Sustainable Products

GoodGuide.com for Sustainable Purchasing Programs

Good Guide

Our clients regularly ask us where they can find a list of green products or sustainable suppliers. While there is no silver-bullet-one-stop shopping list for ethical and sustainable options, there are an increasing number of online tools to help buyers evaluate the environmental and social attributes of products.

While these tools are user-friendly and convenient (often accessible from mobile devices) they’re only useful if they draw from credible data.

Recently at Reeve Consulting we’ve been investigating GoodGuide.com, an online database of information on the health, environmental and social impacts of over 100,000 consumer products.

While the GoodGuide is mainly targeted to consumer audiences, we see some value in this tool for corporate purchasers, and even more so for staff at large in organizations with a sustainable purchasing policy.

Where we see this tool could be particularly useful is for staff making smaller, un-tendered purchases. For example, an administrative employee buying office or cleaning supplies may find it useful to compare attributes of one product to another to determine which is greener or healthier.

What is the GoodGuide?
GoodGuide is an online platform that allows user’s to search specific products to find a rating based on health, environment and society measures attributed to the product or manufacturer. An overall rating for each product is provided, and user’s can drill down for specifics on health and sustainability features by clicking on a rating for more details.

Screen shot of Dawn ultra-concentrated dish soap on GoodGuide.com

Ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 10. A score of 10 means the product rates very well relative to other products in a category or other companies in an industrial sector.

Similar to the EnerGuide label on appliances, GoodGuide doesn’t approve or certify products as meeting specific sustainability standards, it only provides information that can be used to compare one product to another.

Highlights of the GoodGuide
A major strength of the GoodGuide is that it’s easy to use. Primarily, directed at the consumer market, with a mission to help consumers make purchasing decisions that reflect their preferences and values, the tool has been set-up with a user-friendly interface and colour-coded rating system. There’s also a GoodGuide’s smart phone app, which allows one to access the full product database from the shopping aisle by simply scanning product barcodes.

Mobile barcode look-up; Flickr / Lauren C.

Another benefit purchasers will find with GoodGuide is that it covers many more products than those qualifying for ecolabels. At the same time, if a searched product does feature an ecolabel, this information is shared in GoodGuide’s product description.

Regarding the data behind the ratings, GoodGuide conducts regular stakeholder consultation and relies on third-party experts to develop and continuously improve their rating and metrics system. Their executive team and advisors are leading academics in product lifecycle analysis and other related fields, which brings some added credibility to the tool. Further, GoodGuide clearly outlines their data quality control procedures and acknowledge where there are gaps in data and value judgments.

B CorporationAs an organization, GoodGuide is certified as a “for Benefit” Corporation by BCorporation, a recognized body which provides third-party verification of GoodGuide’s sustainability and transparency performance. It requires that GoodGuide meet a comprehensive set of transparent social and environmental performance standards. As a result, GoodGuide has made their metrics and ratings system publicly available, which provides legitimacy to their rating system for products.

Areas for consideration
Recognizing that the GoodGuide is a relatively new tool, we’re impressed by the large number of products that have been rated to date and the level of information we’re able to access. As the GoodGuide continues to develop, there are a couple areas where we feel the tool could be strengthened.

From early use with the tool we found that the transparency of raw data behind the ratings could be improved. While it appears you can take an extra step to contact GoodGuide and request detailed data for a given product, we’d prefer that the data be easily accessible, in real-time, while using the tool online.

Another area where we feel there’s some room for improvement is in GoodGuide’s social ratings. Currently the tool appears to take corporate social responsibility (CSR) performance for companies and apply it at the product-level. For example, a company’s support of local community groups could be recorded as a social impact of a product produced by that company, even if the two aren’t directly related.

We believe this approach could be improved, and that presenting the social impact of a product requires a look at the social impacts of the given product’s supply chain. We encourage GoodGuide to develop social supply chain criteria (similar to the Fair Trade model) rather than apply general company CSR performance to individual products.

No replacement for ecolabels, but a useful tool
Overall, companies and organizations with a sustainable purchasing program will find GoodGuide useful for initial product research and informing less formal purchasing decisions.

