Global Sustainability Standards Conference: working together to achieve impact

In May 2018, 200 standards professionals and sustainability experts explored how we can make standards and certifications work better for the people, places and issues that matter at the 9th Global Sustainability Standards Conference in São Paulo, Brazil.

The lives of smallholders, producers and workers were at the heart of the conversation at the annual event, hosted in Latin America for the first time. We heard that collaboration and cooperation, as well as good data, impact measurement and communication, are vital to ensuring standards are working to meet the needs of their users and are effective at scale.

Putting users first

With an estimated 500 million smallholder households globally, amounting to upwards of two billion people, smallholder agriculture has some of the highest incidences of poverty of any sector.

In a panel discussion, Daterra Coffee, Fundación Chinquihue, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Fairtrade International urged standards to raise the bar and drive improvements for these users. They emphasised that recognising the diversity of producers and working with local communities is key to understanding their needs.

Kim Carstensen, Director General of the FSC said: “It is necessary to work with organisations that are close to these farmers to understand their real needs. We cannot achieve our intended results without working with them.

Fostering decent work

We were reminded of the challenges workers face and where standards can play a role during sessions on decent work, with speakers from SAN, GoodWeave, Réporter Brasil, BSR, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Fair Labor Association and CONTAR (Brazilian National Confederation of Rural Workers). They stressed that there is more we can do in the social arena: we must recognise where there are risks in supply chains, particularly given the challenges for identifying issues such as forced labour.

Carlos Eduardo Chaves Silva from CONTAR said that certification is a powerful and important tool in changing the realities of workers. He reminded us that workers are a weak link in supply chains as it is hard for them to speak out against authority. We can support them by making sure they are heard and by increasing transparency.

Increasing business resilience

Standards can also be beneficial to downstream businesses, the conference heard. With more than two billion people globally affected by a lack of safe water, responsible water management by businesses was an important topic.

Carlo Galli, Technical Director of Water Resources at Nestlé, described how his company’s water stewardship strategy and engagement with the Alliance for Water Stewardship increases their business resilience and is made possible by working together. “Collaboration with our neighbours to address shared water challenges is key to achieving sustainable water use,” he said.

Demonstrating and communicating impact

Speeches from ITC T4SD, Finance in Motion and ChainPoint reinforced the importance of good data and measuring impacts, while recognising that this is a challenging area. Alexander Ellebrecht, Senior Business Consultant at ChainPoint, called on standards to be good data managers by working on three important areas: efficient data capture, data quality and demonstrating impact.

“In communication, what matters is the cause, and not an organisation, a person, or a seal. Everyone shares the same goal, and that is what must be communicated,” said Maria Zulmira de Souza, President of the Board of Directors of Imaflora, who highlighted the importance of communicating transformative stories to demonstrate impact.

Looking forward at the sustainability landscape

The conference came to a close with a look at how the sustainability landscape is evolving. Speakers from UNICA, Akatu Institute, University of Manchester and WWF-Brasil shared their perspectives on how standards need to adapt and respond to increased pressure from producers, traders, consumers, regulators and activists to deliver on their sustainability promises.

Tasso Azevedo, coordinator of the System for Estimation of Green House Gases Emissions (SEEG) closed the conference, urging participants to collaborate and become a movement in order to drive real change on the ground.

Through speeches, panel discussions and interactive workshops, participants at the conference explored how they can work together to improve their services, reach and impact. As the sustainability landscape evolves, it is more important than ever for credible standards to be innovative and adaptive to ensure their continued relevance.