Project update: Outcome based standards – a landscape approach

28th July 2021

The University of Minnesota recently hosted its second collaborative workshop where 15 sustainability experts from around the globe reflected on ways to strengthen sustainability standards in agriculture to deliver additional benefits.

The project

 Outcome based standards – a landscape approach aims to understand, interpret and model how voluntary sustainability standards (VSS) can generate change across sugarcane (Bonsucro), palm oil (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) and rubber (Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber).

Taking a science-based approach, Bonsucro and partners (University of Minnesota, RSPO, GPSNR, Diageo, PepsiCo and Tetra Pak) are gathering and analysing data to measure the impact of VSS, qualify risks in supply chains, demonstrate where standards can adapt to increase impact and identify policies to increase uptake.

Project update

In the first phase of the project, the team at the University of Minnesota analysed the mechanisms of change that the voluntary sustainability standards schemes use. The findings were then used to understand how the Standards can support the Sustainable Development Goals. As Bonsucro’s Production Standard is largely a metric-based system, the team found significant overlap with its indicators and a number of indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The overlap is very positive and can help brands with their sustainability reporting. All certified farms and mills use the Bonsucro calculator to report on indicators such as water use and CO2 emissions each year. If brands have set environmental targets such as reducing CO2 emissions or reaching net zero, they can collaborate with their certified suppliers and ask for access to this performance data which can feed into reporting and communications. The data can also help to inform future sustainability strategies.

The team at the University of Minnesota has also developed a beta version of a geospatial app, SCOPE. The tool has an interactive map that helps users to visualise where impacts on key sustainability indicators such as eutrophication, land conversion and water quality, are likely to occur when VSSs are implemented. The first iteration of the map has been developed with data from the Bonsucro Standard.

Second project workshop

On 13 July, the project partners gathered to hear an update on the project development. The meeting thrived from input from the variety of organisations present – academic, corporate and VSS partners and participants. They used the workshop to reflect on what how they can:

  • influence impact on key sustainability issues
  • positively contribute to Sustainable Development Goals.

Understanding the links between the impact of voluntary sustainability standards and the SDGs is important to refine the models the University of Minnesota is currently developing. These models will allow any stakeholders to visualise the potential environmental impacts that can occur when producers integrate VSSs into their practices.

The workshop was the first opportunity for participants to test the SCOPE app. Overall, the partners were very impressed by the tool’s capabilities. The next step is for the partners to continue testing the tool and then share their feedback with the University of Minnesota.

Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota will also widen the tool’s parameters to include data from RSPO and GPSNR. Once this happens, users will be able to model what would happen in geographical areas that these Standards are implemented.

The project partners will next meet in around six months for another update.

The project is supported by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) thanks to a grant from ISEAL Innovation Fund.

For more information, please contact our Director of Standard and Innovation, Nicolas Viart at