SQ Program Frequently Asked Questions
Have a specific question about UL's SQ Program? To find the answer, select a question below.
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Why is UL launching the SQ Program?
UL's mission is to work for a safer world, and we believe that sustainability is a global safety issue. In the course of validating product-level environmental claims and developing multi-attribute product level sustainability standards, UL Environment considered the question: "Can an unsustainable business create sustainable products and vice versa?" Our answer is no, but we also realize that responses to the question of "what does a sustainable company look like" varies depending on who you ask. Our work on corporate-level sustainability standards - with scientists, sustainability practitioners and thought leaders in the field of sustainability - is an effort to clarify the vision of a sustainable company while helping organizations tell their sustainability story now. UL is also helping companies meet stakeholder skepticism that all sustainability claims are "greenwashing" by clarifying what we mean by the term and by bringing trusted third-party auditing of corporate-level claims to the market.
What is the SQ Program and how does it relate to UL 880 and UL 881?
The Sustainability Quotient (SQ) Program is a comprehensive enterprise-level sustainability program from an independent, global certification agency, Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Our mission is to facilitate the integration of corporate sustainability best practices in enterprises through the development and implementation of services based on a foundation of auditable standards, offering credibility and reputation risk mitigation to aspiring sustainability leaders. The Standards upon which the Program is based are UL 880: Sustainability for Manufacturing Organizations, and UL 881: Sustainability for Service Sector Organizations. UL 881 is in development. Through the SQ Program, UL and SQ Qualified Consultants and SQ Qualified Auditors, will offer certification, assessment, and other services.
What are “certification” versus “assessment” or other services?
The intent of the program is to move enterprises from a marketplace where sustainability objectives and performance are largely self-declared and siloed within organizations, to a marketplace where sustainability objectives and performance are tightly integrated with overall enterprise goals, and audited regularly.
Organizations vary widely in terms of the extent to which they integrate sustainability within their enterprises. For that reason, we have identified several service offerings that use the Standards to assist companies on their sustainability journeys, and expect that some customers may not seek certification at all.
Certification services include the following:
- Focus Area Certification: Full certification may be too comprehensive for a company to take on at one time; this alternative allows companies to secure certification, based on a third-party verification or audit of the prerequisite and core indicators, in one of two areas: either the environmental domain or governance plus one of the three social areas. Companies may maintain focus area certification or move up to full certification over time.
- Full Certification: Companies achieve full certification based on a third-party verification or audit of the prerequisite and core indicators across all five domains of the standard.
Assessment services include the following:
- Readiness Assessment: A gap analysis with the goal of identifying readiness for focus area or full certification.
SQ Analytics: Services provided to customers who wish to use the standard(s) for purposes other than those that prepare it for certification, including a gap analysis, and merger and acquisition integration assessments.
Supply Chain Support Services: Procurement policy development support and implementation.
Training on Sustainability: Training in sustainability overall, and on the UL/SQ Program and enterprise-level Standards specifically.
Customers may bundle any number of service offerings to fit their specific needs.
What if our organization is just getting started? How do we get certified even if we don't think we can meet all of the requirements of the Standard right away?
Yes. The UL/SQ program is designed to recognize companies at all stages of a sustainability. The "Focus Area" certification path may be the best choice. There are four Focus Area certification options:
- Environment only
- Governance for Sustainability plus Work Force
- Governance for Sustainability plus Customers and Suppliers
- Governance for Sustainability plus Community Engagement and Human Rights
To achieve Focus Area certification, you must meet all prerequisites and score points in all core indicators in the selected domains. For instance, in the first year, you may opt to focus on the Environment domain while adding the Governance for Sustainability and Work Force domain areas the next year.
Applicants may achieve three Focus Area certifications before seeking Full certification.
What will SQ Qualified Auditors and Consultants do?
