How to navigate the field of ecolabels to improve your ethical and sustainable purchasing practices

With close to 400 ecolabels available in the marketplace, selecting the ones that fit your sustainable purchasing program (or simply a weekend trip to the grocery store) can often seem confusing, frustrating or even risky. And since ecolabels aren’t created equal when it comes to environmental claims and third party verification, corporate purchasers and consumers often fall victim to “analysis paralysis”; potentially giving up altogether on their intentions to buy green due to their confusion and uncertainty of real benefit.

In Reeve Consulting’s first “how to” post, we’ll be examining how this sometimes confusing world of ecolabels can be broken down into smaller, more ‘bite-sized’ pieces to help you make your procurements green and at the same time feel confident you understand the environmental benefits you’re receiving. We’ll also provide links to a number of useful resources to further assist with your environmental and sustainable purchasing.

A quick introduction to ecolabels

Ecolabels provide information about the environmental and social impacts associated with the production or use of a product or service. They’re a helpful tool for individual consumers, but also for corporate purchasing staff as they reduce the onus of creating environmental or sustainability product specifications. They can also offer credible third-party verification of environmental claims.

Types of ecolabels

While the bad news is that there are hundreds of ecolabels to choose from, the good news is that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed a system whereby the universe of ecolables can be broken down into three more manageable categories. These are:

  • Type I Ecolabels: ISO 14024 – Ecolabels in this category are based on environmental criteria selected by an independent third party entity. Criteria are typically developed for a specific product type (for example, personal computers or monitors). Products must be certified to these criteria through a third party entity to be allowed to display the ecolabel.
  • Type II Ecolabels: ISO 14021 – Type II Ecolabels include any kind of sustainable declaration made by manufacturers, importers, distributors or anyone else who is likely to benefit from the product’s environmental claims. Also referred to as “self-declarations”, ecolabels in this category are usually not independently verified by a third party entity. They should however meet ‘truth-in-advertising’ or other product claim standards.
  • Type III Ecolabels: ISO 14025 –These ecolabels include comprehensive data lists that give environmental and social information on a product throughout its life-cycle (similar to nutrition labels on food).  Type III independent bodies set the categories of information and verify the data given, but no specific criteria have to be satisfied in order to qualify for certification. This category of ecolabels is also referred to as “Environmental Product Declarations” (EPD).

While all three types of ecolabels provide relevant information and are worth considering, Type I ecolabels are most widely available, easy to identify and certified by a third party entity. Type II ecolabels are viewed as less credible since they’re not independently verified and aren’t required to meet specific standards. For example, popular terms like “natural” found on product labels are wide open to interpretation. Type III labels on the other hand often involve thorough lifecycle assessment of product materials and third-party verification. The challenge with Type III ecolabels is that they’re not widely available in North America.

Segmentation by product category, industry and geography

Beyond these categories, ecolabels can be further segmented by product category, industry and geography. Put another way, when purchasing a given product one doesn’t actually choose from 400 ecolabels, but a smaller subset that applies to the product in question.

Ecolabelindex.com

A useful tool for determining the ecoloable type and category as outlined above is ecoloabelindex.com, an online database that offers the largest global directory of ecolabels. The site offers a free search tool that anyone can use to look up a specific ecolabel and find out the range of product it covers, verification process (e.g. third party verified) and region where it’s available.

Recently ecolabelindex.com started offering an additional paid subscription service that provides users with access to over 60 data points on each ecolabel, including life cycle coverage, standard development, conformity assessment and more. Pro users also have access to improved search functionality including the ability to filter ecolabels by sector, region and audience, compare ecoloabel attributes side-by-side and integrate the Index data with one’s own tools and platforms through the Ecolabel Index API. Subscription tiers are available for small and large teams, all include a free 7-day trial run. We suggest you check out the full details on the Eco Label Index website.

Read more

Who set the standards for ecolabels? Reeve Consulting Blog

Are there too many ecolabels? Reeve Consulting Blog

Sustainable purchasing and ecolabels Product with Purpose Fairware Blog

The Sins of Greenwashing: home and family edition 2010 TerraChoice & Underwriters Laboratories (UL)

Beyond the sexy consequences part 2: giving chocolate for Valentines Day

This post builds on our Valentines Day post from last year: Beyond the Sexy Consequences of Giving Flowers for Valentine’s Day.

Flickr / Stewart

It’s Valentines Day. Before you present that fancy-looking box of chocolates to your love, ensure there’s a fair trade logo on the package. With chocolate supply chain concerns becoming more mainstream, it’s likely your special someone has read an article, scanned a blog post, watched a news story or catchy You Tube video outlining the ethical and ecological concerns in this industry.

Take for example an article running in this weekend’s Globe and Mail that covers the status of cocoa production in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, the world’s two largest producers of cocoa. According to the article, both countries are on a path to “ecological implosion”. Forests are being cut down to make room for more crop land, existing tree stocks are aging, soil is depleting, temperatures are rising and rainfall has become erratic. Add to this concerns of child labour and you have one very un-sustainable and un-ethical product.

Fair Trade Cocoa

Flickr / jetalone

One way to remove the exploitive elements of chocolate from your gift is to buy official fair trade certified products. Doing so provides you with the assurance the cocoa production was independently monitored to ensure farmers received a reliable and living wage for their work. Fair trade also encourages sustainable farming.

Cocoa lends itself well to fair trade. It’s one of the few global commodities grown predominantly by small holders on plots of three acres or less. By meeting fair trade standards, small producers receive a higher price for their crops. Through additionally organizing into co-operatives, they can benefit from social premiums associated with fair trade projects to invest back into their communities for schools, roads and other initiatives.

Innovative Fair Trade Resources

To help you make the right decision this year, we’ve collected together a number of innovative fair trade chocolate resources.

  • The Good Guide, a product rating database for health, environment and social impacts, recently announced a partnership with Fair Trade USA around their  new chocolate rating category. Available through a smart phone app, the Good Guide can be referenced from the store aisle. Check the rating on that box of chocolate before you purchase it.
  • If you’re looking to step outside the box this Valentine’s Day, take a look at this green gift guide from Treehugger.com. Set-up as a slideshow, the

    Flickr / ndrfww

    guide highlights gifts that are “useful, thoughtful and – best of all – sustainable”. View the gift guide HERE.

  • We were impressed with this fantastic infographic from Ethical Ocean which outlines the status of fair trade chocolate and its benefit to world producers. View the infographic HERE.

Play Fair 2012: Advocating for workers’ rights in London 2012 and Olympic supply chains

Flickr / Michael Francis McCarthy

Millions of people are employed in the global supply chains that produce souvenir Olympic apparel and athlete uniforms. Through the Play Fair 2012 campaign, a consortium of unions, advocacy groups and non-profit organizations have come together to advocate for the rights of these worker’s.

Building on the original PlayFair 2008, the 2012 campaign is asking organizers of the London 2012 Olympics and global sportswear brands to ensure internationally recognized labour standards are upheld in the production of all materials with the Olympic logo. These include the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Core Conventions and the Ethical Trading Initiative’s Base Code – standards encompassed by the ILO’s concept of Decent Work.

Progress to date: London 2012 and the International Organizing Committee

In addition to outlining a full Sustainable Sourcing Code and Diversity and Inclusion Business Charter, the London organizers have included the labour standards in the Ethical Trading Initiative base code in their contracts with suppliers. Play Fair 2012 is asking the commitment to ethical sourcing go further, by including stronger labour standards, transparency in factory auditing and a clear course of action for workers reporting abuses.

