18 December 2020

Are You Ready to Go Green? (Part 2)

On 17 December 2020, ITC’s Youth & Trade Programme in collaboration with the Trade 4 Sustainability & Development team (T4SD) organised part 2 of the Ye! Enterprising Youth: Sustainability mini-series. Part 2 focused on explaining “ITC Sustainability Map: How to navigate the tools”. In this mini-series, we provide practical and actionable insights to young entrepreneurs on sustainability, certifications, trade, trends, and markets, as well as address why having sustainability integrated into your business model can lead to greater profitability. 

In part 2, we focused on sharing a practical guide for how youth entrepreneurs can take advantage of the ITC Standards Map tool to learn more about requirements linked to meeting certain standards and how youth entrepreneurs can navigate the tool.  The tool is free to use and can guide enterprises in preparing to apply for standards and understanding expectations around sustainability standards. A step-by-step demonstration explaining how to navigate the tool was offered through sharing a case study. In addition, the experts took questions from the young entrepreneurs about the VSS and how to apply the tools to make their business more sustainable. Here are some highlights and key takeaways.

Recap- What is VSS?

According to the United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards,

“VSS are rules that producers, traders, manufacturers, retailers or service providers may be asked to follow so that the things they make, grow or do don’t hurt people and the environment.”

In practice, these standards pay particular attention to the protection and benefits of workers, community and environment in the long term, i.e. workers work in a healthy and safe condition, rights of communities are protected, as well as the environmental impacts of production and consumption are reduced and controlled.

Although VSS are not legally binding rules, they introduce an additional layer of compliance for businesses in the value chain to be more sustainable and responsible for people and environment. Given the increasing demand and awareness by customers, investors and governments, these ‘soft’ rules have become “de facto” regulations across sectors in both domestic and international markets.

Amongst hundreds of VSS globally, some of the most renowned and widely recognized VSS include: UTZ, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance. With all their different focuses and criteria applicable in different regions and sectors, do you know how to find the one that is the most suitable for your company?

How do I know which standard would be the best option for my business?

It is important to conduct research into which standard will be most beneficial for your enterprise. Additionally, take the time to figure out which standards are in-reach for your business and which may take many adjustments within your operational practices and business model to meet the requirements for. How can you learn this? Introducing Standards Map!

What is ITC Sustainability Map and its Standards Map module?

The Sustainability Map provides online access to a wide-range of information related to sustainability initiatives (Virtual Network), standards (Standards Map) and trends (Market Trends), allowing businesses to chart their path to more sustainable trade by better understanding the sustainability landscape and to connect with business partners.

In particular, the module Standards Map provides comprehensive, transparent and verified information on more than 280 standards in five key dimensions: environment, social, management, quality, and ethics. Users can easily navigate through its features, ranging from search and review relevant standards at a glance to launch a free online self-assessment to help you evaluate your performance according to respective standard.


User Case: John, Coffee Producer, Tanzania

John is interested in exporting coffee to Europe from his farm in Tanzania. How can he learn which standard will make him most attractive for European buyers and consumers?

In the webinar, we walked in the shoes of John, a young coffee producer in Tanzania to learn how he used the Standards Map to understand which standard(s) to pursue. Let’s follow his journey step by step:

1. Search and shortlist the VSS

First, John quickly scans relevant VSS according to his sector/product, producing country, and destination, and 31 Standards show up as a result.  


Based on the overview of each standard, John can further narrow down and select a few amongst the 31 standards. For instance, he may choose three standards at this stage: UTZ, EU Organic Farming, and BRCGS Food Safety to research further.

2. Compare and analyse the shortlisted VSS, across five key dimensions, timeframe, auditing and cost.

Which standard is best for John? The Compare and Reference features of the Sustainability Map, enable John to conduct a deeper analysis and find the VSS most interesting for him in relation to its unique demands and requirements. The number of requirements for each standard can be seen broken down per sustainability dimension, and presented in the format of graphs (see image below).

Should John wish to look at the dimension focusing on environment, he can click to see the specific requirements per each of the three standards he is interested and how they break down per various requirements related to components like soil, for example.



3. Take a self-assessment and get your score against certain standard.

In order to gauge his performance against the standards selected, John can take the free, online self-assessment and receive a diagnostic report, as per the image below. These scores provide him with some indications about how close his business is to meeting the standard. These results can guide John in pursuing a specific standard and in adjusting certain procedures or operations to become eligible for the standard.


In summary, standards map does not verify that you will receive a certain standard certification, however, it can be used to guide your enterprise in which standard may be best to apply for and how close your business is to meeting the stated requirements.

Try it out, make some mistakes, and if all else fails, contact the T4SD team for further guidance. See all the team’s emails in the presentation in the resources section here.

Audience Q&A

Q:How does the self-assessment relates to the official VSS certification. Can I use the self-assessment results to approach investors and buyers?

A word of caution, the self- assessment cannot replace an official VSS certification. In other words, obtaining good results or a high performance score does not necessarily mean you automatically meet the requirements to acquire the respective certification. Don’t take the self-assessment score as the evidence or oversell it to external partners. This standards map is merely a guide to assist you in taking the right next steps toward acquiring a VSS certification. Overselling the results of the self-assessment could backfire and have negative effects on your reputation. Regardless of your score, you will need to go through official process to get a VSS certification.

Q: Do you think we will see more standards in the future?

Yes, despite the fact that we have seen less new standards coming out each year, and more standards being consolidated, the experts at T4SD do believe that the total number of VSS will continue to increase. The newly established standards are largely industry focused, and target specific markets or actors in the value chain.

Q: Is there any VSS specifically related to employment of youth?

Although the ‘non-discrimination’ indicator is included in the social dimension of many standards, there is not a specific standard that seeks to highlight the number of youth employed by a company or whether a business is led by youth. Nevertheless, some standards do look at the number of jobs created for young people, as part of their social dimension requirements on inclusion. This may also include certain requirements around access to on-job training for youth workers to promote their employability, but these types of requirements are part of the broader social dimension and may or may not be mandatory to meet the standard and become certified. 

Now that you have learned the basics about how to use the ITC Sustainability Map, Standards module, why not get on it and have a go yourself? Check it out here

Once again, you can review the full presentation on the Ye! Resources page.

Interested to learn more about sustainability and how you can adapt your business to be more ‘green’? Register and join our upcoming sustainability webinars:

Part 3_ Assessing markets & buyer requirements: target markets, trends, certifications

11:00 -11:45 AM (CET), 21 Jan 2021, on Zoom. Register here.


Watch the full recording of the Part 2: ITC Sustainability Map: How to navigate the tools? below:

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