This report is limited in scope to the presentations, workshop discussions, and background documents produced in preparation for the workshop. The report does not necessarily reflect the views of the committee or the participants as a group. The appendices to the report include the workshop agenda; a list of workshop participants; biographical information on the speakers, participants, organizers of the workshop; and working papers presented to workshop participants as background information.
Certification has emerged over the past 15 years as a way to differentiate environmentally or socially preferable products from their conventional alternatives, and it now encompasses numerous complex issues, from labor and production processes to end-use considerations. However, like the diverse products and services which exist in today’s marketplace, these standards and labels present consumers and buyers with a surfeit of options, which can lead to confusion, described in more detail in Chapter 5. Additionally, existing certification schemes are not always uniform, nor are they immune to competing and sometimes false claims which, at best, contribute to “green noise” and consumer fatigue, and at worst, undermine certification efforts which do contribute to environmental and social improvements. Currently, no precise set of sustainability standards exist. Instead, as this field matures and advances, there is increasing evidence from practitioners of what works and why, and where there is room for improvement. Through expert discussion, this workshop attempted to examine the vast field of certification as an approach to sustainability (Chapter 2), and in particular consider which aspects of sustainability are being certified (Chapter 3); how certification standards are developed and implemented (Chapter 4); impacts to producer communities, businesses, consumers, and the environment (Chapter 6); and future areas for potential improvement (Chapters 7 and 8).
The workshop focused specifically on third-party certification, i.e., products or services that are scrutinized by an independent body of some sort, which then confers the right to advertise and label the product as “green,” “sustainable,” or some other variant. The theory is that consumption of certified products can move supply chains toward sustainability, both in the specific goods or services consumed and by providing incentives to producers and sellers to change their practices. Sustainably caught seafood, green buildings, and carbon offsets for air travel provide examples of goods and services marketed in part on their claims to be more sustainable than competing alternatives. These claims may underpin premium prices, preferential market access, or new advertising campaigns. In most cases, though, these claims are tenuous and not readily transparent. The situation