More than pressuring London 2012 organizers, the Play Fair campaign is asking the International Organizing Committee to promote workers rights in all future Olympic events. The IOC is being asked to include respect for workers’ rights in the Olympic Charter and Code of Ethics as well as in all contracts with companies supplying the games.

playfair2012.org

The PlayFair 2012 website features resources, news stories, event listings as well as a number of informative videos (including a particularly entertaining spoof on setting the world record for hat wearing). Site visitors can participate in the campaign by sending an electronic message to major brands of the Olympics, asking them to raise the bar on workers’ rights. UK-based supporters can also participate in Workers’ Rights Days, a series of free workshops, panels and interactive sessions focused on educating people on workers’ rights in apparel factories around the world.

Pressure is mounting on London and future organizing committees (e.g. Socchi, Rio de Janeiro) to continue the responsible sourcing work started in Vancouver. This is a large topic and complex field.  Reeve Consulting will be actively monitoring developments in ethical and sustainable purchasing for Olympic Games and updating our readers as London 2012 approaches.

Cotton Supply Chain: organic & fair trade sustainability in the global market

2010 was a record-breaking year for cotton prices in global markets. In this post, Reeve Consulting presents an overview of recent market activity, considers the implications for working and environmental conditions in the supply chain and takes a look at how organic and fair-trade cotton sectors are fairing. We finish with a few suggestions for corporate and governmental purchasers looking to reduce brand risk and improve ethical and sustainable purchasing practices when it comes to cotton goods.


Flickr / kimberlykv

Cotton is the largest non-food crop in the world with over 24.3 million tonnes consumed worldwide annually. Did you know it’s also the largest employer? From farm workers to retail employees, an estimated 1 billion people are involved in the growing, processing and selling stages.

Given the ubiquity of cotton, it’s significant that 2010 was an unprecedented year for the commodity in global markets. The price doubled in a year and broke the $1 (U.S.) per pound level for the first time in 15 years.

Globe and Mail / Bloomberg

Rising prices affects the entire supply chain

A number of factors have been attributed to the sudden price increase, a main one being poor weather conditions in top growing regions, including floods in Pakistan, a severe cold snap in China, crop-killing hailstorms in Texas and, more recently, flooding in Australia. Speculation has played a significant role, as well as export restrictions put in place by India (the second-largest cotton producer) to protect domestic supplies and prices.

Consequently, the clothing sector is feeling the squeeze of both increasing input costs and a weak consumer environment. According to media reports, the prices of jeans, t-shirts and other cotton apparel will likely increase 2 – 15% in 2011.

Clean Clothes Campaign

To avoid passing a price hike to consumers, clothing companies may reduce costs by mixing in less expensive, synthetic fibers or by decreasing pack sizes on smaller bulk products like socks. Of greater concern is that companies will move production to lower wage countries with lower duty tariffs and weaker environmental restrictions. As examples, consider how garment workers demanding a fair minimum wage are currently being treated in Cambodia and Bangladesh. Anticipating such tactics, the Ethical Trade Initiative released a statement in late-September urging retail buyers to factor in the cost of a living wage for workers in their price negotiations with garment suppliers.

Organic cotton prices are linked to conventional cotton prices

A recent edition of Engage, an e-newsletter published by the Organic Exchange, takes a close look at the organic cotton industry. The opening article suggests the extraordinary times experienced by conventional cotton have on the one hand created a beneficial seller’s market. At the same time these conditions have had a potentially damaging impact on the sector by leveling the price of organic and conventional cotton. As the Organic Exchange (OE) puts it:

“Farmers are seeing their carefully tended organic harvest end up in conventional supply chains. Organic cotton procurers are struggling to meet their usual premium commitments (which don’t make sense anymore) and on top of this the lag time for organic buyers to respond to the market is adding a further complication.”

The article concludes that if organic cotton is to be secure in a stable, appropriate value chain it needs protection from the dramatically changing commodity price. This could come in the form of working partnerships that deliver benefit to farmers as well as buyers.

