SSP scholar contributes to findings on sustainability certification

Kira Matus, a visiting scholar with The Sustainability Science Program (SSP), was part of a steering committee that has recently released findings on sustainability certification.

The final report, Toward Sustainability: The Roles and Limitations of Certification, describes what is most important to learn about the performance and potential of voluntary standards and certifications. The committee found substantial evidence of improvements in social, environmental, and economic practices resulting from certification at the site level, as well as some instances of unintended effects, positive and negative. "We've found that sustainability certification has the potential to work with other policies to spread better practice," said Matus. "From a policy perspective, it's a great add-on."

However, the committee also found that the evidence of broader or longer-term impacts is more limited. In many cases, the Committee discovered, research has difficulty attributing outcomes directly to certification. Consequently, committee members believe that additional coordinated research on the impacts of certification, as well as greater collaborative effort to systematically collect data, is a top priority. "There were a lot of anecdotes and theories out there, but not a lot of data," said Matus. "This opens a few interesting pathways for future research and strategic design for these [certification] tools."

Committee members expect the report to be of particular value to businesses, governments, and NGOs that are considering the use of certification to assist in sustainability goals. "The Toward Sustainability report gives us the best insight we've ever had into the actual, perceived, and potential impact of governmental and social labeling schemes," said Jan Kees Vis, Global Director of Sustainable Sourcing Development at Unilever. "This is a great help to businesses who want to ensure they contribute to social progress and environmental improvement through their supply chains."

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and Mars, Incorporated, initiated and funded the consensus-based process that led to this report. For additional information on the steering committee, assessment process and findings, visit

Kira Matus headshot

Kira Matus, visiting scholar with The Sustainability Science Program (SSP).