WWF: Third-party sustainability standards can advance SDG progress for business

Businesses can contribute strongly to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and unlock new market opportunities by using credible voluntary sustainability standards, a new report from WWF has claimed.

The report, released earlier this week, illustrates how multi-stakeholder standards can help companies to reach their targets by scaling-up sustainability practices across their supply chain. Standards provide concrete measures which can move whole industries towards environmental advance and financial profit.  

WWF also warns that the 2030 SDG agenda will fail without the commitment of large and small businesses across the world.

“This report provides a valuable overview of the role and impact that credible standards are already having on all sustainability dimensions: economic, social and environmental,” WWF International’s director of global conservation Richard Holland said.

“Multi-stakeholder standards embody the partnership spirit of the SDGs, bringing together businesses, NGOs, governments and others to work toward common goals that benefit business, people and the planet. It will take an unprecedented effort by the world community to meet the SDGs in the coming 13 years. The clock is ticking.”

Immediate steps

According to the report, the benefits for businesses include efficiency gains, transparency and traceability and improved supply chain relationships. It stresses that a “credible” standard must be run by an independent organisation that ensures compliance, maintains the integrity of the system and has a clear mission-driven focus on sustainability.

Businesses are recommended to take immediate steps to effectively use standards and certification. The paper suggests companies map the sustainability impacts of their operations and supply chains, make public commitments to credibly certified commodities for 100% of their volume requirements, and use credible standards to report on progress toward their sustainability targets and the SDGs.

The report cites several examples of sustainability standards leading to supply chain advances. For example, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) standard, implemented across seven countries, reported yields and profits per hectare that were 23% and 36% higher respectively than conventional cotton farmers, while using less water and chemical inputs.

Certified success

Many companies are experiencing the benefits of independent certification standard compliance, which include efficiency gains, savings to the bottom line and increased revenue.

It was reported yesterday, that global paper-based packaging firm Smurfit Kappa had completed its goal of ensuring that 90% of all packaging sold to consumers is Chain of Custody certified, demonstrating full-transparency and a willingness to source from verified certification systems. In August, supplier Olam International became the first agri-business globally to achieve the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) Standard - for its coffee plantation in Tanzania.

The Carbon Trust recently launched the world’s first certification standard for the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in an organisation’s supply chain. Heathrow Airport became the first in its sector to gain the certification – and only the fifth organisation in the world.

Last summer, Wyke Farms became the first British dairy farm to hold a Carbon Trust Standard triple certification for improving environmental performance across carbon emissions, water use and waste.

George Ogleby


certification | Standards & accreditation


CSR & ethics

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