Improving impacts

Female Workforce at Dimexon Diamonds in Coimbatore, India © Responsible Jeweller
Female Workforce at Dimexon Diamonds in Coimbatore, India © Responsible Jewellery Council
"ISEAL membership reflects our commitment to monitoring and communicating our impacts, and to improving our standard based on the results," Rainforest Alliance
The highest aim of the ISEAL Alliance is to improve impacts on people and the environment. ISEAL supports standards to measure their performance and put learning and improvement at the centre of their work.

Sustainability standards such as those represented in ISEAL address significant challenges in the world today and are one of the few proven vehicles for making production and trade more sustainable. But there remains a critical need to understand more about the effects and long-term outcomes of certification on the ground and for standards to improve in the areas where they could be performing better.

Demonstrating impact is the strongest demand from partners and standards users across all sectors and is widely agreed as an essential foundation of a credible standards system. Governments, companies and other stakeholders need to know that the standards they use are making a difference. Certification programmes that are not transparent about their impacts are unlikely to maintain trust.  

Bulk of evidence is positive

Demonstrating impacts is a marathon, not a sprint, and until we have comprehensive evidence about the impacts of standards, the ISEAL Credibility Principles can serve as our best approximation of the core values that standards systems need to follow to be effective. We believe that by adopting principles such as transparency, relevance and rigour, standards are better positioned to deliver on their missions.

The evidence base is starting to grow, with many credible and comprehensive studies being conducted. Our hope is that stakeholders including standard-setters, companies, researchers, and governments will support the development of robust studies to help us all better understand the strengths and weaknesses of our work. Just in the past year, major studies have been released by the Committee on Sustainability Assessment, the Natural Resources Institute, the State of Sustainability Initiatives, and KPMG, and on average we are seeing that certification delivers positive economic, social and environmental benefits to producers, farmers and labourers, and their local environments and ecosystems. Some studies have shown mixed or negative results, and ISEAL supports the efforts of its members to use these findings to improve.

Community of practice on impacts

ISEAL members commit to implementing the ISEAL Impacts Code within a set time frame and many are now on this journey. The Code provides the building blocks for standard-setting organisations to become more systematic and results-oriented through developing a M&E system capable of tracking progress and driving improvement of the standard.

Along with the Impacts Code, ISEAL also brings together our members in a flourishing community of practice on impacts.  Over the past few years ISEAL has helped its members to embrace an approach based on learning and improvement and focus more clearly on defining their goals and measuring their results. Many ISEAL members have released global impacts reports in the last year to begin to show their results and put in place the foundation for more comprehensive reports in the future.

Helping producers out of poverty

Through support from the Ford Foundation, a group of ISEAL members in agriculture and forestry (Forest Stewardship Council, Fairtrade International, 4C Association, Rainforest Alliance/Sustainable Agriculture Network, the Union for Ethical Bio Trade, and UTZ) have undertaken one of the strongest examples of collaboration in the certification movement. The aim of ISEAL’s Demonstrating and Improving Poverty Impacts project is to give certification leaders need a more complete picture of how their programmes contribute to sustainable rural livelihoods and pro-poor development practices. ISEAL members have come to agreement on a set of common poverty indicators, developed and tested M&E systems, and shaped a common research. 

ISEAL members will soon report on their collective poverty impacts and conduct impact evaluation projects to assess the effects of certification on rural livelihoods and pro-poor development. Ultimately, our hope is that this project will confirm that sustainability standards are making a positive impact on livelihoods and poverty, and will help standards systems improve their impacts over time.

Download a two page fact sheet on the poverty impacts project.  

For more information about the Impacts Code click here.

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Related information and resources

Researcher Engagement Factsheet

Information sheet on the various ISEAL resources for researchers

Defining, Calculating and Using a Living Income Benchmark in the Context of Agricultural Commodities (May 2015)

Discussion note working version May 2015 - updated based on the outcomes of the workshop 'Working towards the Calculation and Use of a Living Income Benchmark in Agricultural Commodities', held at GIZ headquarters in February 2015.

Certification and poverty impacts: what we are learning from three baseline studies in Kenya, India and Indonesia

In this webinar, the ISEAL Impacts team presented what we are learning from three baseline studies in Indonesia, India and Kenya that aim to measure the impacts of certification on the world’s poorest farmers.

Guidance for Researching Sustainability Standards

A brief guidance note for academics, consultants, students and others researching sustainability standards. Take a look for tips and resources to help you navigate this field!

Researching sustainability standards: what are our priorities?

ISEAL is developing a Collaborative Research Agenda with input from researchers and practitioners. Our aim is to identify key knowledge gaps and priority questions on sustainability standards. Your input will help shape this agenda to advance knowledge in this field.

ISEAL DIPI Project - Three Commissioned Impact Evaluations - Longer Summary by ISEAL of the Three Studies

The Ford Foundation is supporting ISEAL and its agriculture and forestry members to build robust M&E systems and generate both performance monitoring and impact evaluation evidence about the contribution of sustainability standards to improving the livelihoods of the poor, smallholder producers. This is a two page but more detailed summary of the three cases, with a large table that summarized the researchers, methods used, standards systems' interventions, and market-led approaches for each.

ISEAL Project Fact Sheet - Demonstrating and Improving Poverty Impacts

Through support from the Ford Foundation, ISEAL and its members have been working to understand the contribution that certification makes towards sustainable rural livelihoods and pro-poor development practices. Here you can download a two page colour fact sheet on the project.

ISEAL DIPI Project - Three Commissioned Impact Evaluations - Baseline Full Reports and Research Design Documents

ISEAL’s commissioning of three independent evaluations in Indonesia, India and Kenya will help contribute to high quality research on the impacts of certification on the world’s poorest farmers. Here you can find the full baseline reports from all three studies and the research design documents for each as well.