It is hard to avoid the unfortunate conclusion that green certification affords little benefit and may even be an impediment to environmental action. There are a plethora of schemes which purport to guide environmentally friendly decision making. These sustainable endorsements include everything from labels to industry wide initiatives. However, according to a recent report these efforts can be counterproductive. Research from the Changing Markets Foundation examined voluntary certification schemes for seafood, textiles and palm oil. The report they authored is entitled, The False Promise of Certification: how certification is hindering sustainability in the textiles, palm oil and fisheries industries. It is based on qualitative research, interviews with NGO experts and extensive reviews of the academic literature.
Despite burgeoning certification schemes, the fishing industry is depleting fish stocks and the textile sector continues to be a major global polluter. The palm oil industry is decimating forests, and harming wildlife, killing Indigenous people and destroying traditional ways of life.
The main conclusion of the report is that certification has lost its way. The researchers found that in the vast majority of cases there was little or no evidence to support the claims made by these certification schemes. In some cases companies used the schemes to hide the fact that they are actively engaged in environmentally destructive practices. The report indicated that none of the certification schemes have slowed biodiversity loss, deforestation, or peatland draining.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a good example of just how dysfunctional certification schemes can be. RSPO gives the false impression impression that certified palm plantations are sustainable. Those who are part of the RSPO claim to respect nature and avoid slash and burn agriculture, however, this is simply not true. Corporate interests invent such schemes as a public relations ploy and this is eroding public trust in certification.
The public wants to make informed choices about the products and services they buy, but in the absence of credible certification the report contends we should prioritize small scale sustainable fisheries; establish and enforce marine reserves and science-based fishing quotas; establish zero pollution policies and demand greater supply chain transparency; introduce a moratorium on deforestation and peatland draining in the palm oil sector.
Many of the existing certification schemes should be abolished and in their place we should focus on life-cycle sustainability. Reforms should be based on transparency and independence, alongside a holistic approach with high traceability, and an embedded drive for ongoing improvement. It is also important to note that the report is explicit in indicating that even rigorous certification schemes do not take the place of government oversight, regulation and legislation.