© Gary Braasch

Measuring impacts

Demonstrating impact is an essential part of credible standards and certification systems, as governments, companies and other stakeholders need to know that the standards they use are making a difference.


WWF engages with various stakeholders through credible certification schemes that can help companies prevent environmental degradation and drive key industries toward better performance. Find out more

From forest products to seafood to agricultural commodities, WWF has helped to establish several voluntary, multi-stakeholder initiatives that set standards for environmentally and socially responsible production. 

By following standards, producers can benefit from streamlined, more efficient production and better market access, while reducing the negative impacts of unsustainable production on important ecosystems, biodiversity, and people.

WWF aims to shift entire markets to sustainability by supporting producers in meeting credible standards while also working with major buyers to increase demand for sustainable commodities, and building an enabling environment through policy and sustainable finance. 

Sustainability standards and certification schemes establish requirements that producers, processors, and other supply chain actors must meet to be considered sustainable by the certification body. These criteria are based on industry “best practice” and scientifically-proven best management practice. 
We support those standards that are rigorous in both design and implementation and are compliant with the ISEAL Codes of Good Practice, including the Impacts Code and WWF’s Principles for Standards and Certification Schemes

ISEAL impacts code

The ISEAL Impacts Code requires certification schemes and standards to be regularly monitored and evaluated in terms of performance, outcome, and impact, so that they can continuously improve their effectiveness. 


WWF´s Jason Clay about sustainability standards at the global ISEAL conference 2015

An employee of an RSPO certified company in Guatemala harvests palm oil fruits.
© Audra Melton / WWF-US

The importance of measuring impacts

Sustainability standards and certification schemes are tools to help reduce the environmental footprint of commodity production and trade. Compared to other conservation approaches such as protected areas and community-based conservation, market-based approaches are relatively new. They do not yet have adequate evidence to show how effective they are at achieving sustainability goals on the ground. This is because there is insufficient comparable, rigorous scientific data currently available to help us draw conclusions. Moreover, some standards and schemes are still in their development stage which makes it too early to recognize any positive long-term environmental and social impacts from their implementation.

Together with other conservation and research organisations, WWF commits to building evidence of whether standards are creating positive changes on the ground, and how their effectiveness can be improved. 

FSC logo painted on sustainable harvested logs. Uzachi forest, Oaxaca, Mexico
© N.C. Turner / WWF

WWF´s approach

Our three-pronged approach focuses on measuring impacts, using findings to improve standards for increased effectiveness and driving mainstream adoption of effective standards to achieve greater impact on the ground.

In order to achieve this, we implement five key strategies, all of which utilize the best available science and promote collaboration with research institutions, NGOs and decision makers:
  • Assess the potential impacts of certification schemes. If standards were implemented at a regional or global scale, what kinds of environmental and socio-economic benefits can we expect? We conduct innovative scenario modeling to map and quantify potential benefits and inform decision-making. 
  • Promote improved and harmonized monitoring of certification schemes. Data collected by standards bodies, auditors, and third-party researchers can feed into impact evaluation research if it is more thoughtfully designed to answer important questions and collected using consistent methodologies. We promote greater alignment and coordination among stakeholders to reduce research costs and facilitate learning.
  • Promote credible, aligned impact evaluations. What are the actual on-the-ground environmental and social impacts—intended or unintended, direct or indirect, positive or negative—of producing commodities in accordance with standards and certification schemes? We conduct rigorous impact evaluations and have built an impacts learning platform to share findings. We aim to fill critical gaps in the literature and complement efforts by other organisations.
  • Where standards are found to have positive impacts, promote these results to increase their uptake among producers and their entire industry supply chains. We believe that effective standards need to be implemented at scale to truly achieve a significant impact in important landscapes and ecosystems and widely promotes the uptake of such standards with commodity producers and buyers.
  • Where standards are not found to have sufficiently positive impacts, push standards bodies to improve their Principles & Criteria and/or implementation. We analyse and distill research findings to determine where standards can be improved  to achieve greater impact, and advocate for those changes during standards revision processes and on a continuous basis.
Landing handline caught MSC certified mackerel, Cornwall. United Kingdom
© Edward Parker/WWF

Community of best practice

Together with other NGOs, universities, standards organisations, foundations, governments and companies that are interested in determining the effectiveness of sustainability standards and certification schemes, WWF has co-established a “community of practice” on measuring impacts.

By collaborating on research objectives and methodologies and sharing lessons learned, this network of organisations seeks to better align, harmonize, and improve various research efforts for greater efficiency and meaningful results.

The intent is to ensure that credible, high-quality research, by WWF and others, contributes to a strong platform of knowledge that is truly informative about the benefits and shortcomings of this conservation approach.

Learnings will be used to drive improvements for better conservation outcomes. 

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