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Sustainability Standards Unlock New Market Opportunities, Accelerate SDGs

Changing consumer attitudes and the reality of climate change have shifted the conversation about the business case for sustainability. For more and more companies, embedding sustainable business practices into operations, business models and missions is no longer optional — it is now imperative in order to remain competitive.

New case studies and data are emerging all the time further validating this point, and a new report published by WWF and ISEAL is the latest example of how forward-thinking businesses can unlock new market opportunities by implementing intelligent and credible sustainability standards across their operations.

Entitled SDGs Mean Business: How Credible Standards Can Help Companies Deliver the 2030 Agenda illustrates how such standards can deliver direct benefits to companies and small-scale producers, while also accelerating progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Poverty, inequality, water scarcity, climate change and the loss of biodiversity are significant risks for businesses and aligning with the SDGs represents an opportunity,” said Richard Holland, director, Global Conservation Division at WWF International. “While leading companies have already made far-reaching commitments to help address climate change, deforestation and decent work, the majority of business sectors are not yet delivering on their responsibility towards the Agenda 2030.”

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Sustainability standards translate the broad concept of sustainability into specific, concrete measures for companies and their suppliers. With broad uptake, they can move whole sectors toward improved social, environmental and economic performance. They are also an important mechanism to help companies reach their targets by scaling-up sustainable practices, and can be used at every point in the value chain — enabling producers, harvesters and processors to achieve a recognized level of sustainability, and traders, manufacturers and retailers to address the impacts of their supply chains. This can make a major contribution to the SDGs.

In terms of agriculture, adoption of such standards has allowed farmers to see net increases in their income as a result of productivity and quality improvements. The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) 2014 Harvest Report found farmers across seven continents who follow the BCI standards had yields 23 percent higher and profits per hectare 36 percent higher than conventional cotton farmers, while using less water and chemical inputs.

In Indonesia, French Retailer Carrefour has been working with WWF to support smallholders to achieve Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification, which has taken significant pressure off elephants and tigers in Tesso Nilo National Park. Smallholders participating in the project have managed to increase productivity through better management practices, without expanding into the national park.

Certification also helps businesses to manage risk. In the palm oil industry, where numerous social and environmental impacts represent substantial risk for investors, institutions such as the International Finance Corporation, Credit Suisse and Rabobank require their clients to achieve RSPO certification.

“Over the next 13 years, all countries are expected to make progress across all of the SDGs. Considering the overarching focus of the SDG agenda on people and the environment, it is clear that sustainability standards can play a crucial role in its implementation,” said Norma Tregurtha, senior policy and outreach manager at ISEAL.

“By providing an independent, verifiable method to assess whether or not a certain level of performance on sustainability is reached, standards and certification systems can serve as a measure of progress against the SDGs.”

Efficiency gains, increased supply chain transparency and traceability and improved relationships between suppliers and buyers are just some of the many direct benefits that sustainability standards can provide businesses.

WWF and ISEAL call upon the business community, key implementing partners of the 2030 Agenda, to use credible standards as a tool to increase sustainable practices and report on SDG progress.