Talking about credible standards in a Trump State

Aspen forest © DB Young for Rainforest Alliance
Aspen forest © DB Young for Rainforest Alliance
ISEAL’s Director of Development and Communications joined a 900-delegate green business conference in Arizona to talk claims, credibility, SDGs, and impact.

As one of ISEAL’s two staffers based in North America, I often get the chance to travel around the US and speak about sustainability standards at various events.  A few weeks ago I had one of the more surreal experiences of doing this at a huge event in Arizona, a US State that Donald Trump won.  It was especially strange as I sat down at the ISEAL hosted lunch table to lead a discussion on the “five truths of credible claims” and honed in on the concept of accuracy, while news kept popping on my phone about the current US administration’s activities.

So while it seemed at odds to test drive an electric car made by an automaker that six days later would lobby the US government to ease fuel efficiency standards (standards that the car I drove already meets), or do morning yoga with my mat next to a banker whose company last year was part of a huge offshore investment scandal, I also got to talk about sustainability standards.

So what’s it like to talk about ISEAL members?  Well, it’s constantly interesting.  In the US, where ISEAL has not done as much outreach and advocacy as we have in Europe, our messages and insights often resonate very strongly.  Sometimes companies will ask me questions like “why are you doing all this for us?” or they will say “this stuff is gold and you are giving it away for free.”  After I explain the generous support and work of our members, donors, subscribers and other partners, they understand ISEAL a little better. 

In the last year, I find myself talking about ISEAL more as a movement, an alliance, a global network.  This resonates.  ISEAL is made up of a powerful group of 21 members, each one of which is an influential global network in itself, and international secretariat of experts, and another 100 organisations who embrace our shared goals.  We have reached tens of thousands of companies and tens of millions of workers. We are building demand for sustainable products in cotton, coffee, carpets, fuel, toys, seafood and many goods.  Through our collective power, we are tackling global challenges.  

Of course, we have to still change hearts and minds, one company and one producer at a time.  So that strange week, I sat at my topic table and later beside a monitor with my impacts slideshow (lower external costs! reduced bycatch! improved soil! increased yield! improved traceability!).  I handed out our newest joint report with WWF on how credible standards can help companies deliver the 2030 agenda.  I steered people to the Challenge the Label online tool for understanding credible claims and labels, and I shared the great new ISEAL infographics on how sustainability standards meet various SDGs.

And afterwards in the airport: I had a burrito and watched more news about the new US administration’s actions. 

Nonetheless, stripping all the event particulars aside, the business leaders in forward-thinking US companies are still at times deep, honest, challenging, and focused.  Take the forest products company executive who, at the last minute, put her plenary speech aside and just sang the hit song “Lean on me” straight into the microphone (and in front of 800 people).  Somehow, when she got to the lines “we all have sorrow, but if we are wise, we know that there's always tomorrow,” I had a tear in my eye.