Press releases

Voluntary Sustainability Standards: Growth continues

28 June 2017
ITC News

The latest market data on key Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) is presented in "The State of Sustainable Markets 2017" report. The 2017 edition was presented yesterday at the Global Sustainability Standards Conference at the World Trade Center in Zurich, Switzerland, where the key results were showcased.

(Frick/Geneva/Zurich, 28 June 2017) The new report "State of Sustainable Markets 2017: Statistics and Emerging Trends", covering 14 Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS), shows continued growth across all products and all standards.

The report presents data that helps small firms take advantage of trends to supply consumers with products that are environmentally sustainable and socially responsible.

Coffee: the largest certified area

The share of standard compliant area reached double digits in 2015 for the following products: more than 25% of land used for coffee production, 16% of land used for cocoa production, 15% of land used for oil palm production, and 14% of land used for tea production are now VSS compliant.

Cotton: largest growth in standard compliant area among certified commodities

The cotton standard compliant area nearly quadrupled between 2011 and 2015, while the banana compliant area almost tripled, and the tea compliant area more than doubled in the same timeframe. The soy and cotton compliant area both grew by close to 50% between 2014 and 2015.

Organic is the standard with the largest certified area

Organic is the largest sustainability standard in terms of area; it is the standard with the largest variety of commodities and is the only VSS operating across all nine sectors covered in this report. In 2015, more than 50.9 million hectares were certified organic, representing 1.1% of the global agricultural land. The single-commodity Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified almost 3.5 million hectares, making it the standard with the second-largest area, representing 0.07% of the global agricultural area. GLOBALG.A.P. had more than 3.1 million hectares.

Strongest area growth by standard noted for the Better Cotton Initiative

Most of the VSS experienced significant growth between 2011 and 2015.

  • Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) standard compliant area expanded almost ninefold between 2011 and 2015, to 2.2 million hectares. 
  • The area used to cultivate Round Table for Responsible Soy (RTRS) soy increased fivefold and is now at 0.7 million hectares.
  • The certified area of Cotton Made in Africa (CmiA) (almost 1 million hectares) and of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) tripled between 2011 and 2015. 
  • The 4C (1.6 million hectares) and UTZ (2.1 million hectares) also experienced a significant growth of their certified area in the same timeframe.

Report "State of Sustainable Markets 2017: Statistics and Emerging Trends"

The "State of Sustainable Markets 2017: Statistics and Emerging Trends" is the second joint report between the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), and the International Trade Centre (ITC). It offers a comprehensive snapshot of the market performance of global sustainability standards operating in eight products: bananas, cocoa, coffee, cotton, palm oil, soybeans, cane sugar, and tea. The report also covers forestry. This report and the global market survey on Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) is funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

This report covers the following standards: 4C, Better Cotton Initiative, Bonsucro, Cotton Made in Africa, Fairtrade International, Forest Stewardship Council, GLOBALG.A.P., IFOAM – Organics International, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes, ProTerra Foundation, Rainforest Alliance/Sustainable Agriculture Network, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the Round Table on Responsible Soy, and UTZ.

An interactive database featuring these standards and products will be launched in late September 2017 in Geneva at the Trade for Sustainable Development Forum, allowing policymakers, businesses, standards bodies and researchers access to customized, updated data on these markets.


Julia Lernoud, FiBL
Phone: +41 62 865 04 57, e-mail: julia.lernoud [at]
Helga Willer, FiBL
Phone: +41 62 865 72 07, e-mail: helga.willer [at]

Jason Pott, IISD
E-mail: potts.jason [at]
Vivek Voora, IISD
E-mail: vivek.voora [at]

Gregory Sampson, ITC
E-mail: sampson [at]