While use of the GoodGuide can’t replace consideration of ecolabel certifications for mandatory product specifications, it may facilitate initial product research and help engage more staff by making daily sustainable purchasing decisions easier.

Let us know in the comments section below if you’ve had a chance to use the GoodGuide. If so, what has your experience been? Where did you find it useful? What do you feel could be improved?

Protecting our oceans with sustainable seafood production and consumption

Flickr / Dan Hershman

Industrial fishing practices are having serious detrimental effects on the world’s fish populations. Here in the Pacific Northwest, some top concerns include farmed salmon, the overfishing of tuna species and fishing practices like bottom trawling among others.

While there are a myriad of concerns related to seafood production, fish are a valuable global protein source that offers substantial health benefits.

So what is to be done?

As is common across much of our work, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed from both the production and consumption ends of the supply chain. Wild fish populations need to be sustainably harvested, farmed stocks sustainably raised and consumers need to shift their purchasing habits to support these practices.

Two of Reeve Consulting’s current projects have us examining sustainable seafood from both the production and consumption dimensions.

Influencing consumers with the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions
We’ve been learning more about the consumption end of things through a research project for the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions a group which, we were comforted to find out, believes seafood can be produced sustainably.

Flickr / twoblueday

A partnering of sixteen leading conservation organizations from the United States and Canada, the Conservation Alliance was formed to pursue a common vision for environmentally sustainable seafood. A main focus of the group is engaging businesses involved in fisheries and aquaculture to help realize the common vision, thereby combining the industry’s business knowledge and ability to innovate with the group’s conservation expertise.

The Conservation Alliance is interested in influencing consumer buying decisions and on their behalf, over the next few months, Reeve Consulting will be putting together case studies on some of North America’s top behaviour-change campaigns. We’ll be taking a closer look at tools, tactics and procedures that elicit action and successfully influence consumer demand.  The main goal of this project is to develop a strategy for creating an effective campaign that drives consumers to purchase more sustainable seafood in grocery stores and restaurants.

Sustainable Seafood Production in Ecuador
We’ve also been plugging into the production end of sustainable seafood through our colleague, Kevin McCarty, who is currently in Ecuador researching sustainable seafood production and certification. As part of this work he will be visiting two seafood farms to see sustainable practices in action.

Tropical Aquaculture Products Inc.

Both the farms Kevin will be visiting have been third-party certified. The first, Bio Centinela, a producer of farmed organic shrimp in Ecuador, holds a number of certifications, including Fair for Life fair trade status and the Soil Association Organic Standard. You can view some of the many photos and videos showing their operations here. Kevin will also be visiting the Ecuador operations of Tropical Aquaculture Products Inc. a producer of farmed Tilapia whose facilities are Best Aquaculture Practices Certified.

We’ll be using Kevin’s findings to enhance Reeve Consulting’s experience in sustainable seafood and better serve our clients in this field. We’re keen to learn more about his research and field experiences and will be sharing details here on our blog.

Sustainable Seafood Ecolabels: connecting production and consumption
Ecolabels serve an important purpose for both verifying and making clear to consumers products for which sustainable production practices were applied. There are a number of resources available to help people select sustainable seafood options – whether you’re at the grocery store, in a restaurant or responsible for a larger procurement program. We’ve listed a few helpful resources below.

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) – The MSC Chain of Custody standard for seafood traceability makes sure that the MSC label is only displayed on seafood from a MSC certified sustainable fishery. It means that consumers and seafood buyers can have confidence that the fish they are buying can be traced back to a fishery that meets the MSC environmental standard for sustainable fishing.

Fish Choice – Launced in 2009, fishchoice.com is an online portal for commercial seafood buyers that provides free, instant access to products and information necessary to source environmentally responsible seafood. Acting as a business-to-business matchmaking service, buyers can find seafood suppliers that catch, farm or process seafood products that meet the criteria or certifications of the partnering NGOs and distributors who have attained chain of custody certificates for MSC certified products.

