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Sustainability Standards Systems: NGO Strategic Retreat 2.0

Recent Developments and Resources

- Financial Valuation Tool for Sustainability Investments
- Business and Human Rights Resource Centre Repository
- The Trouble with Green Product Ratings
- Ceres, Tellus Unveil Global Initiative for a Standardized, Comprehensive Corporate Sustainability Rating Standard

London, June 5-7, 2011
Document Repository

The NGO Strategic Retreat 2.0 builds upon the groundwork laid during the first NGO Strategic Retreat held in 2009. While the first retreat identified roles and opportunities standards can play in advancing sustainability and the emerging challenges for the standards movement, this second meeting will flesh out a shared vision, corollary implementation strategies, concrete next steps, and forms of collective action.

To help familiarize participants at the 2nd Strategic Retreat to both the outcomes of the first meeting and to provide some background information on the many issues involving standards and sustainability issues today, the Pacific Institute has gathered together a number of documents on a variety of different topics related to standards and certification systems. The documents can be found below with their short descriptions.

- Picasso Group Second Convening Concept Note (PDF)
Outlines the background for the NGO Strategic Retreats, the outcomes of the first NGO strategic retreat, and the objectives for the second retreat

- Pocantico Meeting Summary (PDF)
The first NGO Strategic Retreat identified a number of themes including the need to better understand the potential role of consumers in advancing the sustainability agenda, the realization that although businesses play an important role they also pose challenges to the credibility of standards, the need for more cooperation and support from governments, the establishment of an appropriate “performance” bar for standards systems to ensure their impact, their role in addressing governance gaps and use as an important democratic tool, and their important function as a communication tool. The summary also includes a list of attendees and the agenda for the meeting.

- Real Reason: Communicating Voluntary Standards (PDF)
The Pacific Institute partnered with Real Reason to produce an assessment of how standards are conceived and how these conceptions align with the social and environmental aims of the standards community. Real Reason utilized a cognitive linguistic analysis to perform the analysis. The outcome resulted in the identification of three dominant communications and reasoning approaches: the market, governance, and communications frame.

- The Knight Toolbox (PDF)
Professor Alan Knight’s piece poses a number of questions: are there too many product stewardship, certification and labelling schemes? How many schemes do we need? Should we better co-ordinate them? Is there a case for a single scheme that covers all land and ocean product schemes or is there a need for a toolbox approach? He concludes that there needs to be a “better refining of the structure of the stewardship council” to simplify their process for users. Rather than taking a single standards for a single sector and single issue, a reassessment should be made plotting the different issues across different sector and seeing how the various tools can be applied. He proposes several approaches for moving forwards.

- The ISO 26000 International Guidance Standard on Social Responsibility: Implications for Public Policy and Transnational Democracy (PDF)
This paper by Halina Ward of the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development examines, among many things, the inner governance mechanisms of the ISO 26000 standards setting process, highlights the difficulties in defining appropriate roles for different actors ( governments, private sector, civil society), and developing nations’ concerns.  It also examines how the standard interacted with other international policy processes and relations to national level policymaking and concludes by asking, “what are the implications of the ISO 26000 public policy interface for democracy as a political system?”

- The Future of Democracy in the Face of Climate Change: The Futures of Sustainable Development and of Democracy (PDF)
This paper, presently in draft form, by Halina Ward and Emma Woods is the third in a series of papers about democracy’s future. This third paper is a literature review that looks specifically at possible future scenarios for sustainable development in the near, medium, and long terms. A key section delves into a discussion about cultural changes, specifically discussing possibilities in moving away from a culture of consumerism. 

- Creating a More Lifestyle- Centric Narrative for Sustainable Development (PDF)
- Sustainable Lives: What Will Sustainable Lives Look Like (PDF)
- Just What Would 9 Billion Lifestyles Look Like
Professor Alan Knight discusses the need to construct a lifestyle narrative for what actually living a sustainable life would entail. This includes visualizing what a “one planet, low carbon, poverty-free lifestyle would look like.” The three papers all examine this issue. The first begins by looking at what aspects of society today are unsustainable, discuses a vision for sustainability, and lists a number of sustainable life principles and how these may be applied. A key section discusses the “informed consumer choice” and “choice editing” that involve standards and certification. The second is a pamphlet, and the third poses the same questions while also including section on China’s development.

