UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Effects of stakeholder input on voluntary sustainability standards Ven, Hamish van der


Voluntary sustainability standards can be powerful tools for incentivizing sustainable production practices. Most standards rely on stakeholder input to gain legitimacy and set levels of achievement for businesses at an appropriate level. Yet, the effects of stakeholder input are contentious. Whereas some see stakeholder input leading to more stringent standards, others believe stakeholder input dilutes standards and renders them toothless. I intervene into this debate through an analysis of the effects of stakeholder comments on eight different voluntary sustainability standards. Drawing on an original dataset of 7945 stakeholder comments submitted during public comment periods between 2012 and 2019, I answer three interrelated research questions. First, who comments on sustainability standards and are some groups better represented than others? Second, what types of input do stakeholders provide? Third, which stakeholder comments result in observable changes to the content of sustainability standards? I find that industry groups are over-represented compared to other stakeholder groups. I also find that comments intended to weaken the stringency of sustainability standards are more likely to be implemented than comments intended to strengthen their stringency or other types of comments. A key implication is that stakeholder input is more likely to weaken or maintain the status quo of sustainability standards than strengthen them.

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