This concept is further covered in a recent article in the World of Organic Agriculture – Statistics and Emerging Trends 2010 journal:

“The sector must address the protection of the farm and fiber business model to ensure farmers and those who work with them receive sufficient returns to maintain investment in farmer development and productivity.”

Protection from the commodity market rollercoaster

A number of programs have attempted to protect cotton from market conditions. Perhaps the best known is the fair trade movement.  We’ve written a number of posts on the Reeve Consulting blog about the new garment certification program unveiled in 2010 by Fair Trade USA. For the first time the full supply chain of a product, not just the agricultural inputs, can receive fair trade certification ensuring workers are paid a fair, living wage for their goods and services. While only a handful of brands have completed the certification process, recent reports indicate more companies are working with Fair Trade USA to acquire certification.

Flickr / kimberlykv

Another example can be found in the recent commitment by Anvil Knitwear to double the production of organic cotton in the U.S. Through the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, Anvil will pay a premium for organic cotton as well as purchase any cotton making a transition to organic at a price close to the premium. The hope is that having a guaranteed buyer will encourage conventional cotton farmers to switch to organic production.

Social Alterations, an online education lab for socially responsible fashion design, has also focused on this issue and recently shared a post outlining approaches undertaken by two other global commodities – coffee and cocoa – that have similarly attempted to address the volatility of global commodity prices.

Purchasing cotton responsibly: ethical and sustainable purchasing considerations

When it comes buying cotton goods, purchasing departments can reduce risk and improve supply chain practices by considering the following:

  • Making a formal commitment to specify and support sustainable forms of cotton in purchasing decisions (e.g. organic, fair trade, ethically sourced)
  • Considering the origins of cotton goods including. More specifically, the working and environmental conditions under which they were made
  • Investing in long-term relationships with suppliers and focusing on continued improvement

To learn more about how our clients and organizations are benefitting from these and other sustainable supply chain practices contact us.

Reeve Consulting published in Canadian Property Management Magazine

Reeve Consulting recently published an article in Canadian Property Management Magazine titled “Spending Sustainably: Municipalities Leverage Purchasing Power for Broader Goals”. The article provides a brief introduction to ethical and sustainable purchasing and takes a closer look at the Municipal Collaboration for Sustainable Purchasing (MCSP) facilitated by Reeve Consulting. The impressive achievements of Shannon Clohosey, Sustainability Projects Manager, and her team at the City of Whitehorse are a focus throughout the piece. Read the full article HERE.

Fair Trade Certified Apparel Now Available

Flickr / Shared Interest

In early-May Reeve Consulting reported that Fair Trade Certified jeans and t-shirts would be available in the United States this fall. After more than 3-years in the works, Trans Fair USA’s apparel pilot program has certified it’s first cotton garments.

Previously only the agricultural inputs of products, such as cotton, could be Fair Trade Certified in the United States. This new certification for Apparel and Linens is the first social, economic and environmental standard that directly benefits workers at both ends of the supply chain – the farmers who grow the cotton and the workers who sew the garments.

The new standard has two parts:

Obligations of Factories, which includes Fair Trade management systems, core labor standards from ILO Conventions and multi-stakeholder initiatives; and,

Obligations of Buyers, which explains the requirements for US companies interested in using the Fair Trade Certified label on cotton products.

Fair Trade garments for uniforms & corporate team apparel

Flickr / Wonder Mike

While there are many companies still undergoing the certification process, a number of early adopters, Maggie’s Organics, Hae Now and Tompkins Point Apparel, are currently selling Fair Trade Certified apparel (mainly shirts) through their online stores. All companies offer styles that would be suitable additions to uniforms and corporate team apparel, ship to Canada, and offer wholesale discounts for larger orders. We at Reeve Consulting look forward to seeing a broader style selection of Fair Trade apparel emerging over the coming months.