SeaChoice – Canada’s most comprehensive sustainable seafood program formed by five of Canada’s most respected conservation organizations – Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Center, Living Oceans Society and Sierra Club BC (many of which are also a part of the Conservation Alliance). To help you with your seafood choices, SeaChoice has created helpful resources including a quick reference seafood guide available as a PDF, drop card or iphone app. They also have a business guide targeted at corporate seafood buyers.

Ecolabel Index – Read more about the various seafood ecolabels by looking them up in the Ecolabel Index database, the largest global directory of ecolabels currently tracking 377 ecolabels in 211 countries. We’ve discussed this resource on the Reeve Consulting blog before and you can read more about it and navigating the field of ecolabels here.

Additional resources:
Suzuki’s Top 10 Sustainable Seafood Picks, David Suzuki Foundation

Carting Away the Oceans, GreenPeace – includes an overview of the role of supermarkets in seafood supply chains and a rating of North American super markets regard for marine environments

Lifting the lid on the major canned tuna brands in Canada, GreenPeace

Review: Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood, Treehugger.com

Smart Seafood Guide 2011, Food & Water Watch

Are there too many eco-labels and green ratings?

Flickr / Jeff Keen

This is a good question and one we hear often at Reeve Consulting. In a recent article on GreenBiz.com, Joshua Saunders of GoodGuide tackles this issue and presents some valuable insights.

With over 300 eco-labels in the global marketplace, and more being added each year, manufacturers, businesses and consumers are faced with increasingly complex decisions when it comes to green ratings.

To simplify ecolabel decisions, Saunders suggests an oligopoly of labeling organizations with larger barriers to entry is needed. Essentially a handful of credible certification programs, labels and rating systems to dominate the market. A distinction is made between this and a “one choice” market, with Saunders stressing the importance of competition between ecolabels to fuel transparency, rigor, credibility, service and price.

Greenbiz.com

In fact it seems we’re not far from an ecolabel market dominated by a few suppliers. As Saunders rightly describes, ecolabels are segmented by product category, industry and geography. When purchasing a product, one doesn’t actually choose from 300 ecolabels, but a smaller subset that applies to the product in question.

Saunders also explains that, while more ecolabels are being introduced each year, more consolidation is taking place among the labeling organizations.  An example of this is the recent acquisition of the Canadian certification program TerraChoice by UL. This is exciting news, and we’re interested to learn about the next steps for Terra Choice when we connect with our colleagues Scott McDougall and Angela Griffiths.

Saunders article ends by stating there’s little doubt that the sustainable labeling field is moving towards greater collaboration and consolidation.  That’s good news because ecolabels are becoming an increasingly important tool for corporate and consumer purchasing. Everyone will benefit from more credible labeling and rating systems.

Read Joshua Saunders full article HERE.

Who Sets the Standards for Ecolabels?

It is common practice to rely on third-party ecolabels to define environmental criteria for particular purchasing categories.  Ecolabels provide third-party verification of the environmental and social standards related to a particular product or service category and can be used to reduce the onus of creating environmental criteria.  By understanding how to identify a mature and credible ecolabel purchasers can rely on these pre-determined criteria and simply specify that the product or service in question carry this ecolabel, removing the burden of developing criteria.

There are over 350 ecolabels in the global marketplace so it important to understand how to identify mature and credible ecolabel standards, as all are not created equally.  There are three main international expert sources that provide definitions of different types of ecolabels and set out parameters for developing high quality ecolabels that consumers can trust.  The following provides an introduction to these organizations and briefly describes their efforts to set international parameters for ecolabelling.

International Parameters for Ecolabels: Key Organizations and Definitions

The following organizations have set international definitions and parameters for ecolabels:

  1. Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN)
  2. International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
  3. ISEAL Alliance

Global Ecolabelling Network

GEN is a non-profit association of third-party environmental performance recognition, certification and labeling organizations founded in 1994 to improve, promote and develop the ecolabelling of products and services.  GEN defines different types of ecolabels, categorizes existing ecolabels, and sets generic environmental criteria for specific product and service categories.  As a membership based organization, GEN provides assurance that member organizations are meeting their parameters for ecolabelling.

