Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Failure of Sustainable Certification Schemes

Green certification schemes are an impediment to environmental action. There are a plethora of certification schemes which purport to guide environmentally friendly decision making. These sustainable endorsements include everything from labels to industry wide initiatives. However, according to a recent report these efforts are counterproductive and require major reforms.

Research from the Changing Markets Foundation, examined voluntary certification schemes for seafood, textiles and palm oil. The main conclusion of this report is that certification has lost its way.

The report, entitled "The False Promise of Certification: how certification is hindering sustainability in the textiles, palm oil and fisheries industries", is based on qualitative research into the identified schemes, interviews with NGO experts and an extensive review of the academic literature.

The researchers concluded that in the vast majority of cases there was little or no evidence to support the claims made by these certification schemes. In some cases companies using the schemes were actively engaged in environmentally destructive practices.

The report indicated that none of the certification schemes have slowed biodiversity loss, deforestation, peatland draining or the loss of biodiversity. The fishing industry and the textile industry are in major need of immediate redress. So is the palm oil industry which is decimating forests and wildlife. It is also killing Indigenous people and destroying their way of life.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a good example of a dysfunctional certification scheme. This gives the false impression impression that palm plantation who are certified under the RSPO are sustainable. Those who are part of the RSPO claim to respect nature and avoid slash and burn agriculture, however, this is simply not true. Corporate interests that invent such schemes as a public relations ploy is eroding public trust in certification.

The public wants to make better informed choices about the products and services they buy so in the absence of credible certification schemes the report contends there are some things we can do. We can prioritize small scale sustainable fisheries; establish and enforce marine reserves and science-based fishing quotas; introduce a moratorium on deforestation and peatland draining in the palm oil sector, establish zero pollution policies and demand greater supply chain transparency.

The report also concludes that many current certification schemes should be abolished and in their place we need ambitious sustainability certification schemes that cover the life cycle of products. Reforms should be based on transparency, independence, a holistic approach with high traceability, and a drive for continuous improvement. 

It is also important to note that the report is explicit in indicating that such certification schemes do not take the place of government oversight, regulation and legislation.

Click here to download the report (pdf) 

No comments: