Voluntary certification schemes essential to meet SDG targets, say WWF & ISEAL

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/Thinglass
© iStock/Thinglass
Voluntary sustainability standards covering everything from palm oil to fish and tea to sugar will play a significant role in helping food businesses meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to a new analysis by WWF and ISEAL published this week.

In their report, SDGs mean business: How credible standards can help companies deliver the 2030 Agenda, ​not-for-profit environmental organisation WWF and sustainability group ISEAL suggest certification schemes can “transform entire sectors and supply chains”​ and deliver “direct benefits for companies and small-scale producers”.

There are 17 SDGs and 169 targets in all, covering wide-ranging issues such as poverty, hunger, health and climate change. Food businesses will play a significant part in achieving some of these and credible voluntary certification schemes represent “ready-made tools”​ to help them, the authors of the new report claim.

The report​ highlights a number of areas in which food manufacturers have made progress towards some of the targets – Ferrero and Danone’s work on certified sustainable palm oil, for instance, as well as Arla Foods’ commitments on responsible soy. But progress isn’t fast enough, the authors conclude.

“While ambitious sustainability goals and strategies at the individual company level remain vital, sector-wide transformation can only happen through the sort of collective action that credible standards encourage and enable,”​ the report reads. “And it is transformation at this level that is required for businesses to make a real contribution towards the poverty free world set out in the SDGs.”

Empty promises?

The Consumer Goods Forum’s 2010 pledge to achieve zero deforestation by 2020 by targeting the largest drivers of tropical deforestation (soy, palm oil, beef and pulp and paper) has succeeded in elevating the issue on the international policy agenda – but without fast and concerted action by more member companies, their commitment runs the risk of sounding hollow”.

A WWF assessment of the CGF’s resolution published in June 2016 showed that only 36% of the association’s 256 manufacturer and retailer members had their own deforestation-free commitments, whilst just 20% had action plans to achieve them.

“While leading companies have already made far-reaching commitments to help address climate change, deforestation and decent work, the majority of business sectors are not yet delivering on their responsibility towards the Agenda 2030,” ​said Richard Holland, director of the global conservation division at WWF International.

The authors called on food manufacturers to map their supply chains in order to better understand how they can contribute to the SDGs, as well as limit risks: a number of finance institutions, including the International Finance Corporation, Credit Suisse and Rabobank, require their clients to achieve RSPO certification, for example.

Companies have also been urged to commit publicly to source only credibly certified commodities by 2020, and to transparently report on their progress. In doing so they would make concrete contributions to four SDG targets relating to biodiversity, nature preservation, deforestation and climate change. “Poverty, inequality, water scarcity, climate change and the loss of biodiversity are significant risks for business and aligning with the SDGs represents an opportunity,”​ Holland added.

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