In the Scheme of Things: Sustainability as Seen Through the Lens of Salmon Aquaculture Sustainability Standards
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This thesis was written as part of the SustainFish project, which was funded by the Norwegian Research Council (project number 254841). It explores the consequences of employing a technical understanding of certification and seeing sustainability as a technical outcome, in order to increase knowledge on how the aquaculture industry is, and should be, regulated. Specifically, this study maps the content of eight of the major sustainability standards for salmon aquaculture in Norway, Chile, and Scotland, generating a database with over 1900 sustainability indicators. Furthermore, it investigates the experiences of salmon aquaculture producers and auditors, providing insight into the actual workings of sustainability certification. Through document analysis, interviews, and fieldwork, this thesis examines the impression of sustainability that is created through the choice of content in these standards, the implementation of the standards, the impact of them, and the reciprocal influence between the “phases” (the 3 I’s) of the certification process. The findings are presented in five scientific papers. The main contributions can be summarized as follows: • The Wheel of Sustainability (WOS), a reference model for sustainable salmon aquaculture. In addition to being an important methodological contribution, this model serves as 1) a valid lexicon for the many issues related to improving the industry, 2) a tool for comparison of different improvement initiatives, and 3) a collaboration tool for identifying and addressing tradeoffs and other topics for consideration. • In-depth understanding of how certification schemes concretize “sustainabitlity” through the indicators they choose to include (and exclude), and how the concept is further operationalized through the implementation of these indicators. This involves a comprehensive mapping of the indicators in some of the major sustainability standards (resulting in a database of over 1900 indicators), and investigation of how salmon aquaculture companies strive to comply with these indicators. • Increased knowledge about how standard indicators are received, perceived, and achieved differently across different companies and sites. This speaks to the challenges of governing at a distance, as there is often a great range between “standard” and “reality” - between global ideals and local realities. • Improved comprehension of what the behavioral dimension of certification effectiveness includes, through the development of specific content for the concept. The identified facilitators for behavioral change provide opportunities 1) for certification schemes to incorporate criteria that can better facilitate actual changes, 2) for salmon aquaculture companies to find ways in which to best achieve significant changes, and 3) for auditors to develop specific ways in which to assess companies on this dimension. • Insight into some of the key challenges and implications of governing through standardized indicators. These findings contribute to an acknowledgement of the inherent limitations of “governing at a distance” when employing a technical approach, as well as a proposal for a way forward. • Suggestions on how to better utilize the potential that sustainability certification has for improving the industry. This primarily involves refocusing efforts towards continuous improvement, flexibility, and facilitation of learning and knowledge building through interaction between the governing system and the objects to-begoverned. • Based on the findings of the study, this thesis advances a fundamental change in how certification and indicators as governmental technologies are understood and utilized. This involves moving towards a recognition of “sustainability” as a processual construction, with emphasis on relative rather than absolute improvement. Building on this, the primary theoretical contribution of this thesis is the advocacy for a shift from a technical to a social understanding of certification, which stresses the role of flexibility, negotiation, and reciprocal knowledge production in applying these tools. This shift entails treating certification as a continuous governance process, by both acknowledging and utilizing the reciprocal influence between the different “phases” (the 3 I’s ) of the certification process.
Has partsPaper A: Osmundsen, Tonje Cecilie; Amundsen, Vilde Steiro; Alexander, Karen A.; Asche, Frank; Bailey, Jennifer Leigh; Finstad, Bengt; Olsen, Marit Schei; Hernandez, Klaudia; Salgado, Hugo. The operationalisation of sustainability: Sustainable aquaculture production as defined by certification schemes. Global Environmental Change 2019 ;Volum 60. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2019.102025 This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/)
Paper B: Alexander, Karen A.; Amundsen, Vilde Steiro; Osmundsen, Tonje Cecilie. ‘Social stuff’ and all that jazz: Understanding the residual category of social sustainability. Environmental Science and Policy 2020 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2020.06.003
Paper C: Amundsen, Vilde Steiro; Osmundsen, Tonje Cecilie. Virtually the Reality: Negotiating the Distance between Standards and Local Realities When Certifying Sustainable Aquaculture. Sustainability 2019 ;Volum 11.(9) https://doi.org/10.3390/su11092603 This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 4.0)
Paper D: Amundsen, Vilde Steiro; Gauteplass, Asle; Bailey, Jennifer L.. Level up or game over: The implications of levels of impact in certification schemes for salmon aquaculture. Aquaculture Economics & Management 2019 ;Volum 23.(3) s. 237-253 https://doi.org/10.1080/13657305.2019.1632389 This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/)
Paper E: Amundsen, Vilde Steiro; Osmundsen, Tonje Cecilie. Becoming certified, becoming sustainable? Improvements from aquaculture certification schemes as experienced by those certified. Marine Policy 2020 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2020.104097 This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/)