Harnessing Relational Values for Global Value Chain Sustainability: Reframing the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil's Offset Mechanism to Support Smallholders

Caleb Gallemore, Kristjan Jespersen*, Paige Olmsted

*Corresponding author for this work

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In credit systems, purportedly sustainable activities are undertaken in one place to compensate for unsustainable activities elsewhere. These mechanisms originated in pollution abatement systems but now are found in many sustainability programs, including supply chain certification. Credit programs are used in various sustainability certification programs to lower transaction costs, boost uptake, and direct more resources to small producers, but they are also controversial. The relational values framework argues that one way to motivate people to support sustainability efforts is to emphasize what behaviors are appropriate to specific relationships. We ask whether changing the way we think and talk about credits may be a way to direct more resources to producers or places willing to engage in sustainability certification. Using an embedded survey experiment, we test this reframing with a sample of representatives of member organizations of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). We find that the relational values reframing of the RSPO's crediting mechanism is perceived to be less confusing and potentially damaging to the standard's reputation than the existing framing. This evidence suggests that relational values frames might be helpful tools as part of efforts to improve sustainability in global value chains.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107303
JournalEcological Economics
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • Relational values
  • RSPO
  • Global value chains
  • Private standards
  • Certification

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