The study analyses the extent to which this proposed indicator would be an effective metric of environmental impact overseas. It then assesses the feasibility of quantifying the proportion of certified commodities consumed in the UK.

The study determines that there are many uncertainties surrounding:

  • The varying extent to which certification is associated with real reductions in environmental impacts on the ground and the varying environmental impacts of non-certified produce.
  • The consistency and comparability of using different certification schemes within a single metric.
  • The extent to which the proposed indicator is meaningful when viewed in a wider context.

For example, alternative scenarios may lead to a lowering of overseas impacts in ways that would not affect the proportion of imports certified, such as a reduction in overall consumption or an increase in sustainable domestic consumption. Similarly, the limited market penetration of certification reduces the meaningfulness of its use to report on overall impacts of UK consumption.

The study explores a selection of commodities based on Defra’s policy interests (soy, palm oil, timber, beef and rubber) to investigate whether the general challenges and limitations of using certification as an indicator apply in specific cases.

Finally, the feasibility of quantifying the proportion of certified commodities consumed in the UK is assessed, given that there is little existing activity of this kind. A set of options covering a range of cost, complexity and accuracy are generated and demonstrated on a single commodity (soy). Data limitations greatly constrain possible approaches and mean any methods used will rely on a certain degree of assumptions and modelling. As data varies considerably across commodities and geographies, certain cases may be far more feasible to calculate than others.

The study concludes that the simpler approaches explored are associated with too high a degree of uncertainty for use in an indicator. While the more complex options have potential for future use, the data sources to implement them fully are not yet available. Overall, the use of certification as a universal indicator of the UK’s environmental impact overseas would currently be associated with an inappropriately high degree of uncertainty. However, the analyses do provide a good evidence base for improvement of certification processes.

A series of recommendations are made which, if addressed, could improve confidence in using certification in this manner and warrant further assessment in future of its potential for development into an indicator. It is important, however, to highlight that it remains of critical importance to the UK to understand the global impact of its consumption and that alternative methods (especially those using more direct measures of impact) might represent more comprehensive measures of the UK’s overseas footprint.