There are essential elements that underpin credible and effective standards that businesses, governments, consumers and other users of standards should be aware of. ISEAL has launched a multi-stakeholder consultation with global representation to agree on a core set of these Credibility Principles.
Drawing on ISEAL’s draft Credibility Principles, each news bulletin we look at one of these important elements that are being discussed in the ISEAL-led global consultation and explain how it can be applied in practice by a standard. This month we talk with Sébastien Haye about the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels’ (RSB) decision to officially recognise Rainforest Alliance (RA) Certified™ farms and how this reflects the concept of efficiency with other credible standards.
In June RSB announced that farms which have received Rainforest Alliance / Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) certification could go through a simplified process for becoming RSB certified. This was the result of a comparison process to test the compatibility of standards of RSB and SAN, both of whom are full ISEAL members.
“By aligning these two leading standards, we emphasize the best of both. Together, we will be able to bring the benefits of certification to more farmers, farm-workers, companies, consumers and ecosystems,” said Oliver Bach, Director of Standards and Policy for the SAN.
Standards often work in similar or overlapping sectors, and for producers, receiving more than one certification can be very advantageous. However, the costs of going through multiple audits can often be prohibitive for producers whose resources are limited. Thus many standards have begun exploring ways to coordinate to enable multiple certification and reduce the burden for producers.
Improved consistency and collaboration where standards overlap in either content or functions can lead to increased efficiencies for standards themselves as well as drive the collective movement to scale up because standards become more accessible.
Here is our conversation with Sébastien about the RSB initiative:
Is this the first instance of comparison between RSB and another sustainability standard or ISEAL member?
Sébastien: Yes, this is the first time we’ve done this type of benchmarking process with another standards organisation, in this case the SAN. We launched the project at the end of 2010 with a joint field audit in Colombia, but the main work happened earlier this year between January and April. The successful result of this collaboration is that RSB now recognises RA / SAN certificates.
Along with ISEAL and other partners, RSB is also working on the development of a larger tool to help users meaningfully compare standards – the Sustainability Standards Transparency Initiative (SSTI). However, SSTI is a long-term project and there are immediate opportunities for recognising other existing certification schemes to be explored in the interim, using some of the building blocks and criteria from the SSTI.
Why did RSB decide to undertake this comparison process?
Sébastien: For the growth of our standard, there is both a business opportunity and a communications aspect to this. RA / SAN are a long-standing certification programme and have credibility globally. RSB is a young standard and it is of great value to demonstrate that we are comparable in terms of sustainability and assurance. As a young standard it is very useful to be part of ISEAL because it is a network of credible organisations where this sort of mutual recognition and interoperability is possible.
What are the commonalities between RSB and Rainforest Alliance that make this recognition possible?
Sébastien: Both RA/SAN and RSB are sustainability standards that aim to have positive impact at the farm level.* The main difference is that Rainforest Alliance primarily deals in the food sector, whereas RSB is focussed on energy. But we are concerned with similar issues in terms of social and environmental practices and impacts.
Palm oil and sugar are two crops that RA/SAN currently certifies, which are interesting as biofuel feedstock. Nevertheless, this does not seem to be the core area of RA/SAN work, which centres mainly on coffee, cocoa and tea.
*Note: RSB certification also covers downstream steps, such as feedstock processing and biofuel production
What types of farms does this recognition apply to?
Sébastien: Ideally we would like any type of farm to be able to access RSB certification. There has been no strategic orientation towards large-scale operations, however practically this may be the case at the present time as the biofuels sector mostly consists of large-scale operations. But we are trying to build in more flexibility and user-friendliness so that farms of any size can access RSB certification.
How does this change the certification process for Rainforest Alliance Certified producers who want to receive RSB certification?
Sébastien: Our comparison revealed that Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms could be de facto considered compliant with all 12 RSB Principles & Criteria, with the exception of two (Principle 3 on Greenhouse Gas and Principle 6 on Food Security). Thus, such farms will only have to undergo a simplified audit where their compliance with the RSB principles and criteria 3 and 6 is verified. This alignment of our efforts saves on costs for farmers and allows the benefits of certification to reach more people, businesses and ecosystems.
To further increase efficiency, we’re currently looking at the potential to train auditors to perform both audits, so that the verification of the additional RSB criteria does not need to be done separately.
How do you think this will affect the demand or uptake of RSB certification?
Sébastien: The main benefit is that operators certified to RA / SAN standards can more easily access biofuels supply chains. This enhances their economic opportunities as we found that some farms in particular were interested in accessing the EU biofuels market – and RSB certified biofuels are recognised under EU legislation. It also opens up a greater supply of feedstocks for biofuels processors, which helps to grow the certified biofuels sector.
For RSB, demonstrating comparability and consistency with a credible and established standard like RA/SAN is very beneficial and will enhance our credibility in the market.
Do you foresee this leading to future collaborations with other standards?
Sébastien: We are currently looking at other ISEAL members that we could work with on recognition. The benefit of being part of ISEAL is that there is some assurance about the credibility of other members. Their compliance with ISEAL’s codes makes it easier to collaborate because we do not have to go through a lengthy process ourselves to assess their credibility.
But we’d also like to develop a simpler and more efficient way of performing these comparisons and reaching conclusions.
When can we expect to see the first dual certification?
Sébastien: We think that the first RSB certification of a Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farm could happen by the end of the year.
To find out more about this story, read the RSB press release here.