Standards and the Sustainable Development Goals

Author: Elena Kosolapova, Rupal Verma, Laura Turley, Ann Wilkings

Leveraging sustainability standards for reporting on SDG progress

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development outlines an ambitious vision for people and the planet. It sets out 17 goals and 169 targets for the global community to work together to achieve by 2030—ranging from eradicating poverty to conserving natural resources.

This report explores the role that voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) can play in helping governments advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and better track and report on their progress toward achieving them.

It maps the environmental and social requirements of 13 VSSs against a set of 10 targets from five SDGs. The findings support other studies that indicate a great deal of crossover between VSSs and SDG targets, particularly for SDGs 6, 8, and 12.

It then explores how governments can make the most of work already being done by VSSs when conducting Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). Countries that have signed the 2030 Agenda are invited to submit VNRs to the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development that outline their progress on advancing the SDGs in their jurisdictions.

These reviews provide governments with an opportunity to share experiences, identify areas that need more attention, and find ways to work together with other stakeholders. However, issues such as a lack of data and information can make such reporting challenging.

The report analyzes the most recent VNRs submitted by India, Tanzania, and Uganda against the work VSSs are doing in these countries to identify areas for potential collaboration between governments and VSSs. It then develops three “reporting examples” that illustrate how the three countries could capitalize on their findings in the next reporting round.

From these reporting examples, the authors distill a series of practical guidelines to help governments work together with VSSs to advance the SDGs and fill the data gaps that many face when tracking their progress.


In summary, the report suggests that governments should:

  1. Gather inputs from VSS stakeholders when preparing VNRs through institutional mechanisms and engagement processes such as workshops or consultations.
  2. Identify new or existing institutional structures, partnerships, and approaches that can help the VSS community contribute to the implementation, monitoring, and review of the SDGs and gather data to support the SDG reporting process.
  3. Identify areas of alignment between VSSs and governments’ sustainability targets using our mapping and gather related information from VSSs’ activities in the country to provide evidence of progress toward relevant SDG targets.
  4. Outline how VSSs can help address data availability challenges and detail how they can promote partnerships for SDG implementation among buyers, investors, extension services, and local authorities and mobilize investment and finance.
  5. Collect case studies from VSS activities in the country to highlight examples of good practice and lessons learned that contribute to achieving the SDGs that other countries or partners could replicate.

Launch event

We shared and discussed the findings of this report in a webinar on May 9. Watch it now.

Read the report summary in French, Spanish, and Portuguese