with more targeted programs to address root causes of unsustainability, such as poverty or corruption?

There are also topics that might be researched and analyzed in a “myth or fact?” format—a challenge in building the knowledge base on certification systems is that certain myths seem persistent, and certain truths remain undiscovered. One such example is to analyze several existing schemes to understand net costs and benefits, and to where they accrue. This could add clarity to discussions of barriers to adoption, compliance costs, and viable financial models to sustain a program.

Overall, participants did not agree on a single methodology to address these questions. Several participants suggested that a small set of case studies would be illustrative, and that certain sectors, such as the coffee industry, were already well documented. Other participants noted that fisheries, for example, are such a distinct and complex case that they might need to be studied separately—lessons drawn from other sectors’ experiences may not apply.

Participants emphasized that there is much to be gained by assembling and assessing what has been done, or is already underway, and outlining a methodological approach to answer the core questions on certification’s effectiveness. Some industries suggested for analysis included agriculture, marine fisheries, timber and tea. Several participants suggested learning from the rural sociology literature, which is rich on impacts and implications of standards programs. Furthermore, while acknowledging that standards setting is often a political process, participants wondered how evidence-based knowledge could be better integrated at the formation of a standard, so that it is meaningful and effective at achieving results that contribute to sustainable development.

Finally, consumption, in general, is an issue area in need of additional research attention. A number of participants suggested that a follow-on forum could look more broadly at the role certification and its alternatives might play as we sustain a human population of 9 billion by 2050. As many noted, certified products do not offer guidance on how much we can sustainably consume. Developing world economies are beginning to promote and experience more domestic household consumption, and the ramifications of this trend are poorly understood. Knowing more about global consumption and opportunities to reduce or more equitably distribute it may help address overconsumption in developed countries and help developing countries as they transition to less resource-intensive economies.

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