SQ Qualified Auditors and SQ Qualified Consultants are collaborators in delivering a range of services to companies as part of the SQ Program. Auditors will be involved in completing third-party verification for focused or full certification. Consultants will engage with companies in capacity building to prepare to engage with any of the certification and assessment services offered by UL as listed above. They will also engage with companies on any implementation required to close gaps highlighted by the readiness assessment or SQ analytics gap analysis to prepare companies for certification under the UL/SQ Program.
What is the difference between verification and certification?
The UL/SQ Program is based on independent third-party audit of all evidence provided by the Applicant. Auditors will use “agreed-upon procedures,” or AUPs, to complete all verifications under the pilot and under initial commercial operations. To ensure consistency of application of the requirements in the standard, UL Environment will serve as the certifier, author of the AUPs, and will make the final decision about the achievement of indicator-level scores.
The auditors will use “Agreed Upon Procedures” to complete their audits. What are “Agreed Upon Procedures”?
UL Environment will provide an audit protocol that will be used as the “agreed-upon-procedures” (AUPs) between the Applicant, auditor, and UL Environment. Under an AUP engagement, the auditor does not issue an opinion about the Applicant’s submission. Rather, it performs the procedures that have been agreed to by the Applicant and UL Environment and submits its findings about that evidence to the certifier. UL Environment, as the certifier, will use these findings to make a decision regarding the indicator-level scores. Under an AUP engagement, the auditor does not issue any opinion; rather the opinion on the sufficiency of the procedures and the interpretation of the results is the responsibility of UL Environment. AUP is narrower in scope, and therefore less costly than other auditing approaches.
How does one become an SQ Qualified Auditor?
The SQ Qualified Auditor status is available to organizations who must apply to become part of the program. Individuals who are employed by or subcontract to those organizations must receive training and maintain their credentials to serve on an SQ audit team. Please contact UL at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
How does one become an SQ Qualified Consultant?
The SQ Qualified Consultant status is available to individuals who must take training and maintain their credentials to be part of the program.
What is UL 880? Is that the same or different from ULE 880, and ULE ISR 880?
UL 880: Sustainability for Manufacturing Organizations is a comprehensive company-level sustainability Standard from an independent, global certification agency. UL Environment developed UL 880 jointly with GreenBiz Group, a leading source for news, best practices and research related to the greening of mainstream business. The goal for the Standard is to create uniform global metrics for company sustainability performance rating adopted worldwide and has the following attributes:
- Focused on manufacturing
- Broad coverage of sustainability issues
- Point-based scoring that will integrate tiers of achievement
- Built upon a 3rd party audit process
The ISR - Interim Sustainability Requirements - were the interim requirements that were used in the pilot program. UL has also dropped the "E" from its standards naming convention to align it with the entire UL family of standards.
What does ISR stand for?
Interim Sustainability Requirements. The ISR has been replaced with the first version of the standard, UL 880.
What is Greenbiz’s role in development of the standard?
The GreenBiz Group has collaborated with UL Environment in the development of UL 880: Sustainability for Manufacturing Organizations, and UL 881: Sustainability for Service Sector Organizations.
What is UL’s role in development of the standard and the pilot program?
UL has collaborated with GreenBiz in developing UL 880, will collaborate in development of 881, and owns and manages the certification program and its ancillary services.
How is this different from other rating systems?
The UL/SQ Program is based on Standards, the first of which is UL 880, which is the first comprehensive, verifiable, enterprise-level sustainability rating system developed by a global certification organization, with input from a diverse range of stakeholders. It differs from other types of systems increasingly common to the world of sustainability, such as ranking systems (e.g., Newsweek); Indices (e.g., Dow Jones); guidance documents (e.g., ISO 26000); and sustainability protocols (e.g., Walmart’s Sustainability Index). It focuses on the full spectrum of environmental and social issues generally referenced by such terms as “sustainability” or “corporate social responsibility.”
How will the UL/SQ Program benefit business?
