State of Sustainability Initiatives

Working toward more transparent and sustainable forms of production, consumption, and trade.

IISD’s State of Sustainability Initiatives (SSI) has been working to advance sustainable and inclusive value chains since 2008. We provide credible and solution-oriented research, dialogue, and strategic advice for decision-makers about voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) and other supportive initiatives.

Our goal is to help decision-makers use VSSs as needed to support more sustainable production, consumption, and trade. This work includes helping small-scale producers and micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises in developing countries to access markets and receive fair remuneration. Our strategy to achieve this goal has three components:

  • Improving the design and practices of VSSs.
  • Increasing synergies between VSSs and policy action at the national, regional, and multilateral levels.
  • Enhancing the transparency and accountability of value chain actors’ sourcing practices and the terms and conditions they establish with producers.

What are VSSs?

The United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards defines VSSs as “standards specifying requirements that producers, traders, manufacturers, retailers or service providers may be asked to meet, relating to a wide range of sustainability metrics, including respect for basic human rights, worker health and safety, the environmental impacts of production, community relations, land use planning and others.”

Some VSSs are international in their scope, such as Fairtrade International, GlobalG.A.P., and Rainforest Alliance. Others have a local or regional focus, such as the Indian-based Trustea, Madagascar Organic, or the African Organisation for Standardisation.

Over the last 3 decades, there has been exponential growth in the demand and supply of standard-compliant products, which has led to the proliferation of VSSs. The diversity of these initiatives makes it increasingly challenging for stakeholders to stay informed on their utility, performance, and best practices.

Our work

We work with VSSs and value chain actors, producer and consumer groups, policy officials from governments in producing and consuming countries, regional blocs, intergovernmental organizations, and multilateral entities.

We conduct research, provide tailored services such as capacity building and technical assistance, and convene and facilitate dialogues.

Through our work, we strive to improve the effectiveness of VSSs and raise awareness about their potential to foster sustainable production, consumption, and trade among all stakeholders—from smallholder farmers, end consumers, and large manufacturers to government officials and financial services providers.

Our history

The SSI project is the result of several multistakeholder meetings (2003–2006) on sustainable commodities production and trade, facilitated by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and IISD, under the auspices of the Sustainable Commodity Initiative (SCI).

Building on requests for improved information on the performance and market opportunities associated with voluntary sustainability initiatives, the SCI, through a special partnership with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and AidEnvironment, launched the SSI project in 2008. IISD leads and manages the SSI.