Scaling-up the impact of voluntary sustainability standards

From niche labels to catalysts to systemic change?

Scaling-up the impact of voluntary sustainability standards


How can global sustainability regulators, such as Fairtrade or the Rainforest Alliance, more effectively tackle large-scale regulatory problems of deforestation, land use conflict and recurring labour rights violations? This project will address this question by analysing and evaluating innovative regulatory schemes that were designed to have broad, sector- or jurisdiction-wide impacts on critical social and environmental problems in South-East Asia and Latin America. A new framework will be developed to strengthen the effectiveness and accountability of sustainability regulation - benefiting workers, businesses and the environment and enabling the Australian public to participate in more sustainable systems of production and consumption.

Outcomes / activities


The research will address the following questions:

  • Through what kinds of interventions can transnational regulatory schemes produce the most significant, measurable impacts on social and environmental change at sectoral or jurisdictional levels?
  • How and why do the effectiveness and legitimacy of such regulatory interventions vary under different conditions?

The project has five specific objectives:

  1. Develop a theoretical framework for understanding global sustainability regulation as a driver of systemic social and environmental change
  2. Map and categorise existing approaches to global regulatory design that address large-scale environmental and social challenges such as deforestation, land use conflict and labour rights violations
  3. Identify the multiple causal pathways through which global sustainability regulators can influence social and environmental changes at sectoral and jurisdictional levels
  4. Understand the significance of varying regulatory contexts for the effectiveness and legitimacy of regulatory designs intended to promote systemic environmental and social change
  5. Explore the implications of this new knowledge for practices of regulatory design and evaluation


The project began in January 2020 and will continue until January 2024. Policy briefing papers and academic articles will be published throughout the life of the project.

Project details


Australian Research Council

Project team

Dr Kate Macdonald (University of Melbourne)
Dr Poppy Winanti (University of Gadjah Mada, Indonesia)
Associate Professor Paúl Cisneros (National Institute of Advanced Studies, Ecuador)
Professor Deborah Delgado (Pontifical Catholic University of Peru)
Professor Ben Cashore (National University of Singapore)
Associate Professor Mathias Koenig-Archibugi (London School of Economics and Political Science)


Dr Kate Macdonald