environmentally preferable attributes. All of this activity in the marketplace is sometimes mistaken for consumer demand, but as Chapter 5 explores further, the demand for certified sustainable products is not nearly as concrete or pervasive as some might think. Instead, the rise of certification can be traced to the efforts of NGOs, industries, and sometimes governments, to develop voluntary, market-based mechanisms that help reduce adverse social or environmental impacts.
The donor community has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to establish and support certification programs around the world. This has been a critical factor in establishing many certification programs, but it also points to some vulnerability in these programs. There tends to be a prejudice within the donor community towards innovation, and thus certification programs represented the “cutting edge” a decade or so ago. Donors, including philanthropic foundations and large NGOs like the Rainforest Alliance and WWF, have continued to support these programs and fund new programs in other sectors. However, several participants questioned the staying power of the donor community if programs take decades to achieve tangible impacts. Other participants emphasized that in almost all cases, the roles for government and the private sector have not been well defined. In other words, the process has been initiated by NGOs without fully considering how government and industry could help scale up impacts.
Several participants described the resultant field of certified products as a cluttered landscape. Given the apparent success of some certification programs in terms of penetrating the global market, certification is now a tool that is being considered in more and more industries. However, producers do not always know where to begin when searching for a credible scheme, or when seeking to establish one in industries not currently certified. The International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling (ISEAL) Alliance is one body that has emerged as a “hub” for different standards systems. It was established in 1999 as a way for certification organizations to collaborate across systems, recognizing the high degree of overlap and complementarity among their individual efforts.
Despite this degree of overlap, the field is still highly variable, and there are substantial differences across certain sectors (e.g., fisheries as compared to electronics) and within sectors, particularly as competing standards develop. Many participants noted that the energy being devoted to establishing new and competing standards systems could be more effectively applied to enhancing the impact of existing programs, or taking a broader, industry-wide approach. In some sectors there does appear to be convergence—the Common Code for the Coffee Community (4C) was cited as one example where stakeholders throughout the coffee value chain have been working together to raise the bar throughout the industry, rather than con-