Shaping Sustainable markets

April - ongoing

Shaping Sustainable Markets is a research initiative that explores how the formal and informal rules used to govern markets – called market governance mechanisms (MGMs) – are designed, and how they impact on people, the planet and the economy.

Picture of the Rainforest Alliance logo on a bunch of flowers.

Fairtrade and the Rainforest Alliance certifications are examples of market governance mechanisms (MGMs). Shaping Sustainable Markets sheds light on whether such mechanisms meet their aims, and any unforeseen impacts they might be having (Photo: copyright Abbi Buxton)

Examples of MGMs include fairtrade certification and payments for ecosystem services, but there are many others, including market-based instruments and innovative laws and policies. These mechanisms are not equally effective. Through research we identify which mechanisms are working well, and which are not, and we offer lessons on how their design and implementation might be improved.

What we do

While all market governance mechanisms — from carbon labelling to diamond certification — aim to improve the contribution of markets to sustainable development,  they can have unintended consequences.

Carbon labelling, for example, because of the way in which its measurement system is designed, can inadvertently discriminate against small producers in developing countries – and thereby exacerbate poverty. We shed light on whether these mechanisms meet their aims and any unforeseen impacts they might have. We:

  • analyse a wide range of mechanisms to explore their impact on sustainable development
  • assess both the individual and combined impact of these mechanisms, and
  • generate ideas of innovative mechanisms that have yet to be tested in the real world – providing new ideas for 'shaping' markets.

Our ultimate objective is to improve how market governance mechanisms are designed.

Over time we hope to build a set of principles to guide policymakers in designing and implementing effective mechanisms.

Whether you are a business professional, policymaker or researcher, our results will help you in your work. 

How we do it

We analyse existing literature and carry out primary research to assess the impacts of a range of mechanisms on sustainable development. What impact do these mechanisms have on society, the environment and the economy? Do they help to alleviate poverty and maintain or enhance the environment?

We also question how these mechanisms are designed and implemented. Are they effective, efficient and equitable? And how does their design and implementation shape their impact on sustainable development? This will involve qualitative analysis using a set of questions we have developed ourselves.

We build on existing research to avoid replicating work, and aim to fill knowledge gaps where possible.

We’ve already carried out research into ISO 26000, collective trademarks, mechanisms that can be used to address the climate change impacts of agriculture, payments for ecosystem services and investment principles. Our latest research – carried out in partnership with Oxfam – explores the policies that can be used to tip agricultural investments and markets in favour of small-scale farmers.


Meaningful community engagement in the extractive industries: Stakeholder perspectives and research priorities, Emma Wilson, Sarah Best, Emma Blackmore, Saule Ospanova (2016), Issue paper

Balancing carrots and sticks: incentives for sustainable hilsa fishery management in Bangladesh, Nadia Dewhurst-​Richman, Essam Yassin Mohammed, Md Liaquat Ali, Kaisir Hassan, Md Abdul Wahab, Zoarder Faruque Ahmed, Md Monirul Islam, Annabelle Bladon, GC Haldar, Chowdhury Saleh Ahmed, Mihir Kanti Majumder, Md Mokammel Hossain, Atiq Rahman, Belayet Hussein (2016), Issue paper

The Kenya National Domestic Biogas Programme: can carbon financing promote sustainable agriculture? Ina Porras, Bill Vorley, Alexandra Amrein (2015), Issue paper

What's the catch? Lessons from and prospects for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in developing countries, Emma Blackmore, Hannah Norbury, Essam Yassin Mohammed, Stella Bartolini Cavicchi, Robert Wakeford (2015) Issue paper

Legitimising informal markets: a case study of the dairy sector in Kenya, Emma Blackmore, Silvia Alonso, Delia Grace (2015), Case study

The Indonesia Domestic Biogas Programme: can carbon financing promote sustainable agriculture? Bill Vorley, Ina Porras, Alexandra Amrein (2015), Issue paper

Reforestation, carbon sequestration and agriculture: can carbon financing promote sustainable smallholder activities in Nicaragua? Ina Porras, Alexandra Amrein, Bill Vorley (2015), Issue paper

Reforestation, coffee and carbon in Sierra Piura, Peru: can carbon financing promote sustainable agriculture? (2015) Alexandra Amrein, Ina Porras, Bill Vorley (2015), Issue paper

Inclusive governance of informal markets: the street vendors of Surakarta, Ronnie S Natawidjaja, Endang Siti Rahayu, Joko Sutrisno (2015), IIED Briefing

Solutions for less poverty and better ecosystems, Ina Porras (2015) Project material

Localising transparency: Exploring EITI’s contribution to sustainable development, Emma Wilson, James Van Alstine (2014) Issue paper

Innovations for equity and inclusion in smallholder payments for ecosystem services, Ina Porras, Emma Blackmore (2014) Issue paper

Shaping Sustainable Markets flyer, Emma Blackmore (2013), Project flyer

Learning from 20 years of Payments for Ecosystem Services in Costa Rica, Ina Porras, David N Barton, Miriam Miranda, Adriana Chacón-Cascante (2013), Issue paper

Dispute or Dialogue? Community perspectives on company-led grievance mechanisms, Emma Wilson, Emma Blackmore (2013) Issue paper

FPIC and the extractive industries: a guide to applying the spirit of free, prior and informed consent in industrial projects, Abbi Buxton, Emma Wilson (2013), Issue paper

Sustainability standards in China-Latin America trade and investment: A discussion, Emma Blackmore, Danning Li, Sara Casallas (2013), Issue paper

Intellectual property tools for products based on biocultural heritage, Graham Dutfield (2011), Issue paper

Investing for sustainable development? A review of investment principles, trends and impacts, (2011) Issue paper