Voluntary Sustainability Standards
Over the last two decades, there has been exponential growth in the demand and supply of leading standard-compliant products, which has led to the growth and proliferation of voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs).
There are now more than 400 VSSs operating across the planet. These include organic items, fair trade and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to name a few. These standards are guidelines for producing, selling and purchasing products in a sustainable manner. They provide manufacturers and retailers with information about the reliability and safety conditions behind a product. They also provide consumers with information about the sustainability efforts taken for their production and manufacturing, with the aim of positively affecting communities, the environment and the economy.
Many of these sustainability initiatives are created by small groups of collaborating partners, influencing their impartiality. This also affects the ability of other stakeholders to provide input into the founding characteristics of the initiatives and how they operate. Because standards and voluntary sustainability initiatives also set rules for production and trade, these standards should ensure an inclusive governance from their design to their implementation. This promotion of good governance in standards initiatives is a key priority for IISD.
Given this growth and the relative contribution of VSSs as tools for sustainable development, IISD presents production and consumption market information in an accessible manner to foster transparency, knowledge and strategic decision making in the State of Sustainability Initiatives (SSI) reporting series. The SSI is an international transparency and capacity-building project that aims to improve strategic planning and sustainable development outcomes related to VSSs by providing in-depth, credible and needs-based information. It equips supply-chain decision-makers and governments with the inclusive and transparent information they need to make informed decisions and contribute to sustainable development.
What do we do?
- We analyze the founding characteristics and requirements of VSSs versus sustainable development issues, such as biodiversity conservation, poverty reduction and gender equity, to understand their strengths and limitations, and highlight opportunities for improvement.
- We track and analyze the market performance of sustainable production and consumption of commodity markets and VSSs globally to understand trends and impacts.
How do we do this?
- We collect primary data from VSSs and standards setters on their systems characteristics and market performance using quantitative and qualitative methods.
- We conduct research and collect secondary data related to sustainable markets, VSSs and development issues through extensive literature review and establishing strategic partnerships with leading data providers to fill knowledge gaps.
- We analyze data and provide recommendations for standard setters, private sector and governments to enhance the effectiveness of VSSs as tools for sustainable development.
Leveraging Voluntary Sustainability Standards for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Agriculture: A Guide for Development Organizations Based on the Sustainable Development Goals
Our report, available in English and French, explains how voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) can be used as a tool to meet the SDGs and targets related to gender equality and women’s empowerment in agriculture.Read More
Should Farmers Who Follow Sustainable Practices Be Rewarded?
Meeting sustainability standards can have valuable benefits for smallholder farmers, but what happens when the product fails to sell?Read More
Do Voluntary Standards Actually Stop Biodiversity Loss?
Protecting our biodiversity is a complex challenge many voluntary sustainability standards are trying to address. We look at their strengths and weaknesses.Read More
Leveraging Sustainable Markets for Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Development
IISD launched the Leveraging Sustainable Markets for Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Development project, facilitating poverty reduction among marginalized commodity producers by enabling more strategic and proactive entry into value-added sustainable markets for less-developed countries.Read More
State of Sustainability Initiatives Review: Standards and the Extractive Economy
This report examines voluntary sustainability initiatives (VSIs), and their aim to promote sustainable production practices in the mining sector.Read More
Global Value Chain Policy Series: Environment
This paper, part of the Global Value Chain Policy Series, examines questions that arise at the intersection of environmental sustainability and global value chains.Read More
Can Sustainability Standards Help Protect the World’s Biodiversity?
Voluntary sustainability standards provide an opportunity to reduce agriculture's impact on biodiversity and promote best practices. On World Biodiversity Day, we interview IISD expert Vivek Voora, on on how standards can impact biodiversity.Read More
Standards and Biodiversity
The Standards and Biodiversity Report analyzes the criteria and market coverage of 15 major agricultural voluntary sustainability standards against key biodiversity parameters.Read More
Extracting the Voluntary Sustainability Standards Opportunity for Biodiversity Protection: The need for a dedicated policy response
Voluntary sustainability standards have a strong potential for supporting efforts to protect biological diversity. But policy makers will have to expand their role beyond mere supporters and users of such initiatives to that of watchdogs and regulators if this potential is to be realized.Read More
Throwing the Chocolate Bar Out with the Bathwater: How Cadbury’s transition to an in-house sustainability standard threatens the sustainability of the cocoa sector
This commentary explains how Cadbury’s recent decision to develop its own inhouse sustainability standard rather than continue to rely on Fairtrade International certification is a great step backwards for global cocoa sustainability.Read More