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Certifiably Sustainable?: The Role of Third-Party Certification Systems - Report of a Workshop
IMPACT INDICATORS AND BASELINES
There is a keen interest in understanding where and when certification programs are delivering on their promise of moving markets towards sustainability. Sustainability may be a moving target, but the general feeling among participants was that certification programs could nonetheless be doing a much better job in demonstrating and communicating their effectiveness. Further independent research on endpoints, in terms of land use, human health, environmental quality, and other factors could serve as guideposts for more effective certification programs. This would be useful in developing more meaningful metrics within a system, and could also be broadly applied across systems. Monitoring and evaluation are key components of certification programs, but as participants noted, they are not benchmarked well. Standards are being developed without set goals, and are based on theories of change that are untested.
Given the amount of experience within the field of certification, there is also an opportunity for some external evaluations of current programs. Understandably, certification programs have not generally taken a critical look at their impacts. Often times a program focuses on scaling up its efforts, but, as many participants noted, scaling up the intended impact is much more effective at advancing sustainability goals. Science can play a role in evaluating the impact of previous certification program outcomes and contribute to developing future baseline criteria. With cooperation from certification programs, it might also be possible to conduct long-term impact assessments.
One of the challenges to identifying and then measuring impacts is that certification never occurs in a vacuum. More work is needed to understand how voluntary standards are interfacing with policy and regulations. Progress here could shed light on how to measure impacts and unintended consequences, and most importantly, identify the contexts in which certification seems to be the appropriate tool. This may be a way to identify some of the unexpected impacts, both positive and negative, resulting from certification efforts. These include outcomes, such as multiplier and spillover effects of certifying specific products and services.
OUTLINING A CREDIBLE PROCESS
Earlier discussions of credibility focused more on the certified label or seal, and whether or not it was meaningful or merely contributing to green noise. Credibility from a consumer standpoint is one issue, but credibility also matters to NGOs, businesses, and governments who support certification schemes. Many participants emphasized that credibility should apply