The first proposed national standard, NSF 391.1: Sustainability Assessment Criteria for Professional Services, hopes to address supply chain challenges

As major industry coalitions develop and adopt specific approaches to address supply chain challenges, the first proposed national standard for the professional services sector has opened for public comment – and it could be a reality by early 2018.  NSF International – the independent global health organisation that writes standards and tests and certifies products to minimize adverse health effects and protect the environment – initiated the American National Standards Institute(ANSI) multi-stakeholder voluntary consensus development process to produce the proposed standard, NSF 391.1: Sustainability Assessment Criteria for Professional Services.  I contributed to it as a Joint Committee member and chair of the Social Working Group Task Force.

The consensus standard is voluntary and developed with multiple stakeholders to ensure open discussion and input from stakeholders.  As a result, its criteria touch on four areas of action: social, economic, environmental and sustainable supply chain.  

Professional services firms, like other sector-specific organisations represented by such groups as The Sustainability Consortium, Electronic Industries Citizenship Coalition(EICC), and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, have seen stakeholder expectations rise to operate our companies more sustainably.  We have experienced a growing number of RFP client requests across platforms seeking information on diversity spend, employment practices and environmental factors such as how firms address Greenhouse Gas Reductions.  Sometimes these requests are 100-plus questionnaires that, frankly, trigger "survey fatigue." Firms also are finding that employees increasingly favor citizenship initiatives.

For instance, in the Edelman internal citizenship survey, eight-of-10 employees consider our citizenship program an important reason for joining the firm.  Around the world, governments are adopting legislative directives, including the EU Directive for Non-Financial Reporting, UK Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme, UK Modern Slavery Act and India’s law requiring companies to give two percent of their net profits to charity, among others.  Also, the Edelman 2017 Trust Barometer illuminated a deep desire of people worldwide for businesses to actively help solve societal challenges. 

The proposed points-based and results-based standard   goes beyond guidance or a framework and includes many new aspects that make it a truly innovative solution addressing an important market need. For the first time, sustainable supply chain is presented as its own section. The other three sections – social, economic, and environmental – and the sustainable supply chain section are each worth 25 points on the standard’s scorecard. While the sections require processes, resources and other commitments, each section also contains key performance indicators, or KPIs, focused on accountability.  KPIs track results on health and well-being, community involvement and diversity and inclusion, among other topics. 

Corporations must be certified by a third-party auditor and can achieve a base level or leadership level certification.  For a base certification, corporations must achieve 50 points with a minimum of 10 points in each of four sections and another 10 points from any of the KPIs.  Leadership level requires earning 70 points including a minimum of 10 points in each of four sections and another 30 points from any of the KPIs.

The U.S. General Services Administration, the independent executive federal agency overseeing the government-wide category management program, identified the professional services category among the largest categories of spend, at $66.9bn (FY16). This insight highlighting an important market opportunity that needed to be addressed proved instrumental in shaping the sustainability standard.

We hope that stakeholders, including government, public and private companies, civil society, universities and professional services firms, examine the proposed NSF 391.1 standard during the period for public comment and offer their views and recommendations. Once this becomes a standard in the United States, we hope to evolve NSF 391.1 globally.

We believe it will provide a roadmap for professional services companies to further evolve their sustainability journey wherever they may be today. 

A copy of the draft standard may be downloaded here:

If you are interested in reviewing and commenting on the NSF 391.1 standard, please refer to NSF International’s public comment portal. Comments, which will be considered by the NSF Joint Committee for inclusion into the standard, may also be submitted to (with copy to through November 6.


John Edelman is managing director, global engagement and corporate responsibility at Edelman and on the Advisory Board at Ethical Corporation.