigate confusion in the marketplace, NSF International convened a committee to define NSF Protocol P391: General Sustainability Assessment Criteria for Services and Service Providers.

Gail Dunn, chief sustainability officer for Marstel-Day, says, “The criteria for P391 are unique and very well thought through. We try to stay at the leading edge of sustainability, and certifying to the protocol was an opportunity to assess our organization against the industry.”

To gain certification, Marstel-Day submitted information about its operations to NSF Sustainability (a division of NSF International), which evaluated it against the sustainability performance criteria in NSF P391 in three areas:

  • Environmental impact -“ Energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
  • Labor impact -“ Health and safety and employment practices
  • Social responsibility impact -“ Community assessment

NSF also performed an on-site audit to validate the procedures and processes to ensure they meet the performance criteria. Annual documentation audits and triennial on-site audits are required to maintain certification.

Marstel-Day participated in pilot testing to make sure the certification process was understandable, achievable and relevant. It went through the entire process of collecting and submitting documentation as required by the protocol, and discussed outstanding items and gaps with NSF.

Jessica Slomka, NSF Standards Development Liaison, says “Marstel-Day’s feedback and insight into the service and sustainability industries helped streamline the protocol. The pilot test also provided invaluable information for the committee that is now working to transition the protocol into a standard.”

The Joint Committee on Sustainable Service Providers, following the ANSI standards development process, is using NSF P391 as the basis for developing the new national standard. Stakeholder input is sought from a balanced group representing service providers, suppliers, regulatory agencies, environmental organizations and end users, including Dunn and representatives from the General Services Administration (GSA).

Dunn says, “I wanted to help create a sustainability standard that is broad enough to gain national acceptance by ensuring that it will be applicable to the many different kinds of companies in the service sector. The standard will also be flexible enough to apply to organizations at all stages of sustainability. For example, a zero-waste company won’t lose points because it can’t achieve high improvement rates, and a company just starting in sustainability won’t be disqualified because it hasn’t yet achieved improvements over its baseline data.”

At the same time, the standard will also contain criteria that are strict and robust enough for the certification to be meaningful. Dunn says, “We are very thoroughly defining the objectives and intent behind the criteria so auditors and certifying companies are speaking the same language and know what is being measured and how. It’s important to make criteria as clear and measurable as possible and to create a thorough, inclusive and meaningful standard.”

Once complete, the standard will replace the protocol. Companies certified to the protocol will be transferred to the standard in a seamless process, but may need to supply additional information to meet new criteria.

The Results
“Certification to P391 adds credibility to measures we’ve always had in place, and provides a way to prove our commitment to the environment,” Rubin says. “Certification fits the ethos of our firm as an environmental company and fits our social responsibility plan.”

NSF P391 sustainable service provider certification also allows Marstel-Day to differentiate its services and pursue preferred vendor status with organizations seeking more sustainable operating solutions. This includes local, state and federal government agencies and others attempting to comply with U.S. Executive Order 13514, which helps ensure that 95 percent of government contracts include products and services with sustainable attributes (e.g. energy and water efficiency, recycled content). Many of these sustainable attributes are included in criteria for NSF P391.

Marstel-Day also hopes to help lead the way for other companies to obtain sustainable certification.

Tom Bruursema is a sustainability expert with more than 24 years of experience in product certification and professional accreditation within domestic and international markets. He currently serves as general manager of NSF International’s Sustainability division. For details about NSF P391 certification, contact Dennis Gillan at [email protected] or 734-476-2543, or visit