Although the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) was established with the intent to stimulate sustainable development through technology transfer and investment, it does not have a well-defined sustainability analysis framework. It usually documents compliance with sustainability guidelines and requirements defined by local host country governments. The most widely used sustainable development assessment practice focuses on highlighting the benefits of a project in terms of its impact on four variables: social well-being; economic well-being; environmental well-being; and technological well-being.

Project developers that want to take a more rigorous approach to the certification sustainable development co-benefits can use the following standards:

Gold Standard

The Gold Standard (GS) provides a sustainable development co-benefit certification for Certified Emission Reductions (CERs), as well as methodologies for sustainably developed Voluntary Emissions Reductions (VERs). GS uses the definition of sustainable development set out by the World Commission on Environment and Development. It also includes provisions and checks to ensure that projects meet the safeguarding principles of the United Nations Development Programme, the Millemium Development Goals (MDGs) and other relevant host-country guidelines. There is also a rigorous sustainable benefit assessment that includes a ‘do no harm’ assessment, which involves an assessment of the potential, or possibility, that a project might breach safeguarding principles, and calls for the documentation of mitigation measures for risks identified. Owing to the provisions and checks to ensure delivery of real and sustainable credits, GS certified credits (VER/CER) can often sell for a premium over CERs that are not GS certified.

Every Gold Standard project must demonstrate that it:

  • Respects internationally proclaimed human rights including dignity, cultural property and uniqueness of indigenous people; and is not complicit in Human Right Abuses
  • Does not involve and is not complicit in involuntary resettlement
  • Does not involve and is not complicit in the alteration, damage or removal of any critical cultural heritage
  • Respects employees freedom of association and their right to collective bargaining and is not complicit in restrictions of these freedoms and rights
  • Does not involve and is not complicit in any form of forced or compulsory labour
  • Does not employ and is not complicit in any form of child labour
  • Does not involve and is not in complicit in any form of discrimination based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or any other basis
  • Provides workers with a safe and healthy work environment and is not complicit in exposing workers to unsafe or unhealthy work environments
  • Takes a precautionary approach in regard to environmental challenges and is not complicit in practices contrary to the precautionary principle. This principle can be defined as “when the activity raises harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically
  • Does not involve or complicit in significant conversion or degradation of critical natural habitats including those that are (a) legally protected, (b) officially proposed for protection, (c) identified by authoritative sources for their high conservation value or (d) recognised as protected by traditional local communities
  • Does not involve and is not in complicit in corruption

Gold Standard Sustainable Development Matrix

The matrix provides several sustainability indicators (listed below) that can be used to assess each project. The objective of the assessment is to determine whether the project’s impact on each indicator is positive or negative. Mitigation measures must be documented for all negative impacts. The matrix also aids in the identification of relevant parameters to be monitored for each of the indicators:

  • Air quality
  • Water quality and quantity
  • Soil condition
  • Other pollutants
  • Biodiversity
  • Quality of employment
  • Livelihood of the poor
  • Access to affordable and clean energy services
  • Human and institutional capacity
  • Quantitative employment and income generation
  • Balance of payments and investment
  • Technology transfer and technological self-reliance

For more information, see Gold Standard Toolkit.


The SOCIALCARBON Standard is an add-on certification that is focused on bringing demonstrable social, environmental and economic benefits to stakeholders in carbon offset projects. The possible co-benefits are demonstrated by monitoring and reporting through the following six key indicators:

  • Biodiversity Resource – This indicator captures the biological diversity of the project location in order to understand the effects of the ways in which people use and interact with biodiversity. The assessment includes: degree of conservation, pressures and threats imposed on native species, and existence of high-priority areas for conservation.
  • Natural Resource – This indicator captures the effect on stocks of natural resources (soil, water, air and living biota) and environmental services (soil protection, maintenance of hydrological cycles, pollution sinks, pest control and pollination, among others).
  • Financial Resource – This indicator monitors the impact of the project on basic capital in the form of cash, credit, debt and other economic goods, which are either available or potentially available.
  • Human Resource – This indicator tracks the skills, knowledge, capacities for work and good health that people in the project area enjoy.
  • Social Resource – This indicator captures the impact of the project on working networks, social duties, social relations, relationships of trust, affiliations and associations.
  • Carbon Resource – This indicator reports the type of carbon project developed, encompassing methodologies utilized and project performance.


For more information, see SOCIALCARBON Standard.

Women’s Carbon Standard

The Women’s Carbon Standard (WCS) is an add-on certification that provides a framework to establish measureable improvements in social co-benefits; it is primarily aimed at women.

These benefits occur in addition to emissions reductions, and include support for women’s empowerment or participation. Projects under the WCS lead to meaningful economic and social benefits for women, their families and communities.

To be certified under the WCS, a project must provide an assessment of its benefits to women and attest that it will ‘do no harm’ with respect to the broad domains of income and assets, time, education, leadership, food security and health.  Specifically, WCS project must:

  • Increase income in households, ownership of assets and community funds that are under women’s control;
  • Improve well- being and increase productivity;
  • Increase knowledge and skills;
  • Increase decision-making roles for women;
  • Increase food security by decreasing undernutrition and malnutrition;
  • Improve health.

For more information, see Women’s Carbon Standard Program Guide.