Assessing Sustainability Standards

Key Themes:
  • Power and Legacy
  • Operational and Funding Models

One of the most pressing conservation challenges facing our global society is how to meet the growing human demand for food, fuel and fibre while sustaining environmental services and biodiversity within the earth’s capacity.

About the project

The so-called soft commodities – agriculture, forest products and seafood – are responsible for feeding and clothing the world. They generate jobs and sustain growth. While their importance is clear, their impacts on the natural environment and surrounding communities are profound. From habitat conversion and soil erosion to pollution of soil and water, soft commodities significantly degrade the services provided by nature.

To address this challenge, multistakeholder initiatives including NGOs and businesses have promoted the use of certification standards designed to increase the sustainability of agricultural, forest and seafood commodity production across the world. Yet the effectiveness, limits and unmet opportunities of certification are not clear and are likely to vary significantly across commodities, scales, producer and consumer cultures and conditions, and supply chains.

Supporters of certification, and the producers and businesses that standards bodies serve, are increasingly demanding better evidence on the outcomes and impacts of certification. A considerable amount of work has been done on synthesising research on sustainability standards, and efforts are continuing to improve the evidence. The Luc Hoffmann Institute explored the underlying reasons for the scarcity of evidence identified using existing synthesis reviews, with a deeper focus on what standards themselves are doing to monitor and evaluate and assess their own impacts.

The report will help guide the certification engagement strategies of NGOs, businesses and standards bodies and provide a basis for re-evaluating approaches to monitoring and evaluation.

Project partners

We are working closely with the WWF network, ISEAL Alliance and standards bodies themselves to develop a better understanding of the reasons for the misalignment between the demand for and supply of rigorous evidence on the impact of sustainability standards.

Project leaders

Malika Virah-Sawmy (Luc Hoffmann Institute) and Richard Gauld (Luc Hoffmann Institute/WWF Germany).

Related reading

An agenda for assessing and improving conservation impacts of sustainability standards in tropical agriculture

The state of sustainability initiatives review 2014: standards in the green economy

Want to get in touch?

Email the project team at
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