For more detail visit: http://www.globalecolabelling.net/whatis.html

International Organization for Standardization

ISO is the world’s largest developer and publisher of international standards.  It brings together a network of national standards institutes from 159 countries to build consensus of global standard setting.  In particular, they have created the ISO 14020 series of standards that define parameters for developing environmental labels and declarations.  This series includes ISO 14024, 14021 and 14025, which define the parameters for Type I, II, and III ecolabels, respectively.

For more detail visit: http://www.iso.org/iso/catalogue_detail.htm?csnumber=34425

ISEAL Alliance

ISEAL is a global association for social and environmental standards.  It works with established and emerging voluntary standard systems to develop guidance and strengthen the effectiveness of these standards.  They also work with companies, non-profits and governments to support their referencing and use of voluntary standards.  They have developed Codes of Good Practice that are applied to leading standards systems and are an ISEAL membership requirement.  As a membership based organization, ISEAL provides assurance that member organizations are meeting their parameters for ecolabelling.

For more detail visit: http://www.isealalliance.org/content/codes-good-practice

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What’s in a label? ISEAL Alliance aims for a gold medal with standard setting code.

Who’s certifying the certifiers?

Credible standards that define sustainable products is critical to ongoing work in sustainable supply chains.  Here’s an interesting presentation from a group that’s trying to bring more consistency to the standard setting process.  ISEAL is an organisation that is comprised of groups like FSC, Marine Stewardship Council, Rainforest Alliance and more.

Reeve is keen to see more developments like these.

Check out this quick and informative presentation on ISEAL Alliances Standard-Setting Code: Introduction to the ISEAL Standard-Setting Code

View more presentations from ISEAL Alliance.

Buy Smart Program Designed by Reeve Consulting Receives 2010 Games “Sustainability Star”

Vancouver 2010’s Buy Smart program of ethical and sustainable purchasing has been awarded one of the pretigious Sustainabilty Star designations for the 2010 Winter Games.

The Buy Smart program was originally envisioned by Tim Reeve, Terry Wright, John McLaughlin and other members of the 2010 Bid Corporation as part of Vancouver’s original bid submission to host the 2010 games.

Buy Smart is recognized as an Olympic first and complimented the Reeve designed ethical sourcing program for the 2010 Olympic Merchandising program.

With an Olympic sized shopping list and a spending budget of over $1 billion the 2010 games have the power to make a big impact in the marketplace.  Designed to leverage this spending power, Buy Smart has created opportunities for green business and technologies, social enterprises and Aboriginal entrepreneurs.  Buy Smart has played a key role in directing spending into communities that might not have otherwise benefited from the games, such as Aboriginal communities and Vancouver’s inner-city.

Buy Smart has been promoted widely within the International Olympic Committee and to future games Organizing Committee’s.  Delegations from both the London 2012 Games and the Sochi 2014 Games have been briefed about the Buy Smart program and how it can be used to leverage sustainability programming associated with the games and other major events

Reeve Consulting is proud to have worked so closely with VANOC, the 2010 Commerce Centre and other 2010 Games partners in the creation of Buy Smart and is thrilled to see it recognized as one of the key sustainability features of the 2010 games.

Sustainable Fashion?

As Vancouver Fashion Week winds down today, one might ask oneself what impact fashion might have on the environment and working conditions around the world? What, if any, positive impact would sustainable choices in fashion make to the environment? For the fashionably conscious switching from haute couture to baggy hemp garments doesn’t really seem like a choice. Is baggy hemp the only choice?

Vancouver Fashion Week brought some answers to these question last Friday at their Eco Fashion Show in the Colin Campbell building. Thanks to Paige Donner from Greening Hollywood Reeve Consutling’s Amanda Mungal had the opportunity to attend the show and was quite impressed with the work of our local designers. Not only were the clothes completely wearable and fashionable, each designer considered the environment and working conditions in their choice of textiles.

After the show Amanda met up with Paige to discuss what makes fashion eco-friendly? The most immediate answer was textiles; what is the environmental impact of their processing, what if any employment standards are adhered to in the manufacturing plants, is the resource being used sustainable? But like most things the answer is a bit more complicated.

