By Lara Koritzke, Director of Development and Communications, ISEAL Alliance
Many businesses have publically committed to sustainable sourcing targets and regularly report on their progress towards these targets. The aim of course, in choosing to source raw materials that are sustainably produced, is to create a sustainable supply and have a positive impact on environmental and social issues, such as reducing water use and improving smallholder farmers’ livelihoods. But how can sustainability and procurement practitioners know what impact their decisions are having?
At ISEAL Alliance, we were interested to see that 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, most rely on sustainability standards (also known as certification or ecolabels) as the solution that got them where they wanted to go.
This means that businesses need to find out about the impact of sustainability standards. 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.
Credible certification is one of the few sustainability approaches for which we can measure and demonstrate impact. By bringing together information about the impact and business case for sustainability standards in a new website, standardsimpacts.org, ISEAL aims to help organisations using standards demonstrate that they are helping to drive positive environmental and social impacts.
Businesses can best evaluate the impact their sustainable sourcing decisions are having by seeking credible reports that include the impacts of a programme (e.g. % increase in farmer income or decrease in chemical usage) rather than just the outputs (e.g. number of producers or hectares involved).
Businesses should also search for impact data which relates to their own sustainability objectives and hotspots. For example, if a company buys a certain commodity from a country and knows the negative issues associated with that place or commodity, then searching for impact data on the sector, country or issue area will help evaluate their impact.
Of course, careful consideration needs to be given to the other actors also trying to address these issues and places and how much of the impact can accurately be attributed to one sustainability standard or initiative.
More than 100 credible reports are captured on standardsimpacts.org, demonstrating the change that sustainability standards create. This is very useful for business leaders to find sustainability impact reports on the commodities they are buying, searching by commodity, region or issue. But more impact data is needed across a wider range of commodities to fully understand the impact of sustainability standards and sustainable sourcing programmes. We hope that in seeking to demonstrate the positive impact of their sustainable sourcing decisions, businesses will support the development of robust studies which will help us all better understand the strengths and weaknesses of our work.
Lara Koritzke has been working in the world of sourcing of certified products since 2000 when she began at Rainforest Alliance, developing partnerships between the non-profit organisation and a range of companies, governments and foundations. She currently works for ISEAL Alliance, the global association for sustainability standards and certification and has led their work to demonstrate the value of sustainability standards for business as well as help deliver an online tool that helps sourcing professionals know the questions they need to ask about ecolabels and certifications to ensure they are credible.