Initiatives certifying that producers of goods and services adhere to defined environmental and social-welfare production standards are increasingly popular. According to proponents, these initiatives create financial incentives for producers to improve their environmental, social, and economic performance. We reviewed the evidence on whether these initiatives have such benefits.
We identified peer-reviewed, ex post, producer-level studies in economic sectors in which certification is particularly prevalent (bananas, coffee, fish products, forest products, and tourism operations), classified these studies on the basis of whether their design and methods likely generated credible results, summarized findings from the studies with credible results,
and considered how these findings might guide future research.
We found 46 relevant studies, most of which focused on coffee and forest products and examined fair-trade and Forest Stewardship Council certification. The methods used in 11 studies likely generated credible results. Of these 11 studies, 9 examined the economic effects and 2 the environmental effects of certification. The results of 4 of the 11 studies, all of which examined economic effects, showed that certification has producer-level benefits.
Hence, the evidence to support the hypothesis that certification benefits the environment or producers is limited. More credible data could be generated by incorporating rigorous, independent evaluation into the design and implementation of projects promoting certification.