Voluntary Standards as Enablers and Impediments to Sustainable Consumption
33 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2014
Date Written: February 28, 2014
This chapter discusses the role of voluntary standards for corporate sustainability and responsibility as enablers of and impediments to sustainable consumption. We start by theoretically reflecting on the notion of standards, discussing different characteristics of this mode of regulation. Next we distinguish different types of standards for corporate sustainability and responsibility. Our subsequent analysis shows that standards enable sustainable consumption by (1) reducing information asymmetries, informing consumers about the social and environmental conditions under which products and services are created, (2) supporting the disclosure of firms’ sustainability-related information (potentially leading to increased consumer loyalty), and (3) further institutionalizing the discourse around sustainable consumption. However, our discussion also emphasizes that voluntary standards can impede sustainable consumption, because (1) the coexistence of a variety of competing initiatives in some sectors (e.g. fair trade coffee) is likely to confuse consumers, (2) consumers may question the credibility of selected standards, since highly public scandals have revealed the limits of auditing and monitoring practices, and (3) while many standards are designed as multi-stakeholder initiatives, only few of them directly involve consumer representatives, leaving the impression that some standards define practices for consumers but not with them.
Keywords: standards, labels, sustainable consumption, ISO 26000, soft law
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