Guest Blog Post by Amy Jackson, Senior Credibility Manager, ISEAL Alliance
ISEAL, as the global membership organisation for sustainability standards, is the leading authority on what good practice looks like in this space. As a subscriber the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) align with ISEAL’s mission to benefit people and the planet and is part of a community that is aiming to strengthen the standards movement. As one of the largest organizations for sustainable cotton, representatives of the foundation regularly participate in ISAEL meetings. With experts and the standards community, they discuss and further develop different approaches and the impact of sustainability standards. One major theme is the claims jungle, Amy Jackson, Senior Credibility Manager, at ISEAL Alliance stresses in our guest blog:
“Today we can say that there is a definitive movement of sustainability standards and certification, with the recent showing that certified goods across sixteen leading certification programmes in ten commodities now hold an estimated trade value of USD 31.6 billion (as of 2012). At the same time, there are hundreds of standards and certifications programmes on the market, and not all of them are credible.
Most people engage with sustainability standards through an ecolabel, certification mark or some other type of sustainability message, and bringing clarity to this often confusing landscape is a challenge that ISEAL is now taking on. For those that use standards and need to interpret sustainability claims — particularly buyers and NGOs that advise these buyers – we want to improve their ability to navigate this jungle and differentiate those claims that relate to trustworthy sustainability standards versus those that might actually be greenwashing.
We are approaching this challenge on two fronts — on the one side developing a Good Practice Guide for certification programmes, and on the other, a navigation tool for people trying to understand different claims. The Good Practice Guide will be an international reference for any certification programme to strengthen its claims and labelling processes. It will provide the building blocks to manage claims and reduce the risk of inaccuracy or confusion. This includes clear protocol for who can make a claim or use a label, also how procedures for monitoring these claims and dealing with label misuse.
We are also hoping to drive dialogue in particular key areas. This could include a common understanding of what makes a ‘complete claim’ (is a logo sufficient on its own?) and consistency in the language that is used on certified products. The navigation tool will be a user-friendly way for stakeholders to make informed decisions about the sustainability labels they are contemplating using and, ultimately, we hope it reduces the proliferation of non-credible claims. It will be a sort of decision tree that leads people through the essential questions they need to ask, such as ‘what type of claim is being made’ and ‘what social or environmental issues does the claim refer to’? It is essential that buyers, retailers, government procurers and others understand the differences between claims, as some are based on compliance with sustainability standards and other rigorous checks, while others might only be labels added for marketing purposes but with no systems beyond them.”