The State of Sustainability Initiatives (SSI) is an international research project that provides credible information about how voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) can support better environmental and social performance in important commodity sectors.
Through our research, we strive to improve the effectiveness of VSSs and raise awareness about their potential to foster sustainable production and consumption among all stakeholders—from smallholder farmers, end consumers, and large manufacturers to government officials and investment banks.
We use advanced data collection and analysis to uncover important market trends, challenges, and opportunities. Equipped with this information, decision-makers can see how VSSs can promote inclusive and sustainable value chains. The SSI team also provides needs-based advisory services for developing-country governments.
What are Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSSs)?
The United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS) 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.”
Over the last three decades, there has been exponential growth in the demand and supply of leading standard-compliant products, which has led to the growth and proliferation of VSSs. The multiplicity of these initiatives makes it increasingly challenging for stakeholders to stay informed on their utility, performance, and best practices.
We examine the characteristics of VSSs to better understand their strengths and limitations to support sustainable development, focusing on important issues such as biodiversity conservation, poverty reduction, and gender equality. Insights from our analyses highlight opportunities for VSSs to push important commodity sectors towards sustainability.
We collect primary data from VSSs and standards bodies about their characteristics and market performance using quantitative and qualitative methods. We conduct research and collect secondary data related to sustainable markets, VSSs and development issues through extensive literature review and strategic partnerships with leading data providers. We also analyze data and provide recommendations for standards bodies and actors in the private sector and governments to enhance the effectiveness of VSSs as tools for sustainable development.
The SSI project is a result of several multistakeholder meetings (2003-2006) on sustainable commodities production and trade, facilitated by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (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 Aid environment, launched the SSI project in 2008. IISD leads and manages the SSI as part of the Sustainability Standards program.
Lead Sustainability StandardsREAD MORE
Executive Director, IISD Europe; Senior Director, Economic Law & PolicyREAD MORE
Policy AnalystREAD MORE
Senior Policy Advisor, Standards WorkstreamREAD MORE
Senior Communications OfficerREAD MORE
Junior Policy AnalystREAD MORE
Policy AnalystREAD MORE
Researcher and ContributorREAD MORE
Sustainability Standards AdvisorREAD MORE