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Certifiably Sustainable?: The Role of Third-Party Certification Systems - Report of a Workshop
to be most effective when it is complemented by other tools, including the traditional hammer and saw of regulation.
Workshop participants identified the following tools to affect consumer behavior:
Consumer education (general)
Self-certification to industry or NGO standards by producer
Certification to standards by third party
Accredited certification to standards by a third party
Disclosure/labeling (government mandated)
Government procurement standards/programs
Market mechanisms (incentives or charges)
Direct government regulation prescribing practices or performance
COMPARISON OF REGULATION AND CERTIFICATION TOOLSTO INFLUENCE BEHAVIOR
National and international law, where it exists, has failed to control wasteful and harmful effects of production of products and services. Certification programs have emerged as a new tool to engage market forces in promoting environmental and social sustainability objectives. These systems “can also increase transparency, accountability, public participation in decision making, legal use of natural resources, and investment in economic and human development.” (Parikh, 2003)
The rise of product and process certification programs has coincided with trends toward greater reliance on voluntary and market mechanisms to improve performance. This trend reflects both a lack of confidence in the public sector’s willingness or capacity to require and enforce higher standards and a belief, as some participants emphasized, that voluntary and market-based methods promote innovation, cost less, and protect free enterprise from unwarranted intrusion. In the United States., the emphasis on disclosure (e.g., Toxic Release Inventory) and market mechanisms for pollution control (e.g., acid rain controls) in the 1980s and 1990s reflect efforts to influence corporate behavior by mobilizing public pressure in the case of disclosure or facilitating least cost pollution reduction actions to meet performance goals in the case of emission trading. This trend also was a distinction from other industrialized countries’ approaches, many of which favored government involvement to set industry standards (USC-OTA, 1992).