The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
Certifiably Sustainable?: The Role of Third-Party Certification Systems - Report of a Workshop
are forced to figure out how they might afford to play. Third, the rules are rather complex, and so for those who have played a similar game before it is not a problem, but many others are left to try and learn as they go, even though the rulebook is thin and not always accessible. Inevitably, there is cheating which undermines the game. Finally, and perhaps most frustratingly, the originating group intends to start playing this game in everyone’s yard throughout the neighborhood. The game will not realize its full potential if confined to a single backyard, but they understandably meet resistance, confusion, and frustration as they have to go from backyard to backyard trying to teach the game. Some neighbors are asked to stop playing older games, others are eventually crowded out of their own yards as the new game takes hold.
This illustrates, in a nutshell, the key criticisms of existing certification programs, including the claim that standards tend to be set without substantial input from diverse stakeholders. Conversely, involving a broad range of stakeholders often means pitting contentious viewpoints against one another—for voluntary mechanisms this can mean resorting to less-stringent consensus-based goals. Many participants emphasized that certification networks are driven by politics and power—scientific knowledge has a place, but it is not the key driver. Instead, standard setting is often a political process that at best is informed by science.1 Additionally, certification programs do not always transfer well across different climatic zones or ecosystems. Singapore established its own green building program, Green Mark, in part because it considered the LEED standard inappropriate for tropical climates.
Certification has traditionally been viewed as an exclusionary process. Programs may be considered “global” but must be implemented and adopted locally. This is problematic for several reasons, chief among them is that such meta-standards do not adequately reflect local needs or goals. One participant remarked that, especially for the developing world, a certification program must demonstrate that environmental concerns are not trumping social concerns. Even certification programs that focus on social concerns, such as reducing child labor, need to answer to the criticism that the approach is not simply being imposed from afar, or that local entities are incapable of sustainably managing their own resources and production practices.
Most participants agreed that a multistakeholder, collaborative approach to third-party certification may be the most effective way to identify sus-
The term “science” was not explicitly defined during the workshop, and so participants likely had different perceptions of what the term encompassed. For the purposes of this report, science, unless otherwise noted, refers to a systematic knowledge base that includes the natural, social, and applied sciences.