New report highlights business opportunity using credible sustainability standards to achieve SDGs
The report, “SDGs mean business: How credible standards can help companies deliver the 2030 Agenda” illustrates how such standards - ready-made tools for businesses and supply chain actors - can help accelerate progress on many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while delivering direct benefits for companies and small-scale producers.
Credible, multi-stakeholder standards embody the partnership spirit of the SDGs, bringing together businesses, NGOs, governments and others to work toward common goals that benefit business, people and the planet. They are an important mechanism to help companies reach their targets by scaling-up sustainable practices. Tried and tested on the ground, they can be used at every link 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.
Sustainability standards translate the broad concept of sustainability into specific, concrete measures for companies and their suppliers. With broad uptake, they can move whole industries toward improved social, environmental and economic performance. This can make a major contribution to the SDGs.
Many farmers using sustainability standards have seen net increases in their incomes due to productivity and quality improvements. The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) 2014 Harvest Report found farmers following the BCI standard across seven countries had yields 23 per cent higher and profits per hectare 36 per cent higher than conventional cotton farmers, while using less water and chemical inputs. For certified coffee farmers, this has translated among other benefits to improved school attendance of their children.
In Indonesia, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) smallholder certification is taking pressure off elephants and tigers in Tesso Nilo National Park where French retailer Carrefour has been working with WWF to support smallholders to achieve RSPO certification. Smallholders taking part in the project have managed to increase productivity through better management practices, without expanding into the national park.
For businesses certification helps to manage risk. The social and environmental impacts of palm oil production for example represent a significant risk for investors. To mitigate these risks, a number of finance institutions, including the International Finance Corporation, Credit Suisse and Rabobank, require their clients to achieve RSPO certification.
Key elements of a credible sustainability standard include:
- Multistakeholder participation: a standard’s requirements should be developed and governed through a multistakeholder process, involving representatives from across the entire supply chain from businesses, civil society, governments, research institutions and NGOs, with balanced decision-making. This should ensure the standard has positive social and environmental impacts, while also being practically and economically viable for large-scale uptake.
- Transparency: details of the standard, how it is applied and how decisions are made, including certification assessments, should be clear and publicly available.
- Independent verification: compliance with the standard should be verified by an accredited, independent third party auditor or certification body. Impartial and periodic field-level verification is essential to understand whether a standard is actually achieving its mission.
- Continuous improvement: the standard and the system should be regularly reviewed to incorporate the latest information and lessons learned and ensure it delivers it goals..
Visit the ISEAL website for a full list of ISEAL members.
More examples can be found in the report.