Reading sustainability blogs and articles these days can easily leave you with the impression that sustainability standards have passed their prime, that we are in a ‘beyond certification’ world. Two recent surveys of business leaders – one conducted by the ISEAL Alliance and one conducted by Globescan for ISEAL – suggests that that is far from the case. Sustainability standards are still leading sustainability tools, and many companies plan to expand their use of standards in the future.
As companies search for strategies to meet their ambitious sustainability targets, they may be looking for other tools to complement standards. They also have many ideas about how standards could improve and innovate to better meet their needs. But the general trend is definitely not to abandon standards.
ISEAL’s online survey was sent to the more than 800 business leaders engaged with ISEAL. The Globescan survey reached out to both ISEAL’s and Globescan’s database of business leaders. The survey sample obviously isn’t representative of all businesses worldwide, but the two surveys do take the pulse of the community of businesses actively engaged in sustainability circles. Major messages from these two surveys (conducted in June and September 2015, respectively) are reassuringly similar.
101 people responded to ISEAL’s survey (nearly half from outside Europe and North America); Globescan’s survey had 168 respondents (with 38% from outside Europe and North America). 90% of the ISEAL and 76% of the Globescan survey respondents are standards users.
Globescan found that 99% of those surveyed who are already using standards plan to continue to use standards in the future. Most standards users (55% in the Globescan survey and 80% in the ISEAL survey) even plan to increase their use of standards. 70% of the non-users in the Globescan survey will either definitely or likely begin to use standards. Less than 3% of the combined respondents in both surveys suggested that their organisations were considering decreasing their use of standards. These results suggest that standards have and will maintain an important role in corporate sustainability strategies.
Both surveys also inquired about how confident business leaders where that standards are good for business and produce sustainability impacts. Three quarters of respondents (70% in the ISEAL survey; 76% in the Globescan survey) see a strong business case for standards or believe that standards deliver business value to the companies that use them. Even more believe that using standards brings sustainability impacts (80% in the ISEAL survey; 74% in the Globescan survey).
It’s not all good news for standards of course. Both surveys suggest that more convincing information is needed about the business case for standards and the impacts of standards. Internal leaders and decision makers in companies need more relevant or more convincing evidence. The Globescan survey also highlights other issues that are blocking increased use of standards in a minority of businesses – the cost of standards, the lack of relevant standards for some sectors, and the inability of standards to meet operational needs.
Interestingly, the availability of alternative tools are not seen as a major obstacle to using standards. Only 13% of Globescan respondents saw the existence of alternatives that ‘deliver better results more easily’ as a significant obstacle to increasing the use of standards. Only 16% saw the ability of companies to ‘effectively communicate their sustainability performance without standards’ as a significant obstacle.
These two surveys tell us that standards are alive and kicking, and are here to stay for the foreseeable future. The surveys also give us a sense of what businesses expect from standards and what they need standard systems to do to continue to meet business needs in the future.
Understanding what businesses need from standards is why we conducted and commissioned these surveys in the first place. So, businesses…rest assured. ISEAL hears you and we are on the case.
The Globescan report will be available in a few weeks.
To download the ISEAL survey results infographic in a PDF, click here.
To download the ISEAL survey results infographic as a JPEG, click here.
To read a set of business stories on the value they see in sustainability standards, click here.
To download the full set of business stories as a report, click here.
The work of ISEAL to understand the business and impacts case of sustainability standards and deliver high quality evidence to the private sector is supported by the UK government.