Sustainability standards are increasingly expected to communicate their positive impacts. Good impact communication improves accountability, leads to stronger buy-in from stakeholders, and secures and strengthens partnerships. Yet impact claims are tricky, present distinct challenges and can seriously affect credibility when wrong. This guidance equips sustainability standards with practical tips on how they can make their impact claims more meaningful and effective with confidence and accuracy.
Misleading, false, meaningless or unclear information shared through claims can result in consumers, businesses, supply chains partners and even producers losing confidence in the difference that using or supporting a certain standard can make. It could also result in unfair business competition, over-claiming of impact and can discourage truthful claims. Impact claims that are misleading, even if factually correct, can also contravene national and international legislation.
Consequently, many standards systems are reluctant to make claims regarding their broad, high-level impacts or even the intermediate outcomes they achieve. In addition, impact claims are liable to greater scrutiny, and even scepticism, by external reviewers and so careful thought, planning, drafting and review mechanisms are needed to ensure they are effective and credible.
Guidance in this document is based in part on dialogue with ISEAL members, who are sincerely thanked for their time and ideas, and in part on dialogue and research more widely within the international development community and other sectors.
There has been much research into the impact of the international development sector, but good practice in communication of impacts and outcomes is less well developed. Given the complexity of issues the international development and sustainability sector tackles, guidance on impact claims tends to be theoretical and model-based, as opposed to practical.
The guidelines and checklists in this document are not expected to cover all eventualities or eliminate all types of misrepresentation; they should be adapted to your context and used with discretion. We hope however that it gives standards systems and their users, greater confidence on how to make credible and effective impact claims that are consistent with good practice.