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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Certifiably Sustainable?: The Role of Third-Party Certification Systems: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12805.
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CERTIFIABLY SUSTAINABLE?

THE ROLE OF THIRD-PARTY CERTIFICATION SYSTEMS

Report of a Workshop

Committee on Certification of Sustainable Products and Services

Science and Technology for Sustainability Program

Policy and Global Affairs

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS

Washington, D.C.
www.nap.edu

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Certifiably Sustainable?: The Role of Third-Party Certification Systems: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12805.
×

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
500 Fifth Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001

NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.

This study was supported by funding from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.

International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-14711-8

International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-14711-5

Additional copies of this report are available from the

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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Certifiably Sustainable?: The Role of Third-Party Certification Systems: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12805.
×

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine


The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.


The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering.


The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.


The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.


www.national-academies.org

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Certifiably Sustainable?: The Role of Third-Party Certification Systems: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12805.
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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Certifiably Sustainable?: The Role of Third-Party Certification Systems: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12805.
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COMMITTEE ON CERTIFICATION OF SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Leslie Carothers (Co-chair), President,

Environmental Law Institute

Harold Schmitz (Co-chair), Chief Science Officer,

Mars Inc.

William Clark, NAS, Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science,

Public Policy, and Human Development, Harvard University

Richard Jackson, Professor and Chair, Environmental Health Sciences,

University of California, Los Angeles

Pamela Matson, NAS, Naramore Dean of the School of Earth Sciences and Goldman Professor of Environmental Science,

Stanford University

Project Staff

Derek Vollmer, Associate Program Officer,

Science and Technology for Sustainability Program

Jodi Bostrom, Associate Program Officer,

Ocean Studies Board

Kathleen McAllister, Senior Program Assistant,

Science and Technology for Sustainability Program

Emi Kameyama, Senior Program Assistant,

Science and Technology for Sustainability Program

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Certifiably Sustainable?: The Role of Third-Party Certification Systems: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12805.
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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Certifiably Sustainable?: The Role of Third-Party Certification Systems: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12805.
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Preface and Acknowledgments

Consumption of goods and services accounts for more than two-thirds of economic activity in the United States, and it plays a comparable role in other societies. Shifting consumption toward more sustainable production and use is accordingly a crucial element of a sustainability transition. One approach that has emerged over the past 15 years is third-party certification: Products or services are scrutinized by an allegedly independent body, which then confers the right to advertise and label the product as “sustainable.” The basic belief is that consumption of certified products moves supply chains toward sustainability (in terms of environmental, social, and economic outcomes), both in the specific goods or services consumed and by providing incentives to producers and sellers to change their practices. Sustainably caught seafood, green buildings, and carbon offsets for air travel provide examples of goods and services marketed in part on their claims to be more sustainable than competing alternatives.

Certification has been shown to be feasible from a technical and economic perspective within some markets, but tangible movement toward sustainability on the ground has been slow. Moreover, the market penetration of certified products remains small, with few exceptions. How can scientific and technical knowledge contribute to the success of certification and to the wider goal of moving consumption toward sustainability? This is a question to which the Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability (see Appendix C) brings significant advantages, with its wide representation from business, government, and academia. In principle, science can strengthen assurance of sustainability to buyers; lower uncertainties faced by producers of certified products; and provide a credible fulcrum for critics

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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Certifiably Sustainable?: The Role of Third-Party Certification Systems: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12805.
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of the producers, organizing a debate that leads to continual improvement of certification standards. How to organize and provide these benefits of science remains unclear, however.

In keeping with its theme of “Linking Knowledge with Action for Sustainable Development,” Roundtable members agreed that a workshop could help identify new areas for problem-driven research. To conduct this, a committee was appointed by the National Research Council to organize the workshop and write a report based on the discussions. The committee invited expert practitioners involved with certification and certified products, along with select scholars and policy actors, to hold this initial discussion. The workshop represented an important step in learning from an emergent field of practice. Admittedly, focusing the workshop discussions on a particular tool (third-party certification) meant that discussions of other approaches to reducing negative impacts of consumption (e.g., government regulation) were limited. Background papers, and the opening sessions of the workshop, were both designed to place certification in this context, and the selection of certification as an approach worth examining is not an endorsement over alternative or complementary approaches.

This report has been prepared by the committee as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshop. The statements made in this volume are those of the committee and do not necessarily represent positions of the workshop participants, the Roundtable, or the National Academies.

The workshop and report could not have come together without the help of many dedicated staff members. Derek Vollmer directed the project and coordinated the report. Kathleen McAllister, Jodi Bostrom, and Emi Kameyama provided invaluable support both in writing background papers and in facilitating the workshop.

This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Academies’ Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for quality and objectivity. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the process.

We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Timothy Bartley, Indiana University; Lawrence Busch, Michigan State University; Anne Caldas, American National Standards Institute; Suzanne Lindsay, PetSmart; Robert Stephens, Multi-State Working Group on Environmental Performance; and Tensie Whelan, Rainforest Alliance.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Certifiably Sustainable?: The Role of Third-Party Certification Systems: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12805.
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Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the content of the report, nor did they see the final draft before its release. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authors and the institution.


Leslie Carothers (Co-chair)

Harold Schmitz (Co-chair)

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Certifiably Sustainable?: The Role of Third-Party Certification Systems: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12805.
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Consumption of goods and services represents a growing share of global economic activity. In the United States, consumption accounts for more than two-thirds of gross domestic product. This trend of increasing consumption has brought with it negative consequences for the environment and human well-being. Global demand for energy, food, and all manner of goods is on the rise, putting strains on the natural and human capital required to produce them. Extractive industries and production processes are prominent causes of species endangerment. Modern economies are underpinned by substantial energy consumption, a primary contributor to the current climate crisis. Expanding international trade has led to many economic opportunities, but has also contributed to unfair labor practices and wealth disparities.

While certain processes have improved or become more efficient, and certain practices have been outlawed or amended, the sheer scale of global consumption and its attendant impacts continue to be major challenges we face in the transition to sustainability. Third-party certification systems have emerged over the last 15 years as a tool with some promise. There has been anecdotal evidence of success, but to date the overall impact of certified goods and services has been small. Moreover, definitions of sustainable vary across sectors and markets, and rigorous assessments of these programs have been few and far between.

In order to take a step in learning from this field of practice, the National Academies' Science and Technology for Sustainability Program held a workshop to illuminate the decision making process of those who purchase and produce certified goods and services. It was also intended to help clarify the scope and limitations of the scientific knowledge that might contribute to the economic success of certified products. The workshop, summarized in this volume, involved presentations and discussions with approximately 40 invited experts from academia, business, government, and nongovernmental organizations.

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