How businesses value sustainable standards?

green-hand-clip-art2This month the ISEAL Alliance released an interesting report from interviews to businesses to understand how they perceive the value of sustainable standards. Read the full report here.

I am very happy to see that the work we have done so far is paying, less companies are seeing the sustainable standards as ONLY a market differentiation and potential value BUT as key tools to secure their supply chains, better understand how they are built (when complex), increase traceability, better engage with stakeholders and employees and OVERALL to reflect company’s values and commitments. As well, companies used them to outsourced the assurance process and to show an independent verification to their stakeholders.

Here are some very good quotes from some of the companies interviewed in the report:

M&S logo

Mark&Spencer developed a Plan A which describes their commitments towards sustainability issues. The Plan A orients M&S through their strong commitments and refers to the use of several sustainable standards.


Fiona Wheatley – Plan A Sustainable Development Manager: “Certification and standards simplify what we ask of our suppliers. If all of the retailers came up with their own standard for, say, sustainable forestry, and then asked suppliers to comply with these, it would create chaos and confusion. There would be a large amount of fragmentation. Credible standards and certification schemes provide a reference point for what ‘good’ looks like in a commodity or sector. So, in a way, and from the supplier perspective, certification saves a lot of money and drives simplification. It allows us to address and monitor issues in a systematic way.”

On its side De Beers has been one of the founders of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). Being an important leader in the Diamond industry and mining, its commitments have been key to the sectors as observed by Feriel Zerouki, Head of Government and Industry Relations at the De Beers Group:

“It’s a known fact that we can achieve much more by working together across a supply chain than on our own.”

As well, as explained by Fiona Solomon – Former RJC Executive Director:

“The RJC standards focus on key supply-chain risks and benchmarking management of these against international practices and regulations. They provide a way of managing and organising these issues in a more coherent way within an organisation,”

“De Beers sees this as a risk management tool for their downstream customers, but they are also concerned that risk that isn’t being managed in the broader industry could undermine their own business and customers.”


Another experience from another retailer, Woolworths (South Africa) sets very ambitious commitments, working with several sustainable standards such as RSPO, CSPO, FSC, MSC, UTZ Certified, FairTrade, etc. According to their analysis, these commitments have produced financial benefits while reducing risk in Woolworths’ supply chains. They have also sparked growing interest among consumers and the media, and inspired competitors to follow suit.

“What we’re trying to do is to embed sustainability into the way we do business. A combination of factors is driving this change. We have a highly educated customer base that expects a lot of us, but we are also using sustainability standards to deliver cost savings, to help us address our supply chain risks, and ensure transparency. Our customers play a big role, but they aren’t the only reason we’re doing this.” Explains Lucy King, a Woolworths Good Business Journey Analyst.


These experiences show that sustainable standards are very good tools but are not everything either. Companies need to:

  • understand their responsibilities over their supply chains – whether thet share responsibility or not;
  • believe in changes;
  • be strongly committed to their values;
  • invest time and resources in this long journey towards a more sustainable world.

We, as consumers, need to understand what the companies are trying to achieve and to support them in this journey. We will all live in this hopefully more sustainable world.