- I Will if You Will – A Guide Towards Sustainable Consumption (PDF)
This 2006 report by the Sustainable Roundtable Commission sets out a guideline for a shift towards sustainable lifestyles that involves all key players: people, government, and businesses. It emphasizes the fact that a solution is possible only if all three groups cooperate to work towards the same end goal. The report views an answer to sustainable consumption in a spectrum from near (things that require less intervention and change), to medium (changes to more deep rooted habits and routines), to far (changes to fundamental behavior and aspirations).  It introduces the idea of “choice editing” that is particularly relevant to standards and certification systems.

- You Are What You Sell: Product Roadmapping: Driving Sustainability (PDF)
This 2007 document aims to encourage governments and businesses to focus on products’ potential to contribute to sustainable development in three areas: climate change, alleviating poverty, and addressing issues of resource depletion. It emphasizes the need to make sustainable products the norm rather than relying on the “green consumer.” The document includes a 12 point checklist for businesses to assess their products on sustainability and a sample roadmap involving 6 steps towards sustainability.

- The State of Sustainability: Sustainability and Transparency
Initiatives Review 2010:The SSI Review gives an overview of the market trends and system characteristics of major voluntary sustainability standards and initiatives in the forestry, coffee, cocoa, tea and banana sectors. The review provides information on the market performance, governance, criteria coverage and implementation practices of key initiatives (such as Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, Forest Stewardship Council, Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ Certified, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, GLOBALGAP, Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Social Accountability 8000, and 4C Association).

- The Coming Eco-label Shakeout and Beyond Eco-Label
Sustainable Industries held two webinars exploring the future of the Eco-Labels. The “Coming Eco-Label Shake-out” showcases two discussants, Anastasia O’Rourke of Ecolabel Index and Bill Peace of Good Guide. The presentations look at the convergence amongst labels and likelihood that only a handful will gain market-share as retailers and “big buyers” look to simplify labeling systems. They also discuss how products like GoodGuide and EcoLabel are being used by consumers to inform their buying decision. The second presentation, “Beyond Eco-Label,” looks at how some companies are turning away from eco-labels due to the sheer number of schemes out there and are instead pursuing new ways to tell their sustainability stories.

- Certifications and Roundtables: Do They Work?: WWF Review of Multi-Stakeholder Sustainability Initiatives (PDF)
This WWF report looks at the impact of multi-stakeholder sustainability initiatives and asks the question, “are MSI measurably and permanently shifting markets towards improved economic, environmental, and social outcomes?” Utilizing both interviews and an impact desktop review of the FSC and MSC, the paper tries to highlight some of the impacts in the economic, environmental, and social spheres. It also points out the lack of data to effectively carry out a review. The study concludes with 16 reviews organized around 5 main areas: enhancing the effectiveness of MSI, understanding MSI impacts, interactions between MSIs and Markets, Social Impacts of MSI, and improving MSI operations.  

Advancing Sustainable Competitiveness of China Transnational Corporations” – Accountability Report (PDF)
This paper examines how the Chinese business community can best use international sustainability standards to enhance their competitiveness in global markets and more effectively place themselves on a sustainable economic pathway. It highlights the opportunity for Chinese businesses, supported by enabling public policies, to become a force in shaping the next generation of sustainability standards in global markets as a competitive strategy consistent with China's broader interests. Doing so will require deeper engagement in existing standards initiatives, and a more explicit role amongst the communities that have developed and now govern them. Effective engagement in such standards is a means of off-setting competitive disadvantages, and creating competitive advantages when businesses and nations choose a more sustainable development path.

Effective Change Strategies for the Great Transition (PDF)
This March, 2011 background paper for the SMART CSOs conference explores current civil society strategies to meeting global sustainability challenges while also identifying key leverage points for developing stronger more effective strategies in the future. It includes sections on understanding the governmental, business, the individual, and civil society’s role in meeting today’s sustainability challenges. It finds that the strategies employed by environmental and social CSOs face a number of limitations including: a focus on short term incremental change, focus on national and international advocacy, focus on single issues, few alliances across sectors, and the scientific rational approach. Rather than continue with these tracts, the authors identify key leverage points that look to change the systemic working dynamics of the global economy and introduce a shift in cultural values. These points are encompassed in a meta theory of change that includes: systems thinking, a new narrative, developing new models, a new global movement, and engaging funders.