Bamboo has of late been the hot new trend in sustainable textiles but questions have been raised in regards to its carbon footprint as well as the amount of water and chemicals used during the processing. The proponents of bamboo have argued that at least they are taking steps in the right direction, which is true. All change and innovation has a growth period during which shortfalls will need to be addressed.

Another option is 100% organic cotton. Organic cotton is currently produced in 24 countries around the globe its production is growing at a rate of 50% a year. The switch to organic cotton is important not just for the sake of feeling earth friendly but consider this: regular cotton takes up 2.4% of the worlds cultivated land mass but makes up for 16% of the use of insecticides. Imagine the impact that a large-scale move to organic cotton would have on the planet. Cotton can be grown all over the world, reducing its carbon footprint and with Fair Trade practices in place it would be a financially viable crop that supported local economies. Organic cotton is still significantly more expensive than regular cotton, but as more people get on board production will rise to meet demand and prices will come down.

Possibly the most environmentally friendly ‘R’ and the most overlooked is Re-use. Our consumer society has not embraced this notion to its fullest as we are encouraged to regularly buy the newest item that is better for the environment. Some designers have embraced the concept of Re-using by creating new items out of previously used fabrics. Planet Claire is an example of a local designer who manages to employ the concept of Re-use by selling and/or incorporating vintage clothing, using earth friendly fabrics, including seaweed and employing socially responsible labour practices.

So to answer the question can fashion be sustainable, does it matter and could making sustainable choices have an impact? Most definitely! Furthermore, as discovered at Vancouver’s Eco Fashion Show it can be cutting edge and stylish as well.

Reeve Consulting ‘Green Links’

Here are a couple of interesting links we’ve come accross in the past few weeks:

Motorola Releases Eco- Cell: A cell phone made of 100% post consumer water bottles has been certified the first carbon free phone. Motorola will also offset the amount of energy required to manufacture, ship and operate the phone. A postage paid envelope will also be included for return/recycling of the phone. It will sell for about $60 US. Check out their link for more infromation:  http://www.motorola.com/consumers/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=3bd6df420e68e110VgnVCM1000008406b00aRCRD

An interview with Chris Geiger, Manager of Green Purchasing and Integrated Pest Management from the City of San Francisco. See this website for the podcast: http://audio.aworldofpossibilities.com/audio/cohen_edwards64kb20081021.mp3

New York’s Green Purchasing Policy

http://www.greenerdesign.com/news/2008/12/15/new-york-green-purchasing

12 Step program for greening your supply chain.

http://www.2sustain.com/2008/12/20-steps-towards-sustainability.html

2012 Olympics publish sustainable procurement code.

http://www.businessgreen.com/business-green/news/2231451/london-2012-pub

Reeve ‘Out and About’: The Sustainable Sport and Event Toolkit Workshop

Reeve participated this past Sunday, March 29th, in the Sustainable Sport and Event Toolkit (SSET) Workshop organized by the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games (VANOC) and the International Academy of Sport Science and Technology (AISTS) as a pre-conference activity to the 8th World Conference on Sport and the Environment in Vancouver.

As a legacy of the 2010 Games, VANOC has been working with AISTS, the International Olympic Committee and other global sport organizations to create an easy-to-use web-based toolkit designed to help sport event organizers manage their footprint. This workshop was organized to provide understanding of the toolkit’s resources and website, and listen to first-hand stories from athletes and sport organizations currently involved in testing the toolkit.

The toolkit has eight chapters that will guide the user in creating sustainable sport and event strategies.  Chapter 5 focuses on how to involve the community and engage in Ethical and Sustainable Purchasing to support sustainable sport event commitments.  An innovative feature of the toolkit is the web-based SSET Wiki, which is an interactive platform that allows users of the toolkit to login and share best practices, ideas, statistics, stories and general comments and feedback.  The SSET Wiki also provides resources and tools that are linked directly to goals and objectives in the toolkit.

The workshop presented a wealth of information on how Ethical and Sustainable Purchasing can be leveraged by sports organizations to meet their overall sustainability commitments.  For example, VANOC shared some success stories of their Buy Smart Program, which was designed, with support from Reeve Consulting, to ensure that sustainability, ethical choices and Aboriginal participation are taken into account within procurement and licensing activities.  London 2012, Speed Skating Canada, and the International Cycling Union also recognized the role of Ethical and Sustainable Purchasing in achieving sustainability objectives of sporting events.

