ISEAL report: The effectiveness of standards in driving adoption of sustainability practices (2018)

A State of Knowledge Review (2018)

Voluntary sustainability standards (VSS) are an important means of providing assurance that products and materials traded in complex, global supply chains have been produced in an ethical and environmentally benign way. Understanding what these standards deliver on the ground is an important part of the debate about their ongoing relevance.

To address this question, ISEAL commissioned 3Keel and the University of Oxford to conduct a review of the evidence on whether standards systems drive the adoption of sustainable practices.

The focus of the ISEAL review is on individuals or organisations changing their practices, such as the use of agricultural inputs, retention of wildlife habitat, and providing better conditions for hired workers, and relating these changes to engagement with sustainability standards.

The research questions (RQs) are focused on:

  • RQ 1: What is the effectiveness of standards and certification in driving the adoption of more sustainable practices by certified entities over a period of time?
  • RQ 2: How do standards and certification tools operate to achieve practice adoption? To what extent does adopting practices lead to continuous improvement in entities over time in identified thematic areas?
  • RQ 3: What lessons can standards systems learn for this area of their work?

ISEAL, and its members, are partners of UNFSS in advancing the knowledge and analysis of the impact of VSS on sustainable development. UNFSS has been collaborating with ISEAL in VSS project such as the launch of the India’s Private Sustainability Standards National Platform.

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The United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS) is a joint initiative of 5 UN Agencies (FAO, ITC, UNCTAD, UN Environment and UNIDO) that seeks to address these challenges. It is a demand-driven forum for intergovernmental actors to communicate among each other and engage with key target groups (producers, traders, consumers, standard-setters, certification-bodies, trade diplomats, relevant NGOs and researchers) to address their information needs and influence concerned stakeholders. It aims to provide impartial information, analysis, and discussions on VSS and their potential contribution to facilitate market access, strengthen public goods and achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Most importantly, the UNFSS focuses on potential trade or development obstacles VSS may create, with particular emphasis on their impact on SMEs and less developed countries.

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