Becoming certified, becoming sustainable? Improvements from aquaculture certification schemes as experienced by those certified

Studio Apertura

​While the effectiveness of sustainability certification has been studied through many different approaches, an understudied dimension is the behavioral changes made within the companies that become certified. Following neo-institutional and organizational learning theory, the potential of certification as a means of improvement is premised on companies actually internalizing new principles. Based on interviews and fieldwork conducted within the aquaculture industry, we explore if, and how, the responsible practices advocated by certification schemes are incorporated in the day-to-day activities of the companies. Our findings speak to the difficulties of applying standardized measures to regulate a global and complex industry, at times creating a need for compromises and adaptation of the certification principles.

An important contribution of this paper is the identification of key facilitators for behavioral change, as the current limited understanding of the behavioral dimension of certification effectiveness gives little guidance on how to realize the full potential of sustainability standards. Based on this, we argue that certification schemes oriented towards continuous improvement and flexibility are better suited for promoting behavioral change.