Delivering impact at scale: ISEAL and partners trial new approaches to landscape interventions

4 min readAug 21, 2020


Oil palm landscape © Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil

With companies exploring scalable solutions to meet their sustainability commitments in a post-2020 world, ISEAL and its partners are looking at how they can support landscape-wide transformation.

The idea of a landscape and jurisdictional approach is simple and compelling — that sustainability issues like deforestation, biodiversity loss and climate change are best addressed at scale.

This means moving from a piecemeal approach that focusses on each individual producer, farmer or enterprise in a supply chain, to one that supports action across whole productive landscapes or jurisdictions. While sustainability standards and certification are effective tools for setting and verifying responsible and sustainable practices for individual actors and enterprises, the challenge now lies in taking these lessons to new levels.

Addressing deforestation at scale

In the oil palm sector, such innovative approaches are well underway. When the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) announced in 2015 that they would pilot jurisdictional certification in the Seruyan district of Central Kalimantan in Indonesia, it was to explore a new way of addressing extensive land use change in the district’s southern and central regions at scale.

As in many other areas, the allocation of oil palm concessions had driven deforestation throughout the district[1], and the dispossession of local and indigenous farmers exacerbated already fraught community relations.

Where previous action to address this had been at the concession/plot level, the pilot in Seruyan sought to address this deforestation across the whole jurisdiction, through collaboration with local government, producers, buyers and civil society. Other districts in Indonesia and Malaysia are developing similar approaches, as are various governments in Latin America where oil palm expansion is on the rise.

Landscape and jurisdictional approaches to sustainability gaining traction

The new thinking in the palm oil sector is only one example of how the concept of ‘jurisdictional’ and ‘landscape approaches’ to sustainability are gaining traction. Pro-active governments in producing countries have started championing their own jurisdictional approaches, in efforts to put themselves on the map as the preferred ‘sustainable sourcing destinations’ and to attract green and climate-friendly investments.

On the demand-side, there is growing expectation that large lead companies and big buyers need to do more than just source products from suppliers that meet high standards: they should be actively contributing to sustainability improvements in the regions from which they source, using their leverage to move whole sectors forward. Landscape or jurisdictional approaches could allow them to do this and address an ever-growing demand for more sustainable commodities.

However, there is little consensus on how to implement landscape and jurisdictional approaches and how to demonstrate that they are delivering on the sustainability issues that matter.

Shaping the development of scaled sustainability approaches

As the global membership organisation for credible sustainability standards systems, ISEAL aims to support this dynamic towards scalable solutions in the monitoring and verification of sustainability performance.

Landscape initiatives can be hugely impactful and provide companies with innovative ways to invest in their supply chains. However, without a reliable monitoring and verification system, businesses will struggle to show and quantify how landscape interventions are contributing towards their sustainability targets. They will also be unable to make credible claims about the sustainability of the regions they source from. This is why ISEAL and its community of standard-setting organisations and certification experts are keen to contribute and shape the formation of ‘scaled’ sustainability approaches.

ISEAL’s Innovation Fund pilots

One way we are doing this is through ISEAL’s Innovations Fund, a grant-making facility that supports standards systems to test projects that drive efficiency and effectiveness. Our portfolio covers projects relating to data capture and management, risk-based approaches to assurance, supply chain traceability systems, and solutions that deliver greater value to producers.

In 2018, thanks to the support of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), we challenged ISEAL members to test new approaches to increase the adoption of sustainable practices in multiple sectors across a region or jurisdiction.

For example, a project being implemented by the Sustainable Agriculture Network, is developing a set of tools that will provide a reliable assessment of how farms and other land uses contribute to defined sustainability outcomes. Currently being trialled in the Zona Bananera district of Colombia, the toolkit will generate extensive information on a variety of metrics across a particular landscape — such as the percentage of employers that comply with the regional minimum wage, or the level of organic matter and carbon in the soil.

Another project to watch is a collaboration between the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership and Seafood Watch. Each partner operates sustainability initiatives that function at different scales, from individual farms to the landscape level, and deploys a variety of approaches to assess and verify the way that seafood is farmed. The partnership will compare their programmes, searching for opportunities where they can align their work and leverage both farm-level data and bigger-picture views of performance of a sub-regional, regional or even national level.

Whether through scaling to certify whole jurisdictions like RSPO, creating tools to collect landscape level metrics and information, or convening stakeholders to tackle leading sustainability issues, standards have an exciting role to play in the landscape space.

Learn about landscape approaches





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