The ISEAL Alliance commissioned 3Keel and the University of Oxford to answer the question of what voluntary sustainability standards deliver on the ground by reviewing the evidence on whether standards systems drive the adoption of sustainable practices.

The full report and short summary is available here:

Implemented in

  • Africa
  • Asia / Pacific
  • Europe and Central Asia
  • Latin America / Caribbean
  • Middle East
  • North America

Led by


Sectors of activity
Agricultural and Fishery, Forestry, Public Procurement

Type of initiative
Policy Frameworks & Tools, Research, Analysis, Assessment

Type of lead actor
Scientific and Technical

Start date

End date

Shared by

Mark Barthel



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Voluntary sustainability standards are an important means of providing assurance that products and materials traded in complex, global supply chains have been produced in an ethical and environmentally benign way. Understanding what these standards deliver on the ground is an important part of the debate about their ongoing relevance.

This ISEAL commissioned report, carried out by 3keel and the University of Oxford, aims to understand the effectiveness of sustainability standards and certification tools in driving the adoption of more sustainable practices in certified entities, thereby contributing to the achievement of key sustainability outcomes.The report focuses on the changes of practices by organisations or individuals – such as the use of agricultural inputs, retention of wildlife habitat, and providing better conditions for hired workers – as a necessary step towards the final impacts of standards systems.

One hundred and sixteen studies which reported relevant outcomes from entities certified with a sustainability standard, and which included a counterfactual, were filtered from an original body of over thirteen thousand studies from the peer-reviewed and ’grey’ literature. The report uses four types of evidence: Information from the systematic mapping on the papers that reported outcomes in each thematic area, a literature review of the papers identified by the systematic map, an analysis of standards’ monitoring and compliance data of six ISEAL Alliance members and semi-structured interviews conducted with eight informants in areas and topics not well covered by the literature.


As collected through the One Planet Reporting

Output level

Knowledge resource and technical tool

  • The effectiveness of standards in driving adoption of sustainability practices: A State of Knowledge Review for the ISEAL Alliance

Impact and Results

The research has improved understanding of the role and impact of voluntary sustainability standards in achieving SCP objectives.

Next steps and how to get involved

The reports and insights from the study can be found on the ISEAL Alliance website at:

We would encourage those interested in the use and impact of voluntary sustainability standards and how to improve them to review the findings and recommendations contained in the main report and insights document that accompanies it.