Throughout Sustainable Brands’ New Metrics ’16 event this week, I expect to hear a continual drumbeat of the need to measure impact. That is how it should be.
As a panellist for the session on “Demonstrating the Impact of Sustainability Labels and Certification,” I will be one of those discussing why businesses need to measure the social and environmental impact of their sustainable sourcing programs and how they can find out about the impact of sustainability standards.
For ISEAL Alliance, the global membership association for sustainability standards and certification, impact is our highest goal, so we measure it and work to improve from what we learn. The positive impact is there. To date, several independent reports have shown that our approach leads to higher social, environmental and economic benefits, compared with business as usual. From the tens of thousands of company commitments and actions, to the positive small and large changes made by production-based communities, if you look closely at the actual implementation of the achievements made, you see that most rely on sustainability standards as the solution that got them where they wanted to go.
Labels and Certifications
****at New Metrics '16.And yet, in a survey conducted last year of 101 people representing 86 companies, ISEAL found that although businesses are largely convinced of the impacts of sustainability standards and certification, almost three in ten lack sufficient evidence to convince their decision makers that standards and certification are effective. Businesses want information on standards’ impacts to be more communicable, context-specific and robust.
As a result, ISEAL has developed standardsimpacts.org, a public-facing website that provides evidence and information on the impact and business case of sustainability standards. The website offers a search function to find original research, member monitoring and evaluation reports, reports on the current state of knowledge of standards’ impacts and related communication resources. ISEAL members’ evidence and information is increasing, so the site will be continually updated.
By bringing together information about the impact and business case for sustainability standards in one place, we aim to help organisations using standards demonstrate that they are helping to drive positive environmental and social impacts, and find independent evidence to support their sustainable sourcing decisions. For example, organisations:
- can find impact reports from a sustainability standard that they already use for sustainable sourcing of raw materials.
- that are considering working with sustainability standards can research the impact that the standards have reported.
- can find credible impact data to demonstrate how they help deliver against the global sustainability agenda.
- conducting audits of the sustainability issues in their supply chains can research the current status.
- can research how peer companies have addressed sourcing issues of a certain commodity.
My hope is that stakeholders including standard-setters, companies, researchers and governments will support the development of robust studies which will help us all better understand the strengths and weaknesses of our work. Major studies have been released by the Committee on Sustainability Assessment, the Natural Resources Institute, the State of Sustainability Initiatives, and KPMG, and on average we are seeing that certification delivers positive economic, social and environmental benefits to producers, farmers and labourers, and their local environments and ecosystems. Some studies have shown mixed or negative results, and ISEAL supports the efforts of its members to use these findings to improve.