A professional certification has value if it helps the certificant explain his expertise to potential clients or employers – in other words, it has primary value as a marketing tool. In order for this value to be realized, consumers must know the certification by reputation.
Another, equally important kind of value characterizes the best certifications, however: they can protect the certificant in the event of legal proceedings. For this additional value to be realized, not only consumers but also lawyers and juries must be able to rely on the certification as evidence of the certificant’s expertise.
One way that the finest environmental certification programs maximize both of these types of value is board awarding, a process where certification is granted not by administrative staff but by an independent panel of industry experts. Though very few environmental certifications are board-awarded, nevertheless the process is an essential feature of the most respected designations in the field and is required of all third-party accredited certifications.
What makes a truly board awarded certification?
No staff decisions. The decision to award or withhold certification should never be made by staff members of the certifying body.
Industry experts. Certification Boards should be composed of industry practitioners who understand first hand the knowledge and experience required of a certified individual.
Volunteer Status. Board members should be entirely independent of the certifying body and should serve on a volunteer basis.
Certification program oversight. Boards should have complete authority over examination, eligibility and recertification requirements for the certification program. These decisions should never be left to administrative staff.
Unanimous decisions. Boards should grant certification by unanimous vote only so that certificants hold their designations with the highest level of confidence.
Recusal and conflict of interest. Board members should not participate in votes where they may be biased for or against a candidate. Board members should not be involved in preparing candidates for the certification exam.
Complaints and appeals. Boards should have exclusive authority to rule on complaints against certificants and to hear appeals of their decisions.
Published procedures. Boards should conduct their business according to published rules governing all aspects of their business. Though board meetings should be confidential, they should always follow publicly stated procedures.
Why is board awarding important?
Board awarding is required of all personnel certifications accredited by the major third-party accreditation bodies in the North America: ANSI (The American National Standards Institute), NCCA (the National Commission of Certifying Agencies), and CESB (the Council of Engineering and Scientific Specialty Boards). Board-awarding helps these national bodies verify that the programs they accredit are operated to the highest standards. Essentially, board awarding allows an uncoerced consensus to testify to a certificant’s knowledge and expertise. That consensus says, among other things, that the certification represents an entire field of knowledge; that it has been awarded freely without the influence of politics or economics; and that there is broad agreement as to the qualifications of the certified individual.
In the same way that a well known title or acronym makes a certification attractive to consumers and employers, an accreditation based on board-awarding makes a certification attractive to industry professionals, attorneys, judges and juries. Professionals who are seeking personnel certification should inquire as to whether potential designations are board awarded. The answer could mean the difference between an enhanced reputation or a damaged one when the designation is challenged in court.
Adam Andrews is Director of Operations at the American Council for Accredited Certification (ACAC), an independent certifying body serving the environmental industry since 1992. ACAC offers board-awarded certifications in fields related to indoor air quality to more than 3,000 individuals across North America and overseas. For more information about ACAC programs, please visit www.acac.org