Questioning Impact: A Cross-Disciplinary Review of Certification Standards for Sustainability

Sylke F. Jellema*, Mirjam D. Werner, Andreas Rasche, Joep Cornelissen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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This article provides a review of scholarly approaches to assessing the impact of certification standards for sustainability. While we observe that some theoretical advances have afforded a better understanding of the potential impacts of adopting such standards, we also find that progress has been constrained due to a strong emphasis on assessing impact via linear causal pathways. This linear focus on the net effects for single stakeholders, such as farmers and producers, local communities and ecosystems, falls short of adequately capturing the broader impact of certifications across social and ecological dimensions. Inspired by theories on complex systems thinking, we present a framework based on a systems-based impact logic that better captures and assesses the impacts of certification standards within broader social-ecological systems. Our framework can be used as a heuristic to design impact-related studies and assess the impact of certification standards across disciplinary vantage points and empirical contexts.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBusiness & Society
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)1042-1082
Number of pages41
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • Certification standards
  • Effectiveness
  • Impact
  • Sustainability
  • Systems thinking

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