Demonstrating impacts of sustainability standards beyond certification: a WWF-ISEAL white paper

20th December 2018


For a wide variety of impacts, the benefits of certification using voluntary sustainability standards such as Bonsucro are increasingly being supported through research and analysis.

However, sustainability standards can offer much more in terms of impacts than just through certification.

These benefits are often difficult to identify and quantify. This is the rationale behind a new white paper commissioned by ISEAL and WWF, which reveals how sustainability standards can stimulate positive change in the wider systems in which they operate, through “shaping government and private sector policies, sharing knowledge and training, raising consumer awareness or improving coordination across landscapes and sectors”. In turn this encourages an ‘enabling environment’ to improve production practices for people, planet and profit.

One area that sustainability standards can have a systemic impact upon is dialogue and collaboration. As a case study, the report uses the landmark Adelante Initiative in Central America that has fostered dialogue between several stakeholders that were previously opposed on the issue of Chronic Kidney Disease of undetermined causes (CKDu), a devastating disease that was seriously affecting worker health in the region.

Sugarcane cutter at SER Antonio © Joe Woodruff / Bonsucro

Sugarcane cutter at SER Antonio © Joe Woodruff / Bonsucro

Through bringing the parties together and encouraging dialogue, Bonsucro was able to create an enabling environment in which progress and collaboration for change was possible, culminating in the founding of the Adelante Initiative. Bonsucro, La Isla Network, Nicaragua Sugar Estates Limited and the Nicaraguan Sugar Producers Association are all founding members. The initiative now works to provide a “A dynamic platform to create safe, productive work practices in the sugarcane industry and beyond.”

The ISEAL-WWF report highlights how something as simple as dialogue can lead to improved coordination, strategies and partnerships to tackle key sustainability issues. Collaboration, it shows, also helps to build trust, influence attitudes or empower those who are often excluded from decisions that affect them.

Other areas where sustainability standards can have systemic impacts include: improving the knowledge base around sustainable production; the development of tools; funnelling investments into training and capacity building; and influencing policies, public opinion and corporate behaviour. The report uses case studies from other ISEAL members such as RSPO, MSC and FSC.

Writing in Business Fights Poverty, ISEAL’s Joshua Wickerham noted “Voluntary sustainability standards truly have the potential to deliver impacts that go beyond individual supply chains and certified areas of operation – the examples discussed show how this is already happening. However, we need to do more to monitor these systemic impacts in order to inform future strategies.”

Bonsucro is a full member of ISEAL. As an ISEAL full member, we comply with all of ISEAL’s Codes of Good Practice, which provide a globally recognised framework used by leading sustainability standards.

Bonsucro’s upcoming Outcome Report, set to be published next year will explore some of Bonsucro’s systemic impacts in more detail.

Bonsucro & Renovabio: Exploring synergies and advancing GHG reduction in Brazil

Project partners: Earth innovation Institute and Agroicone
Project length: 12 months Budget: $22,347,79
Supporting the Sustainable Development Goals:

RenovaBio is a Brazilian biofuel policy designed to decrease Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions by 10% by 2029 [compared to 2018], in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change. It aims to do this by incentivising fuel distributors to blend more biofuels into their products. RenovaBio has established a certification scheme for biofuel, towards which Brazilian sugarcane mills are working, that will enable them to trade decarbonisation credits on the Brazilian stock exchange.

Bonsucro continuously seeks to grow awareness and adoption of its standard. In Brazil, this can be achieved by aligning its framework with RenovaBio to optimise costs and time for mills. In 2019, Bonsucro received a grant of US $22,000 from the Earth Innovation Institute to provide a common understanding of how RenovaBio works and how other regions might benefit from this approach.

Bonsucro addressed the topic at Bonsucro Global Week in Bangkok in March 2019, and through three stakeholder forums in Brazil. The Bonsucro team also commissioned a technical comparison study, which enabled the organisation to understand how best to align with RenovaBio’s requirements.

The study has been shared with key stakeholders in Brazil and the project is now complete. Bonsucro is working to incorporate the study’s findings and recommendations through its ongoing Production Standard Revision process.

By aligning opportunities of optimisation, joint work and integration with the Brazilian Government and reflecting it in the Bonsucro Standard, Bonsucro can help to ensure that more producers adopt sustainability standards like Bonsucro.