Businesses, nongovernmental organizations, foundations, and public agencies have invested significant resources in recent years to advance certification and labeling systems applying environmental and social sustainability criteria. Food, personal care, appliances, electronics, and building and packaging materials are only a few of the product categories in which various kinds of labels identify “acceptable” or “preferred” products based on compliance with standards of environmental sustainability, energy conservation, health, safety, and social justice.
As labels proliferate, purchasers have legitimate questions about which claims to trust. Funders and regulators need to know whether the systems are achieving their objectives, and what alternatives might improve performance. Manufacturers and marketers need information to support business decisions. All face gaps in the available evidence to answer these and other questions.
To address these types of questions, a State-of-Knowledge Assessment of Standards and Certification was launched in late 2009. The Assessment was initiated and funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and Mars, Incorporated. A 12-person Steering Committee composed of leading experts governed this independent, scientifically grounded, Assessment of the impact and performance of labeling and certification and their effectiveness as tools to achieve more sustainable production and consumption. The process was chaired by Patrick Mallet of the ISEAL Alliance and facilitated by RESOLVE, a nonprofit collaboration and mediation organization that served as the facilitator and Secretariat.
The Steering Committee’s final report, Toward Sustainability: The Roles and Limitations of Certification, was published in June 2012 and is available at www.resolv.org/towardsustainability.