ISEAL’s Global Sustainability Standards Conference

20140521_141048In May, I attended ISEAL’s Global Sustainability Standards Conference in London, England.  ISEAL is an alliance of standards organizations, such as FairTrade International, the Rainforest Alliance, and the Forest Stewardship Council, that is working to “to strengthen sustainability standards systems for the benefit of people and the environment.”  Amy Jackson, ISEAL’s Senior Credibility Manager, had invited me last year to speak on a panel at the conference, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more about the organization, meet both practitioners and scholars working on sustainability standards, and share some insights from my research.

The title of the panel was “The Claims Jungle,” and focused on “how to improve consistency and trust in claims and labeling and avoid label confusion and misleading claims.”  I was fortunate to have three distinguished individuals with me on the panel with rich and diverse sets of experiences relating to sustainability standards —

  • Amanda Long, Executive Director, Consumers International
  • Adam Lavis, Senior Policy Adviser – Sustainable Business, UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Blake Lee-Harwood, Communications & Strategy Director, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership

My talk started off the session, and provided an overarching framework for thinking about the current “claims jungle.”  It also laid a foundation for the insights from the other panelists and their various backgrounds.  Our combination of academic, consumer, government, business, and NGO perspectives made for a great blend of perspectives on the cacophony of labels that have emerged in recent years.

The rest of the conference was engaging as well — representatives from businesses such as IKEA, McDonalds, Chipotle, Mars, and HSBC, advocacy organizations such as Greenpeace and WWF, and a host of  certification organizations spoke at a wide range of plenary and breakout sessions.  While I didn’t see any “magic bullets” to the challenges that sustainability standards face, it was clear that there are many innovative efforts to to make these standard systems work as best they can.  I had the opportunity to meet and talk with a good number of the conference attendees who are working on these initiatives, and look forward to following up with them and learning more about their work in the future.

The conference was held at The Crystal on Royal Victoria Dock in East London, which is a very new and “green” conference facility (with Outstanding BREEAM and Platinum LEED accreditation) built  by Siemens that explores the future of cities (see photo above).  It features “the world’s largest exhibition focused on urban sustainability,” which was indeed very impressive and well-designed.  You can learn more about the facility and the exhibition by clicking here.

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