New ISEAL Innovations Fund projects explore ambitious solutions to sustainability challenges

The ISEAL Innovations Fund has supported the exploration of innovative and ambitious solutions to key sustainability issues over the last five years. Now, five new Innovations Fund projects will build on learning from past initiatives to help sustainability systems tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges.

The Innovations Fund has been running since 2016 with generous support from donors; in particular, the Swiss Secretariat of Economic Affairs SECO. We have awarded more than 50 grants since the fund’s launch, ranging from CHF 10k to CHF 550k. This summer, we threw the net wide for a call for proposals and were delighted to receive project ideas from 17 of our members. 

All five projects reflect important areas of interest for the sustainability community, as well as align with priorities in ISEAL’s new strategy, such as the use of new technology and the protection of human rights. The project workplans are packed with testing new tools, practical research and wider membership activities. 

The five new projects

Detecting forced and bonded labour through a rapid assessment tool: This project sees GoodWeave, Better Cotton and the Rainforest Alliance join forces to explore an innovative approach to the detection of forced and bonded labour that can increase the efficacy of auditors and certification. By examining existing data on confirmed cases, the project hopes to identify the indicators that are most effective at detecting high risk of forced and bonded labour. This rapid assessment tool will be piloted in the carpets and home textiles and agriculture sectors in multiple countries to ensure its applicability across sectors and geographies.  

Using machine learning to accelerate investment in sustainable infrastructure: Global Infrastructure Basel is working to close the infrastructure investment gap by promoting and facilitating the conditions for investment in sustainable infrastructure. Much of this depends on making sustainable infrastructure more visible to investors. This project seeks to do this by harnessing the power of machine learning and satellite imagery. The project will build an automated traffic light system to score the sustainability performance of infrastructure projects based on data that is publicly available. The prototype will be built for India but the goal is to scale it globally as quickly as possible.

Accessing learning in due diligence and grievance mechanisms: Bonsucro and the Responsible Jewellery Council have been improving their due diligence processes and grievance mechanisms to align with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. In doing so, they have identified the gap in guidance specific to sustainability systems such as themselves. Through this project, they aim to distil key takeaways and practical recommendations from their experience and that of other ISEAL members. The discussions and resources will advance the community’s commitment to a robust human rights due diligence process and the design and implementation of effective grievance mechanisms. 

Supporting corporate due diligence through additional measures in the chain of custody: Companies are increasingly subject to mandatory requirements to identify, prevent and mitigate adverse impacts in their supply chains. One way that sustainability schemes can support this is by adding additional measures in their chain of custody systems. In this project, Better Cotton and the Responsible Sourcing Network will explore the limitations in chain of custody systems that are based on mass balance models. Through research and discussion with fellow members, they hope to produce a practical and widely applicable decision-making framework to support the identification of context-appropriate control mechanisms. 

Boosting risk-based approaches to assurance: ISEAL members have been testing ‘risk-based’ assurance models over the last few years, generating a wealth of knowledge. This project will use the knowledge collected to create a tool that helps sustainability systems identify the appropriate treatment for a range of assurance risks. Assurance Services International (ASI) will lead on the analysis of information and the development of the tool, and will convene ISEAL members to discuss and test the tool.