Pineapples Case Study (multiple links)
Consumers International’s case study on pineapple cultivation in Costa Rica highlights the problems on pineapple plantations, including Dole, Del Monte, and their suppliers. It connects two aspects, the price wars initiated by retailers and agricultural traders in Europe driving down the price of pineapples for consumers, and the price war’s impact on workers in Costa Rica. The case study includes videos, reports, news articles, and blogs that highlight the difficult working conditions of workers, the health and environmental impacts of agrichemical usage, and discusses how the price wars led to major difficulties for fair-trade pineapples as well.

- Consumer Demand for Fair Labor Standards – Evidence from a Field Experiment on Ebay (PDF)
- Consumer Demand for Fair Trade – New Evidence from a Field Experiment Using Ebay Auctions (PDF)
- Consumer Demand for the Fair Trade Label - Evidence from a Field Experiment (PDF)
This series of three studies led by Michael Hiscox and colleagues at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and London School of Economics explores consumer response and demand for ethically produced products via actual field studies. It finds that consumers, on the whole, are willing to pay a price premium for certified ethically produced products. The studies look particular at fair trade and fair labor products.

From Words to Action: A business Case for Implementing Workplace Standards – Experiences from Key Emerging Markets (PDF)
This study conducted by the Center for International Private Enterprise and Social Accountability International makes the business case for how and why companies should implement voluntary fair labor standards throughout their operations, particular in countries with weak governance and rule of law. It makes the case that corporate success should go beyond profits towards meeting three bottom lines: financial, environmental, and social. As corporate citizens, businesses are responsible for upholding brand reputation, community acceptance, and employee satisfaction. In order to do so, companies need to go beyond a public relations strategy towards streamlining these values into corporate strategy.  It looks particular at case studies of companies who have implemented these good practices in China, India, and Turkey.

From Principles to Practice: The Role of SA8000 in Implementing the UN Global Compact (PDF)
These case studies compiled by the Center for International Private Enterprise, Social Accountability International, and the United Nations Global Compact highlight the work of 6 companies in implementing SA8000 to meet their Global Compact commitments related to labor. The companies represent a diverse group of industries including apparel, appliance controls, chemicals, electrical transmission, jewelry, and transportation. These case studies once again make the business case for responsible corporate citizenship – highlighting not only the moral imperatives of better corporate behavior but also the business benefits including employee satisfaction, improved sales, community acceptance, and brand reputation.

This ISEAL report surveys 100 thought leaders from corporations to government and civil society to ascertain their views about the use and future of sustainability standard systems. It finds that there is an increasing awareness and use of certification systems in business practice to meet environmental and social corporate responsibility while increasing operational efficiency as well. They also point out some difficulties in using standard systems including high prices, unclear impacts, and the overlapping nature of standards. They find that to meet these difficulties, the thought leaders would rather have greater harmonization and systemization of the systems rather than the creation of a new system.

-The Impacts of Private Standards on Producers in Developing Countries (PDF)
- The Impacts of Private Standards on Global Value Chains (PDF)
- Voluntary Standards: Boom or Bust for Developing Countries? (PDF)
These articles produced by the International Trade Centre focus on the impact of private voluntary standards on the global trade system. They comprise the trade centre’s literature review of research thus far completed on private standard systems. Overall the papers find the following: producers tend to benefit financially from participating in private standards, often indirect effects of standards systems (capacity building programs, access to credit, better relationships, market opportunities) outweigh direct financial benefits, a relation based interaction between buyer and seller led to better results than transaction-based systems, standards are one tool in a set of regulatory and voluntary systems, standards are a tool for value chain governance, standards may facilitate or demand vertical integration, and they may increase barriers to entry for small producers. However, there are still large gaps in understanding the overall impact of standards requiring broader studies across standards and industries that focus on more than just the producer.

ISEAL Ten Trends – Interview with Sasha Courville
This interview with Dr. Sasha Courville encompasses ISEAL’s work in identifying the ten trends that will affect the standards movement in the near future. The trends include: businesses confusion due to the proliferation of standards, demand for certified products that is outstripping supply, the importance of national consumers as standards takers and makers (especially in developing countries), business realization in the need for a sustainable supply chain, the emergence of business led initiatives, the emergence of consumer facing sustainability initiatives, the increase in information systems around standards, climate change as cross cutting issue, engagement from governments,  and the viability of standard organizations.

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