Debating Voluntary Sustainability Certifications

Voluntary sustainability certifications (that is, ones that lack the backing of law) are always interesting, and sometimes controversial. Some people argue that if they’re voluntary, they’re doomed to be ineffective. Others argue that it’s better if industries can figure out on their own how to set suitable goals and limits, and leave government out of the picture. The two articles linked below tackle some of that terrain. The first is a commentary on a book, and the second is a response by the book’s author.


Voluntary Sustainability Certifications: What is the Point?, by Elizabeth A Bennett (in The Global Justice and Human Rights Journal Review)

Voluntary sustainability certifications aim to achieve human rights objectives and sustainable development goals by creating rigorous standards, enforcing them, and labeling the resulting products as “ethical.” Tens of thousands of workers depend on certifications for decent wages, equitable opportunities, and safe working conditions. If certifications do not achieve these goals and reforming them is resource intensive and highly improbable, what is the point?



Moving Forward on the Point of Voluntary Sustainability Certifications, by Janina Grabs (in The Global Justice and Human Rights Journal Review)

In her review, Bennett asks ‘what is the point’ of voluntary sustainability standards, if it is not to improve sustainability on the ground. While my book’s problem-solving approach did not yield itself to answering this question, I introduce some recent answers to this question that is currently discussed in a vibrant academic debate. In addition, I defend the usefulness of voluntary simplicity as a way forward and suggest two additional future research streams that may help to tackle systemic sustainability problems in global commodity trade…..

What do you think?

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About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.

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