Voluntary Governance: Standards, Systems, and Tools

Issue Area and Service Description

Increasingly, leaders are turning to collaborative, voluntary systems as a way to design and implement creative, credible programs and practices that bridge the gap between public and private interests, and achieve outcomes that may not be possible within the timelines, limited resources, mandates, or other constraints of more traditional regulatory approaches.

For example, mechanisms such as public-private partnerships, certification standards, and codes of conduct are being used to promote more sustainable practices and outcomes in product stewardship and supply chain management, natural resource planning and policies, economic development, human rights, and a wide range of other corporate responsibility and sustainability issues.

RESOLVE combines 30 years of experience in environmental, public health, and social policy with unique expertise in designing and managing collaborative, voluntary systems that deliver solutions to civil society, private sector, and governments.

RESOLVE’s Voluntary Governance Services and Selected Projects

Systems and Standards Design

RESOLVE facilitates and advises on design of voluntary governance standards and systems. We have designed and facilitated multi-stakeholder negotiations on the design of certification standards, global observer-selection processes, and sector-specific voluntary initiatives.

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Convening. The MSC, originally formed as a partnership between World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Unilever, was conceived as a program whereby fisheries conforming to a set of predetermined criteria for sustainable fishing would be eligible for certification by independent, accredited certifying firms.  In very early stages, Unilever and WWF recognized that a technically sound and widely accepted set of criteria on which to base certification decisions would be critically important to the program’s success. To this end, they initiated a process of broad consultation with individuals and organizations with expertise in fisheries sustainability. RESOLVE designed and facilitated an international consultative process to introduce local and regional stakeholders to the MSC initiative, to gain an understanding of their different perspectives, and to gather feedback.  The process resulted in a revised set of Draft Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing, and provided the MSC with important insight into the issues and concerns that must be considered for a credible and supportable MSC certification program.

Climate Investment Funds (CIFs) Civil Society Observer Selection Process. RESOLVE designed and managed three global selection processes for civil society observers to the CIFs – a pair of globally supported funds that help developing countries pilot low-emissions and climate-resilient development. The CIFs are channeled through the African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and World Bank Group. The RESOLVE-led selection processes garnered hundreds of applicants for the observer seats and involved a global, electronic voting process open to civil society organizations from around the world. RESOLVE designed these complex selection processes following a series of consultations with key NGOs, representatives of respected climate change organizations, and the CIF administrative unit at the World Bank.

Metafore Paper Working Group. RESOLVE designed this collaborative project undertaken through a partnership between Metafore, a non-profit organization, and 11 companies seeking to develop a predictable and affordable supply of environmentally preferable paper.

Secretariat/Process Facilitation/Management

RESOLVE manages multi-stakeholder voluntary governance initiatives and systems, including several national and international collaboratives, partnerships, and standards development and revisions processes. In this role, we facilitate negotiation and decision-making processes; draw on our subject matter expertise to inform group deliberations and products; and provide project management expertise to support tasks such as website development, outreach, communications, and fundraising.

Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade (PPA). RESOLVE serves as secretariat for this joint initiative between the U.S. State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, other governments, civil society, companies, and industry organizations to support supply chain solutions to conflict minerals challenges in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa. RESOLVE set up and facilitates a cross-sector Governance Committee; multiple work groups; outreach and communication; and other activities on behalf of the PPA. RESOLVE also designed and manages the PPA website (www.resolv.org/site-ppa).

National Wind Coordinating Collaborative. For over 17 years, RESOLVE served as Secretariat for this group aimed at expanding environmental, economic, and politically sustainable markets for wind power. In that time, RESOLVE supported 2,300 active stakeholders and nine working groups in addressing concerns about wind energy’s access to electric transmission and interactions with wildlife. RESOLVE advised on an internal governance system, overseeing working group and Steering Committee elections. RESOLVE facilitated representatives from NGOs, government, industry, and scientific consultants in the development of handbooks documenting best practices for assessing wildlife impacts and siting wind facilities. RESOLVE also managed regular communications with participants and external outreach, through webcast briefings, monthly newsletters, and the NWCC website (www.nationalwind.org).

Green Seal Industrial and Institutional Cleaners (GS37) Standard Revision. RESOLVE facilitated and mediated a revision of Green Seal’s “Environmental Standard for General-Purpose Bathroom, Glass, and Carpet Cleaners Used for Industrial and Institutional Purposes” (GS-37). The process involved nearly 400 registered stakeholders, a technical team, and an Executive Committee representing industry, health experts, children’s advocates, and the State of New York, which adopted the current GS-37 standard for use in all public and private elementary and secondary schools.

Collaborative Learning and Exploring Voluntary Systems, Standards, and Tools

RESOLVE facilitates collaborative learning and assessments of voluntary governance systems, convening multidisciplinary experts to jointly examine and advise on knowledge and lessons learned for such systems and to explore potential opportunities, challenges, and appropriateness of initiating new systems, standards, or tools.

Assessment of Standards and Certification Systems. RESOLVE is facilitating an independent, scientifically-grounded, collaborative assessment of the impact and performance of sustainability labels and certification systems such as the Forest Stewardship Council and the organic label. To support the assessment, RESOLVE facilitates a Steering Committee of 15 experts from academia, the private sector, certification organizations, and NGOs and manages the overall collaborative research process, including a project web page that hosts relevant documents and information. The initiative began with a multi-stakeholder workshop in 2009 and several literature reviews and synthesis reports. We then worked with project sponsors (David & Lucile Packard Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, and MARS, Inc.) to design a multi-sector governance structure, organize stakeholder outreach, and recruit the Steering Committee.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Subcommittee on Promoting Environmental Stewardship. RESOLVE facilitated this federal advisory subcommittee which provided consensus advice to EPA on how the agency can promote comprehensive, cross-media environmental stewardship by regulated entities and other organizations to enhance environmental protection and human health. Through this committee, EPA sought advice as to how the Agency can support such strategies and encourage actions that go beyond regulatory requirements.

Newmont Mining Corporation Stakeholder Engagement Evaluation. RESOLVE advises Newmont on its stakeholder engagement system. RESOLVE designed a curriculum to train Newmont employees on the company’s stakeholder engagement and conflict resolution policies and systems. As part of that development, RESOLVE mapped Newmont’s overall system for managing conflict with stakeholders and assisted in identifying and assessing existing conflict resolution mechanisms and identifying needs for monitoring/evaluation and harmonization that would allow continual improvement of the company’s policies and systems. RESOLVE is also advising Newmont on the development of an external advisory board that would provide continuous stakeholder feedback on Newmont’s social and environmental performance and identify opportunities for improvements in stakeholder relations.