Sustainability Standards and Environmental Concerns: An academic roundtable discussion

Human’s impact on the environment led to changes that triggered environmental crisis, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and deforestation, among others. Climate change is one of the most concerning issues of our day; it interrupts national economies and affects lives. Its impacts such as severe storms, heatwaves and the melting of glaciers and ice sheet are accelerating. Biodiversity loss is another significant concern, a 2019 report that assessed a total of 28,000 plant species concluded that close to half of them were facing a threat of extinction.

In light of the Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) research and dissemination STEP-UP programme, in collaboration with the platform, the UNFSS Academic Advisory Council (AAC) committee will host its first 2021 series of roundtable discussion on Sustainability Standards and Environmental Concerns on 10 February 2021 from 2pm to 3.30pm (CET).

In this roundtable, we discuss the potential of sustainability standards to contribute to mitigating the current environmental crisis which is open to the public at no cost. To register, please visit

Led by the AAC co-chairs, Santiago FernandezdeCordoba, UNCTAD Senior Economist and Axel Marx, Professor and Deputy Director of the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, in collaboration with Vidya Rangan, Senior Manager of Impacts and Evidence at Evidensia, this dialogue will discuss:

1. What are the opportunities and limitations of VSS to address climate change, biodiversity loss and deforestation?
2. To what extent could sustainability standards contribute to the transformation of the way things are done, and to what degree could they lead the way in addressing environmental concerns?
3. How to balance productive efficiency of agriculture while preserving biodiversity and mitigating climate change? Is there a role for VSS to support this balance?

To answer these questions, we have invited three of our renowned AAC academic experts to touch on climate change, biodiversity and deforestation issues:

Dr. Benjamin Cashore, Li Ka Shing Professor in Public Management and Co-Director, Institute of Water Policy, National University of Singapore Link

Ben Cashore specialises in global and multi-level environmental governance, comparative public policy and administration, and transnational business regulation/corporate social responsibility. His substantive research interests include climate policy, biodiversity conservation/land use change, and sustainable environmental management of forests and related agricultural sectors. His geographic focus includes Southeast Asia, North America, Latin America and Europe.
Ben’s theoretical interests include the legitimacy and authority requirements of non-state market driven (NSMD) global governance, the influence of economic globalisation on domestic environmental policies, and the potential of anticipatory policy design for identifying path dependent policy mixes capable of ameliorating “super wicked” environmental problems.

Dr. Eric Lambin, Professor at University of Louvain and Stanford University, where he occupies the Ishiyama Provostial Professorship at the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and the Woods Institute for the Environment Link

Eric Lambin, a geographer and environmental scientist, divides his time between University of Louvain and Stanford University, where he occupies the Ishiyama Provostial Professorship at the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and the Woods Institute for the Environment. His research tries to better understand the causes and impacts of land use changes in different parts of the world. He was Chair of the international scientific project Land Use and Land Cover Change (LUCC) from 1999 to 2005. He was awarded the 2014 Volvo Environment Prize and the 2019 Blue Planet Prize. His current research focusses on how globalization affects land use and how private and public policies can reduce or even reverse tropical deforestation. This research is gaining in importance as avoided deforestation and forest regeneration are increasingly recognized as essential nature climate solutions.

Dr. Graeme Auld, Professor, Public Affairs Research Excellence Chair, and Director of Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration Link

Graeme Auld is a Professor, Public Affairs Research Excellence Chair, and Director of Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration. He has broad interests in comparative environmental politics and global environmental governance, with a particular focus on the emergence, evolution, and impacts of transnational private governance regimes and the contentious politics surrounding and underpinning these developments. He is author of Constructing Private Governance: The Rise and Evolution of Forest, Coffee, and Fisheries Certification (Yale University Press, 2014).

To learn more about the session, please visit

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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