forest at sunrise

Avoiding deforestation through eco-certification and corporate zero-deforestation commitments


Demand for agricultural commodities is the leading driver of tropical deforestation. Many corporations have pledged to eliminate forest loss from their supply chains by purchasing only certified “sustainable” products. Eco-certifications are a conservation strategy used across a variety of natural resources, in which an independent agency tests or verifies that a certain more sustainable practice has been followed in the production of a given good or service. However, the degree to which these eco-certifications and corporate commitments are effectively reducing deforestation remains unclear.

We conducted a series of studies on eco-certifications and corporate zero-deforestation commitments in different contexts around the world to determine how these strategies are impacting deforestation.


We leveraged econometric methods and satellite data to estimate the effect of the Amazon Soy Moratorium - an agreement by grain traders not to purchase soy grown on recently deforested land - on deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil certification system on deforestation in Indonesian Borneo.

Key findings

In Brazil, we found that the Amazon Soy Moratorium reduced deforestation in soy-suitable locations in the Amazon by 0.66 ± 0.32 percentage points relative to a counterfactual control, preventing 18,000 ± 9,000 km2 of deforestation over its first decade (2006–2016). In Indonesia, we found that the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil certification significantly reduced deforestation, but not fire or peatland clearance among participating plantations, and while it reduced deforestation within Indonesia's forest estate, it increased deforestation in areas zoned for agricultural use. In both scenarios, we determined that complementary public policies and broader adoption of certifications is necessary to yield a significant reduction in deforestation.


This research was completed in collaboration with Dr. Lisa L. Rausch, Dr. Jacob Munger, and Dr. Holly K. Gibbs from the University of Wisconsin Madison and Dr. Kimberly M. Carlson at the University of Hawai’i Honolulu.