Reeve Consulting Invited to Work with Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee

On the heels of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic’s BuySmart Program’s success, Reeve Consulting has been approached by the Organizing Committee for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi to help design and build an environmental procurement and sustainable sourcing program.

Flickr / roland

A sustainable purchasing program will enable organizers of the 2014 Winter Games to leverage procurement to meet sustainability objectives including zero waste, carbon neutrality and sustainable economic development of the surrounding Krasnodar district. These targets have been outlined in both an environmental strategy adopted by the advisory committee in 2009 and subsequent environmental procurement policy drafted by Reeve Consulting and adopted by the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee in June of 2010.

Flickr / maiak.info

Reeve Consulting will be working with executives and senior managers from the Environmental Support and Sustainability departments of the Organizing Committee to build tools, develop procedures and identify high profile purchasing opportunities to support implementation of their sourcing policies.

Tim Reeve will be traveling to Moscow to meet with members of the Organizing Committee in late-November and again in February of 2011. Check back for updates from the field! You can also follow Tim’s trip on Twitter @ReeveConsulting.

Cadbury Dairy Milk Goes Fair Trade in Canada

Flickr /xelcise

If you pick-up a Cadbury Dairy Milk bar in Canada these days you may notice some changes to the packaging. Since this summer, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk line has been fair trade certified. The wrappers now include an internationally recognized symbol that assures the sugar and cocoa have been purchased from producers paid a fair wage for their crop. Cadbury’s first fair trade bars were released in the UK and Ireland in 2009 and more recently in Canada, Australia and New Zealand in 2010. According to the Cadbury website, going fair trade will quadruple the sales of fair trade cocoa from Ghana and affect over 40,000 cocoa farmers.

The fair trade marketing campaign:

To accompany the release of its fair trade line, Cadbury has unveiled a marketing campaign that invites people to “see the big fair trade picture”. The campaign features print, billboard and online advertising as well as a redesigned website dedicated to the brand (dairymilk.ca). At the centre of the campaign is a series of murals in Toronto and Montreal designed by a Ghanian artist, each of which focuses on a particular benefit of fair trade. The murals fit together like puzzle pieces to present the “big picture”.  Themes of the murals include “Improving Local Infrastructure”, “Providing Access to Clean Water”, “Improving Local Health Care” and more. Out-of-home advertising also featured a summer street campaign that invited passersby to sign a petition supporting fair trade in Canada.

Is big business good for fair trade?

This move has brought plenty of attention to Cadbury and has some questioning if big business’ increasing interest in fair trade is good for the sector. On the one hand, more corporations moving some of their buying to fair trade could have a large positive impact worldwide. Further, the greater availability of fair trade certified products could raise awareness among consumers. There’s also the hope that other corporations will note their competitors shift and joins suit, for example Hershey’s or Nestle.

But is it enough for Cadbury to convert one of its lines to fair trade designation? If they’re committed to the tenets of the movement, shouldn’t they be buying fair trade inputs for all their products? It’s a good question. A skeptical view of Cadbury’s fair trade Dairy Milk may lead one to conclude its primarily a marketing stunt; an attempt to improve Cadbury’s public image without a full commitment to sustainability.

It’s a start:

At Reeve Consulting we’re not quick to jump to this conclusion. We support incremental change and from experience realize that broader change takes time.  Companies face many challenges in converting their supply chains and in most cases need to start small. An important element for us is that companies acknowledge there are problems beyond those they’re starting with, and that moving forward there’s a plan for these issues to be addressed.

We’re hoping to discuss this further with Cadbury’s Ethical Sourcing Manager this week when we attend the Sustainable Supply Chain Solutions conference in San Francisco. Watch this space for a follow-up post on what we find out. We’ll also be tweeting from the conference at @ReeveConsulting.

