The ISEAL Innovations Fund, which is supported by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO, recently awarded a new multi-stakeholder initiative – Outcome based standards – a landscape approach – to provide a scalable, science and participatory-based approach for assessing and improving the landscape outcomes of voluntary sustainability standards (VSS) across sectors.

The project is co-led by Bonsucro and the University of Minnesota. RSPO is one of the partners, along with the Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR), Diageo, Pepsico and Tetra Pak.

The project, which will run for 3 years until May 2023, proposes to use an innovative science-based approach to:

  • measure the impacts of VSS on multiple commodities; 
  • develop an innovative method to inform VSS stakeholders of risks in supply chains; 
  • identify how and where VSS can adapt to maximise benefits; 
  • identify policies that will increase uptake of VSS; 
  • identify the economic benefits of VSS adoption; and 
  • align VSS and users impact reporting with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

VSS are developed to galvanise social and environmental improvements in agriculture and create transparency in supply chains. Commodity buyers and those involved in VSS want science-based principles and methodologies to help future standard setting. In addition, VSS and their users want to provide credible impact assessments and scenarios in real-time to help evaluation. Furthermore, consultation will help to decide where to target standard adoption to maximise environmental performance. 

The ‘Outcome based standards – a landscape approach’ initiative will gather and analyse data to measure the impact of VSS across sugarcane, palm oil and rubber; qualify risks in supply chains; demonstrate where standards can adapt to increase impact; and identify policies to increase uptake. 

A geospatial tool will be developed to allow stakeholders to explore the impact of different VSS scenarios in “real-time” and inform decision-making. In addition, the economic benefits and costs of VSS adoption will be identified, and standards will be linked to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and other popular commitments such as the science-based targets.

The VSS will be able to develop new, forward looking ways to measure impact that will translate across commodities. This will help certification bodies to make more comprehensive audits. Besides that, buyers will benefit from improved risk identification methodologies and will be able to clearly communicate the impact of investing in sustainability. The clarity on the business-case for adopting VSS will in turn help to reward the producer communities that invest in sustainable agriculture. Finally, it will help governments, financiers and policy makers to understand the benefits of investing in sustainability and also help to meet the SDGs.

RSPO Strategic Project Director, Javin Tan, said, “We are pleased to be a part of an initiative that reflects RSPO's commitment to collaborative solutions for truly sustainable supply chains. This programme will enable us to translate sustainable sourcing commitments into measurable outcomes, in alignment with the UN SDGs and regional and national targets.”

The research will take place at the University of Minnesota in the United States of America. It  will cover eight countries – Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Brazil, Guatemala, Jamaica, and Mexico.

For further information, please visit Bonsucro website.

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