Impacts and innovations in labelling standards | Product social metrics

Last month, João Fontes, Consultant at PRé, attended the ISEAL Conference in London. The ISEAL Alliance is the global membership association of sustainability and labelling standards, including FSC, MSC, Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, and Bonsucro. This year their event focused on “Impacts and Innovations”

Sustainability impact was the hot topic at the two-day conference. The nearly 230 standards systems, sustainability experts, and professionals in attendance discussed the next steps in the impacts journey, and what potential benefits could be reaped from innovations and new opportunities.

Precompetitive collaboration on product social metrics

At the conference, we presented our Roundtable for Product Social Metrics. We showcased the drivers and the objectives of this initiative, specifically where we are in the process and where we are heading.

With a focus on pre-competitive collaboration, PRé initiated the Roundtable for Product Social Metrics in collaboration with proactive companies. We are searching for workable solutions for assessing social impacts at the product level. The overall objectives of the Roundtable are to harmonize key principles and metrics, consult external stakeholders, and develop a collaborative implementation phase.

A positive impact at the household level: Battling poverty

A central point in the discussion was, “how can sustainability standards bring about positive impacts while decreasing negative impact?” Attendees learned about the “demonstrating and improving poverty impacts project.” This project aims to help ISEAL members assess the impacts of their systems on poverty and well-being, at a household level.

ISEAL’s partnership with the Ford Foundation, which began in 2011, aims to develop a framework for certification systems. This will allow them to assess their contribution to poverty alleviation and pro-poor development. Such assessments will hopefully drive poverty alleviation and improved livelihoods through improved impacts of certification.

Transparency and sharing are integral to labelling success

At the conference, most participants were from labelling standards, NGOs, and non-profit organizations. A few large companies were also present, including Unilever, Marks & Spencer, Nestlé, Ahold, Tetra Pak, and SAP.

Conference discussions from all these different parties confirm that there is demand for assessing, understanding, and communicating the impacts of labelling standards on sustainability. Developing a common language and framework for impact assessment is critical to success. Also important is the willingness to share the workload involved in collecting data and information.

The ISEAL community seems to realize that sharing and full transparency will only be possible in a network where all the players realize a benefit for participating. The way forward is to build systems where the effort to contribute rewards everyone.

A global consensus of core values

ISEAL recently completed a global consultation to create a consensus on a set of credibility principles. These principles represent the core values upon which effective standards are built. The ISEAL Credibility Principles were launched during the conference.

Additional sessions addressed issues like the need for collaboration to collect data, tools for supply chain management, and truthful sustainability claims and labelling.

If you want to learn more or discuss this topic, please contact us. For more information, please visit the website: Roundtable for Product Social Metrics.

João Fontes


João Fontes joined the Consultancy team in 2008, focusing on social sustainability. He co-initiated the Roundtable for Product Social Metrics. João worked at PRé from 2008 to 2016.

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