Improving impacts

Female Workforce at Dimexon Diamonds in Coimbatore, India © Responsible Jeweller
Female Workforce at Dimexon Diamonds in Coimbatore, India © Responsible Jewellery Council
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.

Ford Foundation logo

Related information and resources

Businesses experience range of benefits from using sustainability standards

A new report by Aidenvironment finds that sustainability standards improve market access, profitability and production for certified businesses, as well as enhance the reputation of and reduce risks for manufacturers and retailers.

Research webinar 17: Heterogeneity and trade-offs in the impacts of forestry certification in Indonesia

13 Jul 2017
Research webinar with Daniela Miteva from Ohio State University on forestry certification in Indonesia

Research webinars on standards' impacts- Spring/Summer 2017 programme

This webinar series is dedicated to sharing emerging research findings in the field of sustainability standards’ impacts. In these public webinars, we hear from researchers active in this field on what difference they think sustainability standards are making across different sectors and how they can improve their impact. If you are interested in sharing your own research through an ISEAL research webinar, please contact ISEAL’s Impacts Coordinator Sophie Mendes (

Research Webinar 16: Socio-economic effects of certification schemes for sustainable agricultural production

15 Jun 2017
Research webinar with Carlos Oya and Florian Schaefer from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) on the socio-economic effects of certification schemes for sustainable agricultural production

Research Webinar 15: Certification for independent oil palm smallholders: preliminary results on barriers and benefits

25 May 2017
Research webinar with Petra Rietberg from Wageningen University and Research on socially and environmentally sustainable oil palm

Research webinar 14: Social and environmental standards contributing to more sustainable value chains

4 May 2017
Research webinar with Philip Schleifer (University of Amsterdam), Regina Taimasova (International Trade Centre) and Matteo Fiorini (European University Institute) on how standards can contribute to more sustainable value chains.

Research Webinar 13: Benefits of eco-labelling in developing countries

20 Apr 2017
Research webinar with Anna Carlson from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on the benefits of eco-labelling in developing countries

Research webinar 12: Standards and the blue economy

6 Apr 2017
Research webinar with Jason Potts from the International Institute for Sustainable Development on sustainability standards and the blue economy

How systematic reviews can provide research insights and accuracy

During Members’ Week 2016, ISEAL invited researchers to share their expertise on synthesis and meta-reviews with members, as well as to reflect on wider questions around research independence, transparency on methodology and the suitability of various methods for certain questions.

Standards Impacts and Evidence: introducing a new tool from ISEAL

In this webinar, Suzanne Clift, ISEAL's Communications Manager, presents our new website hosting impacts evidence and business case information from credible sustainability standards.