Sustainability certification data release

Ben Ben Follow Sep 05, 2019 · 2 mins read
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Sustainability certification brand inventory

Something a little different this week. I’m working with some colleagues on a project related to environmental sustainability and I thought it would be neat to share some data I collected on sustainability certifications. I’ll go into a bit of detail about what a certification is and why they’re important below, but you can obtain the data on github.

There’s a readme in the github, but I’ll give a bit of detail here. The data contain all the certified brand of four major sustainability certifications (based on the certification websites). They’re in JSON format, keyed by the URL with the category name and list of brands. The certifications are:

What is a certification?

It’s always good to start with a definition. This article in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources uses the term “Voluntary Sustainability Standards” and defines them as:

“….a form of entrepreneurial authority, whereby a private actor must persuade other (private and public) actors to recognize its authority to develop its own rules, standards, or practices, and therefore the legitimacy of these rules. These standards include a broad and diverse portfolio of instruments, ranging from NGO-led certification to company codes of conduct and geographic indications that identify products originating in a certain region.”

Basically, it’s rules that companies adopt that govern production. The rules are designed to decrease the toll the production takes on the environment and the people involved. An example includes Fair Trade Certified, in which companies agree to greater worker involvement in company decisions and to invest a portion of profits in the workers’ communities. In order to obtain the certification, the company must adhere to these “rules”.

Where did these certifications come from?

My favorite part: History. There’s not a single answer to this, but in the 1980s there was increasing attention to the impact human consumption was having on the environment and the people involved in production. One of the original sets of standards (or rules) came from the Global Reporting Initiative in the 90s. These standards required companies to disclose their impact on the climate and other social/economic issues. The GRI and other organizations developed powerful allies to begin putting serious pressure on companies to report and consider the impact of their production.

But probably one of the most intense sources of pressure for companies to sign on to these standards has been from consumers. The terms “organic” and “green” came on the scene in the late 90s and early 2000s and the market for sustainable products has been growing at a steady 7-12% for years now.

The combination of consumer demand and organization pressure has led to the proliferation of certifications, with more than 400 certifications in 199 countries across 25 industries. These certifications cover large percentages of the production of coffee, chocolate and palm oil (

So that gives you some idea of what these certifications are. Hopefully the data I’m making available here is useful. As always, let me know if you have questions!

Written by Ben Follow
I am the type of person who appreciates the telling of a great story. As a data scientist, I am interested in using AI to understand, explore and communicate across borders and boundaries. My focus is on Natural Language Processing and the amazing ways it can help us understand each other and our world. The material on this blog is meant to share my experiences and understandings of complex technologies in a simple way, focused on application.