City of Vancouver Commits to Fair Trade Java; the Greenest City just got a little bit Greener

Flickr / 96dpi

The City of Vancouver is keeping pace with several other Canadian municipalities by applying to become a “Fair Trade Town.” This commits the City to purchasing Fair Trade coffee, tea and sugar, as well as other Fair Trade products for meetings, offices and cafeterias. Eight Canadian towns have already received certification and at least eleven other Canadian municipalities are working towards becoming “Fair Trade Towns,” including Montreal, St. John’s, and Quebec City.

Transfair Canada – Canada’s third-party certifier of Fair Trade products – provides the official “Fair Trade Town” status, which is slated to happen for Vancouver this week, just in time for World Fair Trade Day (Saturday, May 8th). Vancouver will be Canada’s largest municipality to have achieved this designation.

Fair Trade guarantees that business supply chains function according to standards of fairness, transparency and accountability – setting the proverbial ‘level playing field’ – especially for those at the producing end of the supply chain. Vancouver’s commitment to Fair Trade means the City will use its spending power to advance several social and environmental objectives, such as the ‘green economy’, ‘fair labour practices’ and ‘toxic free’ food production.

In a report presented to Vancouver City Council, ethical and sustainable purchasing has been identified as a key priority by Mayor Robertson’s Greenest City Action Team, and is seen as a strategic and cross-cutting lever for making Vancouver a leading edge sustainability organization.

We at Reeve Consulting believe these kinds of commitments are a very important piece in creating a green and fair economy; an economy from which everyone can derive benefit. We think more municipalities should commit to these policies. We also know that public declarations are just one step in a process of positive change. They are an important declaration. But as many will attest, maximum strategic impacts come when innovative policy meets with outstanding implementation.

Environmental Purchasing “Torch” passes to Sochi 2014

Flickr / thelastminute

The Organizing Committee for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games seems poised to continue the strong legacy of ethical and environmental purchasing within the Olympic community. Organizers for the Sochi Games are currently working with a team of strategic advisors to design an environmental procurement program that will result in a 2014 Winter Games with less waste and lower GHG emissions. Sochi has been particularly interested in the Vancouver 2010 Buy Smart program, an ethical and sustainable purchasing program that Reeve helped design and implement, which was recognized as setting a new bar for Olympic purchasing programs.

Reeve has partnered with Shaneco, a Russian environmental consulting firm, to create an Environmental Procurement Policy (EPP) for Sochi 2014. The draft EPP has been designed to foster procurement practice that is in harmony with nature, is climate neutral, minimizes waste, and enlightens the suppliers of the Sochi region as well as the broader community. Dmitriy Kolosov, head of Environmental Programming for the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee, stressed that it is imperative to use the high profile of the Winter Games to “enlighten” the Russian supplier community in order to have a lasting, positive impact on the natural environment of the Sochi region.

So far it has really been the Organizing Committee’s, such as Vancouver 2010 and London 2012, who have really led the way within the Olympic community at increasing the uptake of ethical and environmental procurement. It is interesting to note a comment made by Derek Wyatt, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Group. At the Sports, Legacy and Sustainability Dialogue, held during the Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Wyatt talked candidly about the need for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to offer greater commitment to ensuring an environmental sustainability legacy in Host Cities. In his opinion, OCOGs and Host Cities carry the environmental sustainability agenda with little support from the IOC.

The new Candidature Procedures, the procedures for bidding to host the 2016 Games, now ask bid cities to demonstrate the steps they will take, in regards to sourcing licensed products, to ensure that social and environmental factors are taken into account in making selection decisions. This is the first time this question has been asked of bid cities, but this direction is limited to licensed merchandise (products that carry the Olympic logo) and does not extend to sourcing sustainable items for operational purposes. Reeve hopes that as Organizing Committees continue to push this agenda forward that the IOC will consider ways in which it can offer more specific direction to sourcing sustainable products and services for all functions of the Olympic Games.

Please share your stories about other organizations that are also pushing the ethical and/or environmental purchasing movement ahead in the comment section of our blog.