A 2-minute glimpse of my thesis and a very personal conclusion

A 2-minute glimpse of my thesis and a very personal conclusion

At the end of February, I defended my PhD thesis at the Toulouse School of Economics: Three Essays on the Economics of Voluntary Certification.

Why voluntary certification? As consumers, many of us want to avoid contributing to modern slavery, excessive carbon emissions, and biodiversity loss. Unfortunately, these issues are still not sufficiently regulated by our governments. When buying new stuff, we may look for claims of ethical or environmentally friendly production. But can we trust such claims? Certification by a third party according to a sustainability standard can make them more credible. Think of Fair Trade, the EU organic logo, or the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for wood products.

But does certification work? Previous studies have shown positive impacts in some contexts but also limitations. In my Ph.D., I investigated some limiting factors and the potential to improve the impact through stricter certification rules. I collected new data and used various empirical and theoretical methods, focusing on forest certification (FSC).

My studies have not yet been peer-reviewed by journal referees but can be found here. My most extensive paper predicts the effects of increased stringency, e.g. by excluding excessively lenient auditing firms from the market. That makes certified production more sustainable but also reduces the number of production sites that seek certification – as long as consumers do not become willing to pay sufficiently more for certification. For FSC, I predict that moderate increases in stringency would improve sustainability on the aggregate, i.e. across certified and uncertified forests, but that excessive changes can generate adverse effects.

My thesis provides methods to help scheme owners such as FSC predict those effects and achieve their full potential. It also shows that we still need to push for efficient mandatory regulation to make sufficient progress towards a sustainable future. Some recent developments, such as the EU Deforestation Regulation, make me hopeful (but the devil is in the details, and its effects must be assessed carefully).

As a consumer, I try to avoid unnecessary purchases and often buy secondhand. When buying new, I do not expect any certification to be perfect. Still, I look for and pay more for products with ethical or environmental labels with strong criteria, verified by accredited third parties. I encourage you to do the same. You can find helpful information at, or (for Germans)