Certifying the Certifier: Sustainability Certification in the Dutch Economy

Friday, 3 July 2015: 4:00 PM-5:30 PM
TW2.3.04 (Tower Two)
Roald Klumpenaar, University College Utrecht, Utrecht, Netherlands
As David Vogel puts it in 'The Market for Virtue’ (2005), through the reputation effect, more and more companies are starting to regulate themselves and provide quality above and beyond what they are legally required to do. Nowadays, self-regulation by companies on corporate social responsibility, i.e. sustainability, has lost legitimacy towards companies’ stakeholders. An external regulating body is naturally coming up to satisfy stakeholders: the sustainability certifier. (Van Waarden, ‘Varieties of Private Market Regulation: Problems and Prospects’, in David Levi-Faur (ed.) Handbook on the Politics of Regulation) This research attempts to ‘certify the sustainability certifier’ based on two case-studies of such Dutch sustainability certifiers giving an insider look through participant observation. The research question of this research is: What is the role of sustainability certifiers in the Dutch economy? This research concludes that current sustainability certification is certifying the quality of sustainability management rather than sustainability performance by companies. For instance, sustainability certifiers certify to what extent companies monitor and are transparent about their CO2-emissions. They do not certify to what extent companies are cutting down and are thus performing on their CO2-emissions.  However, the marketing of the sustainability certifiers could come across as if they directly certify sustainability performance. Hence current sustainability certification gives no incentive to companies to move from sustainability management towards sustainability performance. The sustainability certifiers are financially dependent on the companies they certify. Companies could therefore enforce a new framework for sustainability certification in which the sustainability performance of companies is certified. If this change is not made by companies because of their vested interests, the government could step in to enforce a legal framework.