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Sensing reality? New monitoring technologies for global sustainability standards

Citation

Gale, F and Ascui, F and Lovell, H, Sensing reality? New monitoring technologies for global sustainability standards, Global Environmental Politics, 17, (2) pp. 65-83. ISSN 1526-3800 (2017) [Refereed Article]


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Copyright Statement

2017 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

DOI: doi:10.1162/GLEP_a_00401

Abstract

In the 1990s, civil society organizations partnered with business to "green" global supply chains by setting up formal sustainability standard-setting organizations (SSOs) in sectors including organic food, fair trade, forestry, and fisheries. Although SSOs have withstood the long-standing allegations that they are unnecessary, costly, nondemocratic, and trade-distorting, they must now respond to a new challenge, arising from recent developments in technology. Conceived in the pre-Internet era, SSOs are discovering that verification systems that utilize annual, expert-led, low-tech field audits are under pressure from new information and communication technologies that collect, aggregate, interpret, and display open-source "Big Data" in almost real time. Drawing on the concept of governmentality and on interviews with experts in sustainability certification and natural capital accounting, we argue that while these technological developments offer many positive opportunities, they also enable competing alternatives to the prevailing "truth" or governing rationality about what is happening "on the ground," which is of critical existential importance to SSOs as guarantors of trust in claims about sustainable production. While SSOs are not helpless in the face of this challenge, we conclude that they will need to do more than take incremental action: rather, they should respond actively to the disintermediation challenge from new virtual monitoring technologies if they are to remain relevant in the coming decade.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:technology, governmentality, standards, sustainability, auditing
Research Division:Studies in Human Society
Research Group:Political Science
Research Field:Environmental Politics
Objective Division:Environment
Objective Group:Environmental and Natural Resource Evaluation
Objective Field:Sustainability Indicators
Author:Gale, F (Associate Professor Fred Gale)
Author:Ascui, F (Dr Francisco Ascui)
Author:Lovell, H (Associate Professor Heather Lovell)
ID Code:115964
Year Published:2017
Deposited By:Office of the School of Social Sciences
Deposited On:2017-04-21
Last Modified:2017-08-04
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