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How sustainability standards contribute to establishing good practices as well as sustainable outcomes within different contexts and regions

Freitag, 05. Januar 2018


Sustainability standards managed by ISEAL https://www.isealalliance.org/ provide knowledge about practices and performance benchmarks for practices for a given sustainable issue or theme. Since sustainability standards are typically designed for all kinds of organizations and accessible at low cost, they are well suited to foster the adoption of sustainable practices and enable key sustainable outcomes. Certified or licensed organizations build up their knowledge and organizational operations on these standards and communicate sustainable behavior via standards to their stakeholders, especially customers and OEMs. Therefore, the comprehensive examination effectiveness of sustainability standards in driving practice adoption should shed light on the role of sustainability standards in doing so compared to other approaches as well as conditions and circumstances, which influence the effectiveness of sustainability standards.

Especially three aspects regarding the effectiveness should be considered. Firstly, the time dimension is of interest, meaning to differentiate between short, middle and long-term effects. Secondly, we will examine how the practice adoption differs according to the certification stage (Pre- or Post-certification). As a third dimension we will study whether certified entities are different from non-certified entities. In this way, this study examines how sustainability standards contribute to establishing good practices as well as sustainable outcomes within different contexts and regions and in which manner they enable ambitious certified entities to adopt and implement good sustainable practices. To sum up, the Master thesis should contribute to our theoretical and conceptual understanding of:

  • The role of sustainability standards within the landscape of various tools and approaches to achieve good sustainable practice adoption
  • The effectiveness of sustainability standards in driving practice adoption and how practice adoption results in short-, middle- and long-term sustainable key outcomes

    • within certified entities vs. non-certified entities
    • pre- and post –certification stage

  • If and how the adoption of practices provided by sustainability standards leads to continuous improvement over time in entities of various regions and sectors


To answer the research questions a detailed concept has to be developed, which discusses the final selection of the relevant sustainable issues[1] as well as the corresponding sustainability standards relevant to these issues. Thereby the standards can be practice- or performance based and are not restricted to ISEAL Alliance members. Additionally we will provide a set of possible key sustainable outcomes, based on the selection of standards. In line with the Theory of Change these outcomes will based on desired long-term goals and mapped backwards to necessary preconditions and concrete indicators.

The verification of the achievement of these key outcomes - through the adoption of good sustainability practices provided by sustainability standards - is a major result of this study. The set of outcomes represents a first orientation and is opened for extensions during the study if necessary. This detailed concept paves the way to define concrete review objectives and criteria for the following mixed method approach.


To examine the research question we propose a mixed method approach. Thereby a systematic review approach based on the “Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews” will be the main component of the research. The first step is to define concrete research questions, also called objectives and to develop criteria for the following process. These will build up on the detailed concept and the research questions given by the ISEAL Alliance. Subsequently the search for relevant sources for the review will start. To generate a comprehensive picture of the state of literature different scientific databases to extract journal papers, like Scopus and Web of Science, should be used. Additionally grey literature, i.e. impact evaluation studies and other empirical studies as well as monitoring reports from standard bodies, should be considered.


[1] Higgins JPT, Green S (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 [updated March 2011]. The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011. Available from www.handbook.cochrane.org.

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