Amsterdam-based chocolate brand Tony's Chocolonely advertises that it offers 100% slave-free chocolate. DHL commits to zero emissions by 2050, and Anheuser-Busch InBev claims to be the world's most water-efficient brewer. That's all very welcome - but, on what basis can investors, customers and business partners verify the veracity? That differs from case to case. The new ISO/IEC 17029 standard describes how such claims can be verified and/or validated according to a standardized procedure.

Putting an end to the post-factual age: In order to secure the trust of customers, investors and consumers in the long term, business needs reliable methods to distinguish plausible statements from insubstantial marketing promises. In the area of greenhouse gas emissions, such a method already existed: back in 2006, the ISO 14064-3 standard was published, specifying the requirements for verification and validation of emissions. The success of this standard has shown that the need for reliable and standardized methods is not limited to greenhouse gas emissions - what is needed is a uniform basis for the verification and validation of statements and reports of all kinds. These include statements on the environmental performance of products and organizations, sustainability reports, comparative statements, ethical statements and many more.

This is precisely the contribution that the new ISO/IEC 17029 standard is now intended to make: it specifies requirements for verification bodies and describes how verifications and validations should proceed.

What data can we verify and/or validate according to ISO/IEC 17029?

Verification or validation by an independent third party such as DQS provides assurance to investors, business partners and consumers that the information, figures and statements disclosed are accurate and robust. Frequently, these are:

  • Verifications of ethical statements about products, organizations, supply chains and services. The guidelines for ethical statements are set out in the ISO/TS 17033 standard, which is also new. Examples: "Guaranteed without child labor," "We pay above-average salaries to the employees involved," "We empower small farmers," etc.
  • Validation of due diligence approaches: Confirmation that due diligence approaches can fulfill their intended purpose. Examples include human rights due diligence, information security, anti-corruption, ...
  • Verification of sustainability reports: External verification of sustainability reports against established standards such as GRI and AA1000.
  • Statements on the environmental friendliness of products, such as environmental labels and declarations in the scope of ISO 14021.
  • Verification of sustainability indicators and so-called ESG indicators: CO2 balances(ISO 14064), water balances(ISO 14046), life cycle assessments (ISO14044), and other indicators
  • Verification of sustainable investments such as Green Bonds and Climate Bonds: DQS is an accredited verification body of the Climate Bonds Initiative.

What is the difference between verification and
validation?

According to the new ISO/IEC 17029 standard, verification and validation differ in how they relate in time to the data being verified:

  • Validation involves statements and data that relate to the future. As a rule, this involves predicted or simulated data that relate to an intended application. These are assumptions that are checked for plausibility.

For example: A company claims that the use of its products will reduce water consumption by 50%. Such a claim can be validated if models prove that the predicted reduction is plausible.

  • Verified are results that have already been achieved. It is real data that is checked for its truthfulness.

For example: A company reports to have reduced water consumption by 50% compared to the previous year. This statement can be verified because it is about already achieved results.

How do verification and
validation differ from certification and inspection?

Validation and verification are neither an investigation (inspection), nor a certificate of conformity with a validity period (certification). Thus, the difference can be seen in the nature of the assessment and its purpose. Most importantly, the benefits are different: while certifications and inspections focus primarily on conformance to standards and specifications, verifications and validations take the individual statements and data of organizations as their starting point. This enables companies to bring their own strengths and performance to the fore instead of focusing exclusively on conformity.

Author
Dr. Thijs Willaert

Dr. Thijs Willaert is Global Director Sustainability Services. In this role, he is responsible for the entire ESG service portfolio of DQS. His areas of interest include sustainable procurement, human rights due diligence and ESG audits.

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