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04:35 PM, September 10, 2015


Standards and audits are helpful instruments to bring sustainability forward and protect the environment as well as society. They function as regulations or as guidelines, as they define the minimum goals. Standards also create the ability to set benchmarks that measure the success of an organization’s sustainability approaches. Regarding the results, it is possible to generate and apply auditing systems. These are very helpful to compare organization processes, progress, and plans for a more sustainable future.

Sustainability & CSR: 

  • Global Reporting Initiative G4 
  • UN Global Compact CoP
  • ISO 26000 
  • IIRC (International Framework for Integrated Reporting)


  • ISO 9001
  • ISO 19011 (Auditing)


  • SA 8000
  • OHSAS 18001


  • EMAS
  • ISO 14001 (Standard for Environmental Accounting)
  • ISO 14.040


  • DIN 16247
  • ISO 50.001

Related topics: Mandatory CSRVoluntary Standard Systems (see below)


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Voluntary Sustainability Standards

In today’s globalized world, national standards quickly reach their limits. Therefore, sustainable development needs the support of further partners. One concept is voluntary sustainability standards (VSS), which have progressed rapidly over the last decades. Some are governmental initiatives but most are set up by partners from civil society and responsible business. The standards are voluntary by definition, but once such a standard is adopted, compliance becomes compulsory, turning the standard into a kind of “soft law.” Considering the present global situation, VSS are among the best options we have to foster sustainable development. The following chapter offers profound insights into the evolution and different types of VSS. Implementation by businesses and implications for governance issues are also discussed.


Introduction to Voluntary Sustainability Standards

By Kristin Komives (ISEAL Alliance), ISEAL Alliance

Private, voluntary sustainability standards are an innovative, market-based approach to promoting sustainable production and business practices. Adoption of these sustainability standards is intended to be voluntary: The standards are not created, run, or required by governments or government regulation. Instead, the system for voluntary sustainability standards are nongovernment initiatives that seek to drive sustainable production and consumption by creating a market demand for sustainable products, and a supply to meet that demand. They help buyers (both consumers and businesses) identify sustainably-produced products, and they guide producers, forest managers, mine and tourism operators, and factory owners and others in their choice of sustainable practices.  more[...]


Evolution of the Voluntary Sustainability Standards

Voluntary sustainability standards have the potential to generate significant environmental, economic and social benefits in developing countries. However, decision makers from developing countries frequently express concern about the lack of credible information about standards, the considerable compliance costs, the risk of marginalization of small-scale producers, the lack of harmonization and equivalence, resulting in the need to comply with multiple standards for a single product,and the lack of transparent governance.  more[...]


The Objectives of Standards and How Firms Use Them

By Dr. Daniele Giovannucci (The Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA)), Joseph Wozniak (The International Trade Centre (ITC))

Although often lumped together, the many voluntary sustainability standards (VSS) used today are not at all alike. As a whole they do tend to deal with the areas not functionally addressed by most firms and global trading structures.  more[...]  login_required


Different Kinds of Voluntary Sustainability Standards

This section introduces the relevant principles from the Rio Declaration, and highlights elements of subsequent UN declarations that have developed or expanded on these principles. From National vs. International Standards, LCA standards vs. sector-specific standards up to Management system vs. performance standards.  more[...]


The Meta-Governance of Voluntary Sustainability Standards

By Prof. Dr. Pieter Glasbergen (Maastricht University), Boudewijn Derkx

There has been a surge in the popularity of the private standards-setting approach to social and environmental governance in recent decades. A single economic sector may now literally feature dozens of competing voluntary sustainability standards. Emerging gradually as a result of the uncoordinated efforts of various independently operating (coalitions of) actors, the rise of voluntary standards-setting has been largely spontaneous and unplanned.  more[...]

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