TRUE Zero Waste Certification – A Guide for Businesses

Interested in TRUE Zero Waste certification for your facility? It is not as difficult as you might think.

To “walk the walk,” we underwent the process for our NYC HQ and became TRUE certified to the Gold level, with a diversion rate of 91.3%! (Read the Great Forest Zero Waste case study) In this guide, we offer a quick overview of the process and requirements with links to TRUE’s own detailed guide. You will learn that getting TRUE certified is an achievable goal with great benefits.

What is Zero Waste?

According to the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA), Zero Waste is:

“The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.” 

Learn more about what Zero Waste is and is not.

What is TRUE Zero Waste Certification?

TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency) is a Zero Waste certification program administered by the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), the same body that oversees LEED and other green rating systems.  According to the GBCI, The program helps businesses “define, pursue and achieve their Zero Waste goals… and focuses on the upstream policies and practices that make Zero Waste successful in any organization and beyond.”

TRUE is a whole systems approach aimed at changing how materials flow through society, resulting in zero waste to landfill, incineration (waste-to-enregy) and the environment. This approach promotes processes that consider the entire lifecycle of products used within a facility.

Why Obtain Zero Waste Certification?

With rising waste costs, reducing waste is increasingly becoming the only long term strategy to control costs for effective waste management. By going through the process of TRUE Zero Waste certification, businesses will put themselves on a path to Zero Waste with practices that will reap many benefits. Implementing the requirements and credits of TRUE certification can help businesses:

  • Save money: A Zero Waste strategy improves the bottom line by reducing costs associated with waste and inefficiency.
  • Support sustainability: A Zero Waste strategy supports the three P’s – people, planet and profit.
  • Improve material flows: A Zero Waste strategy uses fewer new raw materials and sends less waste materials to landfills, incineration (waste-to-energy) and the environment.
  • Progress faster: A Zero Waste strategy improves upon production processes and environmental prevention strategies, which can lead to more innovative thinking.
  • Showcase leadership: A Zero Waste strategy showcases your business’s responsibility to the local and global community, and to the environment; and builds Zero Waste relationships with vendors and customers.

Certification Minimum Requirements

To achieve Zero Waste certification, facilities must first meet seven minimum program requirements:

  1. Company or project seeking certification has a Zero Waste policy in place.
  2. Project has achieved an average 90% or greater overall diversion from landfill, incineration (WTE), and the environment for solid, non-hazardous wastes for the most recent 12 months. Diverted materials are reduced, reused, recycled, composted and/or recovered for productive use in nature or the economy.
  3. Project meets all federal, state/provincial and local solid waste and recycling laws and regulations. Project complies with all air, water and land discharge permits required for collection, handling or processing of materials.
  4. Project has data documenting a base year of waste diversion data, and measurements since the base year that adjust for changes in size, type and nature of business.
  5. Project does not exceed a 10% contamination level for any materials that leave the site.
  6. Project submits 12 months of waste diversion data to GBCI annually to keep the certification current.
  7. Company submits a case study of zero waste initiatives.

Certification Levels

Beyond the seven minimum requirements laid out above, businesses must earn at least 31 points (out of a total of 81) across 16 categories on the TRUE scorecard to achieve certification. Total points earned will determine which of the four different certification levels is achieved.

TRUE Zero Waste Certification Process

  1. Register
  2. Apply
  3. Review
  4. Certify

Learn more about each step of the process here (on page 7).

How To Get Ready For The Certification Process

If you are pursuing certification for the first time, here is what you should do to get ready.

1. Assemble a Zero Waste team; Evaluate current programs

Before registering and starting the process of certification, create a Zero Waste team. This was the first step we took when we decided to obtain TRUE Zero Waste certification for the Great Forest NYC headquarters. This team took on the task of understanding what waste programs we already had in place, and what more could be done. By having a dedicated Zero Waste team, not just a single person like a Zero Waste project lead, we were able to get significantly more buy-in from staff and support to troubleshoot problems as they arose. We saw an increase in engagement from staff across departments, not just our Zero Waste-certified employees. We also received an influx of ideas for new waste reduction programs that have since been implemented at our HQ. We continue to experience broad support for our commitment to maintaining a diversion rate above 90%, and being TRUE certified. Read our TRUE zero waste case study.

2. Assess

Conduct an onsite waste stream audit and operational assessment to gain a baseline understanding of your facility’s waste profile, opportunities for improvement, and determine whether your facility meets TRUE minimum program requirements. Subsequently, conduct a TRUE Zero Waste feasibility assessment to:

  • Evaluate each of the 81 possible TRUE credits across 16 categories for achieving certification.
  • Assess the cost, required effort, potential impact, and feasibility of achieving each credit.
  • Develop and recommend a general framework or roadmap towards achieving TRUE certification.

Businesses need at least 31 out of 81 points across categories on the TRUE scorecard, and this in-depth assessment will give your team a roadmap to certification.

When Great Forest conducted a TRUE Zero Waste certification feasibility assessment for a large healthcare corporation, we not only provided them with a checklist of what they needed to do to meet the seven minimum requirements, but we also broke down each possible credit across each of the 16 categories in terms of difficulty level, cost, impact, and feasibility. This gave the corporation the information they needed to make decisions about what combination of credits they wanted to pursue.

3. Develop a policy, Set a timeline and goal

Once your business decides on what credits to pursue, work can then begin on developing a policy, implementing strategies, and setting timelines. This includes short and long term planning, as well as budgeting and staffing considerations to achieve those Zero Waste goals. Some credits, such as those related to developing policies and goals, can be earned relatively quickly and should be addressed first as they support other credit areas.

Ready to start?

If done correctly, your business will achieve TRUE Zero Waste certification and cultivate a culture of Zero Waste that will outlast the endeavor.  So what are you waiting for?

Learn more:

Download the TRUE guide to certification

Download the TRUE ratings system, updated July 2023

Access our Zero Waste toolkit below to learn about benefits, how to start going Zero Waste in three steps, and more.

Zero Waste Toolkit for Businesses

Zero Waste Business in 3 Steps: A Strategy To Reduce Waste and Costs

TRUE Zero Waste Certified Case Study


Sign up for "3 to Zero (Waste)." Get 3 tips each month + insights.