ISEAL Credibility Principles

Given the wide range of sustainability systems out there, how do we know which are the most credible? The Credibility Principles define the core values of credible and effective sustainability systems. They provide the foundations for systems to deliver greater impact.

We developed the first version of the Credibility Principles in 2013, which quickly became an international reference point for credible standards and certification schemes. In 2021, we published version 2 of the principles, which have been updated following extensive global consultation.

The principles help organisations developing standards and similar sustainability tools to understand which attributes of their system are critical to the credibility of their approach, and why this matters for improving sustainability performance and delivering impacts. The principles also help businesses, governments, and civil society to identify systems that can be effective partners in delivering against shared sustainability objectives. You can learn more about how and why the principles are important in this webinar series.

The principles are available in English, Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish.



The ISEAL Credibility Principles

Sustainability impacts

A credible sustainability system makes a difference where it matters.
A credible sustainability system has a clear purpose to drive positive social, environmental, and economic impacts and to eliminate or remediate negative impacts. It defines and clearly communicates its scope, its specific sustainability objectives, and its strategies for achieving these objectives (its theory of change). The system focuses on the significant sustainability impacts in its scope. It seeks to address the root causes of sustainability issues and deliver wider or systemic impacts. It reflects current scientific evidence and international norms when relevant. It is adapted to local or sector-specific conditions where this helps improve impact.


A credible sustainability system works with others to create change.
A credible sustainability system identifies governments, businesses, and civil society organisations, including other sustainability systems, that are working towards shared sustainability objectives. It actively seeks alignment and respectfully pursues collaboration with others. It establishes partnerships and shares learnings to improve its efficiency and its direct or systemic impacts.

Value creation

A credible sustainability system adds value.
A credible sustainability system strives to create value that fairly rewards the effort and resources that it takes for users to participate in the system. It has a viable business model, and it operates efficiently, minimising costs for users and reaching more users by reducing other barriers to access. It supports users to implement its tools, and it empowers users by demonstrating a clear business case for participating in its system.

Measurable progress

A credible sustainability system can demonstrate the difference it is making.
A credible sustainability system has tools that are relevant to achieving its sustainability objectives, and these tools allow progress towards objectives to be measured over time. It collects and analyses the data it needs to measure, understand, and demonstrate the progress its users are making towards these objectives.

Stakeholder engagement

A credible sustainability system listens and learns.
A credible sustainability system is inclusive and non-discriminatory. It empowers stakeholders to participate in decisions and hold the system to account. It involves a balanced and diverse group of stakeholders in decisions that will affect them. It strives to understand the context and perspectives of stakeholders who have been under-engaged or under-represented, and it creates opportunities to ensure their participation in decision-making. It provides clear and transparent feedback on stakeholder input and concerns. It has fair, impartial and accessible mechanisms for resolving complaints and conflicts. 


A credible sustainability system earns trust by being open and honest.
A credible sustainability system makes important information publicly available and easily accessible, while protecting confidential and private information. It enables stakeholders to understand and evaluate the system’s processes, decision-making, results, and impacts. Stakeholders have the information they need to actively participate in decisions or raise concerns.


A credible sustainability system is impartial.
A credible sustainability system identifies and avoids or mitigates conflicts of interest throughout its governance and operations, particularly when it comes to assessing its users’ performance. Transparency and stakeholder engagement help ensure the system’s integrity can be trusted.


A credible sustainability system provides trustworthy assessments of users’ performance.
A credible sustainability system designs its tools so that these can be consistently implemented and assessed. It ensures assessments of users’ sustainability performance are competent and accurate, and that these assessments support any claims it allows users to make.


A credible sustainability system’s claims and communications can be trusted.
A credible sustainability system substantiates its claims. Any claims the system or its users make are clear, relevant, and can be checked. They enable customers and other stakeholders to make informed choices. The scope and design of the system is accurately reflected in any claims, ensuring these are not misleading. Claims about sustainability impacts are backed up with data and evidence that is publicly available.

Continual improvement

A credible sustainability system keeps improving.
A credible sustainability system regularly reviews its objectives, its strategies, and the performance of its tools and system. It evaluates the impacts and outcomes of its activities. It applies the lessons learned to improve. It responds to new evidence, stakeholder input, and external changes, adapting its strategies to improve its impacts and remain fit for purpose.

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