Boosting the impact of sustainability standards

ISEAL’s fund to support innovations that help to future-proof sustainability standards is in a position to make grants totalling around CHF 5 million by mid-2020. The fund has supported a variety of projects with continued funding from SECO, UKaid, The David and Lucille Packard Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.  

The sustainability landscape is changing and there is a need to adapt the traditional standards and certification model so that standards systems can continue to play a leading role in transforming sectors toward sustainability. The ISEAL Innovations Fund supports that transition.

The fund is already helping sustainability standards and their partners to drive innovation to meet the needs of a rapidly changing environment. Since 2016, the fund has seen progress across more than 20 projects, ranging from using Geographic Information Systems to improve audits, to helping to eliminate forced labour in supply chains.

Keeping pace in an evolving landscape

During ISEAL’s Members’ Week, ISEAL members and key partners came together to explore how standards can continue to work differently and collectively to keep up with increasing expectations, growing company commitments and an evolving landscape.The group discussed the ways in which the fund’s projects and goals have developed, illustrating the shifts that have already occurred over the last two years.

The fund’s first six rounds of grants asked for submissions around the theme of standards as better data managers. The most recent call for grant proposals has built on this foundation by focusing on projects that aim to significantly increase the adoption of sustainable practices in multiple sectors across a region. This reflects a focus on the efficiency of standards, and the innovations that help standards go to scale.

Delivering change at scale

Through the funded projects, standards are building their capacity to achieve greater impact. Standards are using their leadership and expertise to become convening platforms, and to drive partnerships and develop their work with governments. There are many opportunities now for standards to improve their measurement and evaluation structures in a bid to expand their potential as outcome based standards.

By developing a programme of grants that reflect themes prioritised by ISEAL members, ISEAL is supporting standards to create the conditions that drive best practice and incentivise improvements at the producer level, among other priorities.

ISEAL members are already realising the benefits of this collaborative work. The fund has already supported the development of an online platform dedicated to real-time audit data management, and the creation of a mobile app that shares pesticides information. Across the Innovations Fund projects there is an emphasis on the conceiving of and monitoring of systems as a whole.

Maintaining momentum by replicating innovations

The fund will continue to support innovative projects within the field of voluntary sustainability standards. This will be achieved in part by the replication grants available to any ISEAL members who wish to build on the foundation and learning of the first cohort of projects.

These replication projects need not be identical to their predecessors, rather they provide an opportunity to build on the initial project results as well as test the applicability of certain innovations in a different institutional context or sector.

What next?