Many companies, government agencies, universities, hospitals, and other large purchasers of goods and services already incorporate environmental and social standards into the goods and services they buy. However, until now they had no means of assessing the environmental and social performance of the companies providing those goods and services. This program will help buyers use a consistent set of metrics to assess the companies from which they purchase things. In addition, many manufacturers, retailers, and other companies are incorporating environmental and social metrics into their supplier assessment criteria or their Requests for Proposal for their supply-chain partners. The UL/SQ Program will offer a more comprehensive and convenient means of doing so by encouraging or requiring suppliers to become certified under UL 880 or UL 881.
What are the five domains?
The UL 880 Standard defines sustainability across five domains – Governance for Sustainability, Environment, Work Force, Customers and Suppliers, and Community Engagement and Human Rights.
What does it take to get certified?
UL’s goals are to recognize sustainability leaders, promote greater levels of leadership while encouraging and enabling new entrants to start on the path toward sustainability, and provide benchmarking and risk management tools for all manufacturers in regard to their sustainability efforts. To this end, and after consideration of stakeholder input, the UL Environment-GreenBiz team identified a subset of indicators in its standards – prerequisite and core indicators – that companies are required to pass or achieve minimum points in to be considered “certified.”
- Prerequisites are primarily compliance and legal requirements and expectations that an Applicant must meet in order to be considered for certification.
- Core indicators will serve as a gateway for Applicants to demonstrate their initial sustainability efforts, create a foundation for sustainability leaders to build upon, and serve as a risk management tool for use in supply chains and other areas where sustainability efforts are beginning to develop.
The Standard says that the baseline year for all data is 2005. Will that penalize leading companies that have made significant progress before 2005?
Establishing a sustainability Standard that is applicable to all manufacturing organizations across geographies and sectors is challenging on many levels. In fact, the most consistent feedback point offered by many stakeholders during the initial open comment period on UL 880 from July through September 2010 is that “one size doesn’t fit all.”
We have adjusted the Standard to enable Applicants that may have begun tracking data later than 2005. We have also clarified that baselines should be reestablished upon acquisitions or mergers that affect operations within scope of the assessment.
How did you come up with the domain level weighting (and why is environment weighted so much more than the other domains)?
Points have been allocated to indicators based on type – inventory and baselines, policy and procedures, performance, and reporting – and an estimate of level of effort and effect on a company's sustainability operations. Points are weighted to emphasize actual performance. So, for instance:
- Inventories and Baseline indicators are allocated between 10 and 14 points;
- Policies and Procedure indicators are allocated between 5 and 10 points;
- Performance indicators are allocated between 14 and 25 points ; and
- Reporting indicators are allocated between 5 and 10 points.
Since the environmental domain both has more indicators overall and has more performance indicators than the other domains, this section came out more heavily weighted than others.
We have made one exception to this point range noted above, allocating larger number of points to supply chain indicators and one human rights indicator to reflect the importance of supply chain on enterprise-sustainability and difficulty of incorporating tier 2 suppliers in its sustainability efforts.
How will you make the collection of supply chain sustainability information easier?
The Standard will help companies collect supply chain information in several ways:
- First, as more companies and supply chain partners use UL’s enterprise-level Standards for sustainability assessment, the common assessment platform will result in easier communication of results.
- Second, UL 880, specifically, includes sustainable supply chain indicators that give companies a consistent platform upon which they can evaluate their supply chain.
- Third, we have identified a set of core indicators in the Standard that companies can use to evaluate their suppliers. These core indicators comprise a robust group of practices upon which the majority of suppliers may be assessed.
Will you be partnering with organizations like the Global Reporting Initiative, Carbon Trust, or the Carbon Disclosure Project?
In cases where companies are already reporting to organizations such as the Carbon Disclosure Project, or using established reporting methodologies like that of the Global Reporting Initiative, UL’s enterprise-level standards are designed to leverage existing best practices, not replace them. Our indicators cross reference other guidelines and standards to give credit to companies that have already done substantial work in conformance to other valuable protocols.
Why doesn’t UL 880 include financial indicators?
The requirements do not include financial indicators – the third leg of the triple bottom line – because the identification of relevant financial indicators is still in early development.
Where may I find the latest version of UL 880?
UL 880 is available for free download by clicking here. (registration required)