Working Group on VSS Impact Assessment

This Working Group (WG) will create linkages with existing impact assessment programs and provide analysis and promotion of their credibility as well as interpretation and dissemination of their results within a policy context focusing on sustainable development and the provision of credible and independent information on the costs, benefits and challenges of voluntary sustainability standards (VSS). Having access to credible and comprehensible information on what the real impacts, costs and benefits of VSS implementation are is critical for policy-makers to be able to evaluate the potential value of VSS as a policy instrument.

Inter alia, the WG will discuss methodological questions of the scope of sustainability assessment approaches (i.e. primary purpose, level of assessment, geographical, sector and thematic scope as well as the perspectives on sustainability), the precision of the approaches, the assessment results and their interpretation. In this regard, the WG discussion will also differentiate between the business/producer and the societal perspective of the impact assessment, its results and interpretation. It is also important to initiate a dialogue on the need for and the creation of sufficient empirical data that support reliable and sufficiently accurate impact assessments and related collaboration among impact assessment programs in this regard.

The UNFSS will not conduct its own impact assessment, but rather work with leading VSS-impact assessment programs and support the interpretation of assessment results from a sustainable development policy perspective and provide advisory services to developing country decision-makers. Thereby the UNFSS will directly support policy-makers to better understand and be able to utilize these instruments, inter alia by undertaking country-level workshops and analytical activities in addition to providing tools that will help to objectively assess the impact of VSS from a policy perspective.

Currently, it is estimated that for food systems some 30-40 sustainability assessment programs exist that regularly publish results. A considerable part of them is primarily used for research, others for policy advice, producer monitoring, self-monitoring, for certification, for consumer information and landscape planning (for an overview of existing food-related sustainability assessment programs, see Schader et al., 2014).

Against this background, the UNFSS Working Group was launched with a first workshop on VSS impact assessment held on 31 January 2014 in Geneva that included the launch of the first COSA Global Report and the State of Sustainability Initiatives 2014 Review as well as a sustainability standards policy discussion. For more information, see also the press release.



SSI Review 2014

The COSA Measuring Sustainability Report


COSA – Measuring Sustainability Report  by Daniele Giovannucci, COSA

SSI Review 2014 by Jason Potts, IISD

ITC Standards Map by Joseph Wozniak, ITC

SSCT – Sustainbility Standards Comparison Tool by Kristin Komives, ISEAL Alliance

FIBIL – Data Collection by Helga Willer, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL)


Schader C, Grenz J, Meier M S and Stolze M (2014). Scope and precision of sustainability assessment approaches to food systems. Ecology and Society 19(3): 42.

Research papers:

Latest FAO research on VSS impact assessment 

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