by Kieran Falconer, Director of Communications, ISEAL Alliance
Last year the ISEAL Alliance conducted research asking 100 thought leaders where they engage, will engage and want to engage with certification
The term “thought leader” suggests many differing interpretations. Some put the accent on “leader” and think of CEOs, NGOs and politicians whilst others put the stress on “thought” emphasising policy makers, academics and writers.
But the definition isn’t about a job description, it’s about influence. Put bluntly, whose thinking and doing will lead us into the future? For those of us working in the realm of sustainability that’s a crucial question and although many things may influence future sustainability the part business plays will prove decisive. Consumers, academics and governments are certainly proactive — and indeed create an enabling environment — but business leaders who embrace sustainability have the potential to achieve radical change.
Last year alone saw Mars pledge to have all its cocoa certified by 2020, Twinings pledged to have all its tea certified by 2015 and Unilever promised to source 100 per cent of its agricultural materials sustainably by 2020.
Business choices made now clearly affect the long term future of our world. SMEs or large multi-nationals naturally plan ten to twenty years ahead so knowing what business thinks and feels now becomes vital to those NGOs as well as certification bodies who want to create a sustainable future.
With this in mind the ISEAL Alliance created the ISEAL 100 survey which set out to ask thought leaders — across global sectors and commodities and including Office Depot, Unilever and Carrefour — about their views on certification. How did they use it? In what ways? What were the barriers to using certification and why didn’t they use more of it?
ISEAL coordinated interviews with 100 thought leaders across the spectrum of business (80 per cent of respondents), government and civil society (together making 20 per cent). The people ISEAL chose to take part in the survey represent many different sectors from pharmaceuticals to forest to mining, represent different authorities — academics, civil servants and NGOs — or have consistently engaged with issues of sustainability and/or certification.
Certification has become an increasingly popular tool to address sustainability issues across all types of organisations. Whether it’s big business like Walmart or Nestlé or government procurement departments – they all increasingly demand assurance that their suppliers apply best practice production processes for quality and sustainability. And certification systems with their auditing, transparency and geographic spread are an attractive and flexible instrument with which to achieve this assurance.
The ISEAL 100 provides a graphic picture of where certification is today and what it could achieve tomorrow.
ISEAL 100 FINDINGS
The ISEAL 100 report breaks down the findings into chapters on Awareness and Use, Commitment, Benefits, Impacts and Evaluation, Room for Improvement and Building Trust. Below are some of the findings.
Awareness, Use and Commitment
The survey findings show that on average the thought leaders’ companies use four different social and environmental standards. Two thirds of those surveyed use either Fairtrade, FSC, MSC, Rainforest Alliance or an organic standard or a combination of the five. Nearly three quarters would consider using more standards to achieve their objectives.
Four out of five respondents mention the value of using standards to increase operational efficiency. Other uses of standards systems include marketing and assessing and improving sustainability performance. Credible verification, multi-stakeholder standard-setting and good governance increase trust in standards systems and promote their use.
Room for Improvement and Building Trust
Frustrations mentioned include the cost involved in using standards, a lack of effectiveness of individual systems and the complexity and overlap in the standards systems landscape. Still, two out of three respondents speak out against a “catch-all ecolabel.” Many encourage harmonisation and order among existing standards.
Four general conclusions can be made from the report. Firstly, social and environmental standards are becoming a widely used tool to implement corporate social and environmental responsibility. Only six respondents stated that they did not use any standards. Secondly, credibility criteria impact highly on the awareness and use of standard systems. The reputation of a standard is key and that reputation lies in factors such as credible verification, good governance and a multi-stakeholder approach. Thirdly, operational improvements are an important benefit from the use of standard systems – companies and supply chains find that standards create a shared language and agreed processes to deliver sustainable results. Finally, standards should strive to build a coherent landscape: there are many standards, much overlap and often confusion over claims. A healthy landscape demands easy evaluation of standards and more accessible information about them.
The ISEAL 100 report will be available from Wednesday 2 March from www.isealalliance.org/iseal100.
About the ISEAL Alliance
The ISEAL Alliance is the global association for sustainable standards systems. ISEAL members are leaders in the field, committed to creating solid and credible standards systems. Working with established and emerging voluntary standards initiatives, ISEAL develops guidance and facilitates coordinated efforts to ensure their effectiveness and credibility and scale up their impacts. ISEAL’s Codes of Good Practice are international reference documents for credible social and environmental standards. Compliance is a membership condition. Members include WWF, FSC, MSC, SAI and many more. For a full list and to see what they do visit www.isealalliance.org.