- Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
- Stakeholder type: Major Group
- Submission Document: Download
- Additional Document:
Contribution of the ISEAL Alliance to outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development
Thematic Focus: ?Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication?
The ISEAL Alliance believes that by focusing on the theme of the Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, the Rio+20 Summit will provide an unprecedented opportunity for government, business and civil society leaders to affirm and renew their commitment to advance social and environmental justice.
As part of its contribution to Rio+20 Conference preparations, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (2011) in its report Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication defines the Green Economy as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. UNEP (2011) notes that embracing a Green Economy paradigm will require the implementation of a comprehensive set of enabling conditions to support the transition towards a low carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive economic system. These enabling conditions consist of national regulations, policies, subsidies and incentives, international market and legal infrastructure, as well as trade and aid protocols. One particular set of incentives identified by UNEP relates to sustainability standards systems and the associated concepts - certification and eco-labelling.
There are many examples drawn from the agriculture, forestry, fisheries, manufacturing and tourism sectors where these incentives - sustainability standards - have served as effective catalysts for green growth. Furthermore, sustainability standards can no longer be considered ?niche? approaches. They cover over ten percent of global production in key commodities and sectors, such as wild-capture fisheries, tea, coffee and bananas. The ?demonstration effect? of pioneering initiatives ? such as the Marine Stewardship Council, Fairtrade, UTZ Certified, the Rainforest Alliance / Sustainable Agriculture Network and the Forest Stewardship Council ? has provided solid ground to expand the application of sustainability standards into new commodities and sectors such as soy and other food and biomass crops, cattle, mining, tourism, carbon, water and electronic waste. This positive demonstration effect is evidenced by the number of new standards systems that have emerged in recent years.
At the core of any standard system is the standard: a defined set of social, environmental, or economic criteria typically developed though multi-stakeholder processes. The standard is the foundation for green growth but it is only in its application by enterprises that the abstract criteria are translated into sustainable practices. This stage often requires significant investment in capacity building. Certification then provides a level of assurance to customers that products or services comply with the standard, thus harnessing the power of the market to deliver benefits to certified enterprises and to drive more sustainable development.
Sustainability standards have enabled the market for sustainable goods and services to expand through informing consumers of products and production processes. Sustainability standards have also played a strong market leadership role in driving best practice and supporting continuous improvement. Moreover the pivotal role that sustainability standards play in the field of public procurement and the greening of government expenditure is important to note.
While UNEP (2011) is supportive of sustainability standards to drive green growth, it has been observed that standards? ability to facilitate or hinder trade depends on how they are set up and managed. For example, if the criteria associated with the scheme are not locally applicable or relevant, they can be deemed as trade restrictive. Similarly this can be the case if the verification procedures associated with a scheme are unnecessarily complex and discriminate against small and medium size enterprises.
For the ISEAL Alliance, these issues underscore the notion that sustainability standards are only able to make a positive contribution to green growth and sustainable development if they are credible and effective. The concept of credibility relates to:
- how a standard is set - for example following a process that is consistent with the World Trade Organization (WTO) disciplines of openness, transparency and due process;
- how standards compliance is verified - is the verification process impartial and independent and is the process fit for purpose; and
- whether the impact of a standard is assessed - is the effectiveness of the standards system in contributing to its stated sustainability goals assessed on a regular basis and is this learning integrated into the system, including improvement of the standard over time.
ISEAL has developed a number of consensus-based Codes of Good Practices that define credibility in these three spheres ? standard setting, assurance and impact assessment. As such, these Codes can be considered international reference documents for what constitutes credible social and environmental standards.
With this as background, the ISEAL Alliance calls for the inclusion of a statement outlining a commitment to supporting the scaling up of credible sustainability standards as part of the outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference, with the following text:
Governments, the business sector and civil society leaders all acknowledge the positive contribution that credible, effective multi-stakeholder sustainability standards can make to advance the implementation of the Green Economy concept in support of sustainable development. More specifically, the value of these market-based tools hinge on their ability to:
- provide a clear pathway for producers and manufacturers to improve sustainability practices;
- provide reliable benchmarks for supply chain buyers and consumers to make informed purchasing decisions; and
- streamline the financial due diligence process by signalling to institutional investors and lenders that good social and environmental practices are being upheld.
While sustainability standards have gained ground in recent years, in some cases representing more than ten percent of total production, they have not yet reached their full adoption potential. All governments participating in the Rio+20 Conference therefore commit to actively and comprehensively supporting the scaling up of credible sustainability standards for all commodities and sectors and in all parts of the world, especially in emerging and developing economies. They do this in line with their individual responsibilities, opportunities and constraints, duly recognising their role as actors in the public procurement sphere, facilitators of international trade, guardians of internal markets, decision makers on consumer information criteria and as initiators and supporters of international development and technical assistance.
Specific government actions that could support the scaling up of sustainability standards include:
a) Practising credible sustainable public procurement through setting progressive targets across all product and service categories to ensure that a large, reliable market for sustainable products and services is able to evolve.
b) Building consumer confidence in sustainability standards through:
- collating and disseminating information on what constitutes credible sustainability standards. For example, only standards systems that follow WTO disciplines such as those that are in compliance with ISEAL?s Standard-Setting Code can be considered credible and act as enablers of trade.
- guiding corporate communication on sustainability claims and asking for measurable, verifiable and accurate information which can be substantiated by standards systems;
c) Integrating sustainability standards in regulatory processes through setting legally binding rules for sustainable consumption. This should be enforced by requiring the use of credible standards to demonstrate these legal requirements have been met. An example of this approach is the European Union's Renewable Energy Directive (RED).
d) Providing financial incentives for sustainably produced products or services through ensuring they receive favourable treatment by the State, such as direct subsidies, reduced tax rates, preferential tariff rates or by other means.
e) Stregthening the implementation of sustainability standards systems by:
- directly supporting company implementation, e.g. concessionary-rate loans for producers, support for small farmers through capacity building activities.
- developing the supporting infrastructure for standards implementation by providing support structures and services with regards to accreditation and certification processes, registration as well as through building extension services to prepare producers to engage with sustainability standards.