Linking voluntary standards to Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide our pathway to progress towards 2030 and  will  be  critical  in  allowing  us  to  "build  back  better"  after  the  global  pandemic.  This  will  require  smart  partnerships between the public and private sector where the focus must be on supporting responsible social, environmental and economic practices in the pursuit of sustainable and inclusive growth.

Voluntary sustainability  standards  (VSS)  are  currently  at  the  centre  of  the  approach  of  businesses  to  sustainability. Going beyond minimum legal standards established by governments, VSS focus on reducing adverse environmental and social effects and responding to the demands of various stakeholders, including consumers.

Using original data, the present report tracks the extent to which sustainable practices promoted by voluntary standards align with the SDGs. This innovative research provides a clear picture of how the private sector can work towards the SDG targets by adopting voluntary sustainability standards. It documents the overlap between existing VSS standards and the SDG targets and identifies further potential to better align VSS with additional sustainable development goals. 

The report demonstrates that policymakers can select from  a  large number of relevant voluntary sustainability standards – at country and sectoral levels –   to contribute to the SDGs.

These insights are especially valuable for developing countries in their drive to for a future growth trajectory that is more sustainable and inclusive. Understanding the links between voluntary standards and the SDGs contributes  to  efforts  to  build  a  more  resilient  business  ecosystem,  create  greener  jobs,  and  build  the  business case for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to adopt greener technologies. At the United Nations, we have emphasized the  alignment  between  competitiveness,  sustainability  and  inclusiveness as a means to maximize economic and development impact.

This report supports and builds on that approach. Increased understanding of how voluntary sustainability standards can connect with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda makes it possible to widen and advance the effort to meet the SDGs, especially given that we have just under ten years to reach our goal.

This project was the result of successful  collaboration  between  ITC,  UNCTAD,  the  European  University  Institute, the German Development Institute and the University of Amsterdam. We trust that the findings in the report will be a useful resource for standard-setting organizations, policymakers, suppliers and lead firms as  they  strive  to  bring  together  the  public  and  private  sectors  and  promote  sustainable  and  responsible  supply chains in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals.