Stakeholder engagement in producing ‘hybrid’ governance; resolving ‘sustainability’ in standards processes

Elizabeth Fortin

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paper


Tempering the unsustainable fallout of global agricultural production processes often falls to a range of alternative regulatory mechanisms. Sustainability standards and certification schemes, which are monitored by third-party auditors, have become one form of ‘hybrid’ governance designed to encourage more sustainable practices in the management of natural resources. For example, in relation to bioenergy production, a number of sustainability standards schemes have been approved by the European Union under its 2009 Renewable Energy Directive (EU RED), and compliance with EU RED sustainability criteria is only proved by a firm receiving third party certification that their operations satisfy one of the approved schemes. The Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) is an example of one such scheme approved by the EU Commission. This RSB scheme is often referred to positively not only for providing an example of a ‘multi-stakeholder’ model of standards development that is assumed to confer greater legitimacy on the outcome of that process – the sustainability standards themselves – but also because those very standards are considered to exemplify greater rigour than many of the other EU-approved standards in terms of their claims to protect ‘sustainability’. Recognising that the discourses of ‘sustainability’ contain within them varying and contradictory notions, the resolution of which will be determined by power relations, this paper explores the standards processes in which the RSB standards were produced. It considers how notions of sustainability embodied in the RSB standards were shaped not only by the very ‘multi-stakeholder’ process itself, but also by wider influences that were brought to bear in that process, including the growing spectre of a ‘standards market’ produced by the EU’s approval of different schemes. In doing so, the paper draws upon the author’s primary research with many of the ‘stakeholders’ that contributed to the process. It contributes to previous research (Maconachie & Fortin 2012), which considered the importance of recognising varying and contradictory interpretations of ‘sustainability’ on the ground in the context of a major biofuels investment in Sierra Leone.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 23 Jan 2015


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