Firms should adopt measurable sustainability standards that can contribute towards UN development goals and deliver benefits to the bottom line.
In a report WWF and sustainability group ISEAL said that by using certification schemes companies could increase supply chain transparency and improve relationships with suppliers.
At the same time they would contribute towards achieving UN Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aim to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture within 15 years.
According to the report, direct benefits for businesses using sustainability standards could range from efficiency gains through improved management practices, increased transparency and traceability throughout the whole supply chain and better quality relationships between suppliers and buyers.
Norma Tregurtha, senior policy and outreach manager at ISEAL, said using certification systems as a tool to measure progress would speed up the process.
“Over the next 13 years, all countries are expected to make progress across all of the SDGs,” she said.
“Considering the overarching focus of the SDG agenda on people and the environment, it is clear that sustainability standards can play a crucial role in its implementation.
“By providing an independent, verifiable method to assess whether or not a certain level of performance on sustainability is reached, standards and certification systems can serve as a measure of progress against the SDGs.”
The report said farmers using sustainability standards had seen net increases in their incomes due to productivity and quality improvements.
The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) 2014 Harvest Report found farmers following the BCI standard across seven countries had significantly higher yields and higher and profits per hectare than conventional cotton farmers, ranging from 11% in China and India to more than 50% in Tajikistan and Mozambique, while using less water and chemical input
Indonesian smallholders working with French retailer Carrefour to achieve Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil certification managed to increase productivity through better management practices, while taking pressure off the habitats of elephants and tigers in Tesso Nilo National Park.
The report revealed that for businesses, the social and environmental impacts of palm oil production represented a significant risk for investors and to mitigate these risks finance institutions including International Finance Corporation, Credit Suisse and Rabobank required their clients to achieve RSPO certification.
However, the report warned that although changes had been made by a few companies, progress was not fast enough to reach SDGs by 2030.
“While ambitious sustainability goals and strategies at the individual company level remain vital, sector-wide transformation can only happen through the sort of collective action that credible standards encourage and enable,” the report said.
“And it is transformation at this level that is required for businesses to make a real contribution towards the poverty-free world set out in the SDGs.”
Richard Holland, director of the Global Conservation Division at WWF International, said: “Poverty, inequality, water scarcity, climate change and the loss of biodiversity are significant risks for business and aligning with the SDGs represents and opportunity,” he said.
“While leading companies have already made far-reaching commitments to help address climate change, deforestation and decent work, the majority of business sectors are not yet delivering on their responsibility towards the Agenda 2030.”
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