Reeve sees the SSET as an important step in ensuring the sustainability of future large-scale games and is excited to support the enhancement of this tool through the interactive wiki web platform.  The SSET will help to embed Ethical and Sustainable Purchasing in future games and Reeve Consulting looks forward to participating in the application of this innovative toolkit.

Do You Really Know What You Are Buying? The Perils of GreenWashing…

Although many organisations recognize ethical and sustainable purchasing as a key strategic issue, barriers to action still exist.  One example is a lack of awareness or understanding what constitutes an ethically or environmentally preferable product or ‘green’ product.  Many products can claim to be “all natural”, “environmentally friendly” or even “fair trade”, but without certification to back these claims, it is difficult to know what, exactly, you are buying.  A recent report from Terra Choice Marketing, “The Six Sins of Greenwashing” highlight six specific, and not so uncommon practices, of companies providing misleading product information: 

1)       The Sin of the Hidden Trade-off

This sin is characterised by using one environmental attribute to suggest that a product is “green”.  The report cites that often claims are made based on a narrow set of green criteria and do not necessarily take into account a complete environmental analysis that looks at a product’s full lifecycle.   A case in point is a recent article (see below) from Queens Journal on a “carbon-positive” wine company.  Plantatree wine promises to plant a conifer sapling for every bottle sold in an attempt to offset the CO2 emitted from an average Canadian.  While a laudable initiative, the article points out that it may be more beneficial to offset the emissions caused from the production process for making the wine itself.   

2)       The Sin of No Proof

Pretty self-explanatory, ‘the sin of no proof’ occurs when product make unsubstantiated claims about their green attributes.  Products sometimes make claims to be energy-efficient or not tested on animals, to name a few examples, but provide no backup information or certification as proof. 

3)       Sin of Irrelevance

Products will sometimes promote themselves as being distinctively green when in reality, they are acting in compliance with local laws and regulations.  Terra Choice uses “CFCs” as an example.  These substances have been legally banned for 30 years, therefore all products are CFC-free.  Those touting themselves as such are misleading the public into believing they are in some way more progressive than they really are. 

4)       Sin of Vagueness

The sin of vagueness is characterized by claims that are ambiguous or meaningless.  One common example is products that print the Mobius loop (recycling symbol) without a qualifying statement that tells consumer exactly what, and how much, of the product is made from recycled content. 

5)       Sin of Lesser of Two Evils

Organic cigarettes or environmentally preferable herbicides are examples of products guilty of ‘the sin of lesser of two evils’.  Although such products may indeed offer favourable environmental attributes, the products, themselves, pose greater negative impact to the environment and human health. 

6)       Sin of Fibbing

Again, this is pretty self-explanatory.  Simply put, some products will lie outright about their environmental qualifications.  Although this is least common among the sins, it can occur. How do you avoid these sinful products?  The recommended approach is to first look for eco certifications standardized by bodies that issue guidelines for making environmental claims.  As an example, ISO 14024 sets guidelines or standards for third party Eco-labelling organizations to follow and ensures that environmental information is presented accurately.  Furthermore, the report suggests that consumers remain aware of the six sins and attempt to evaluate products accordingly. 

Although this report focused on greenwashing, the same may occur with ethical claims as well.  Therefore, look for fair trade certifications for added assurance these products meet the standards you expect.

Look for the Logo.  (Examples of product certifications)

Ecologo   Fair Trade Certified

More information on product certifications bodies:

www.ecologo.org

www.transfair.ca

For a copy of the TerraChoice report, please go to: http://www.terrachoice.com/Home/Greenwashing/The%20Six%20Sins 

Queen’s journal article on Green Wine: http://www.queensjournal.ca/story/2008-01-15/news/tapping-sustainable-wine/ 

For more information on ISO 14024, please go to: http://www.iso.org/iso/iso_catalogue/catalogue_tc/catalogue_detail.htm?csnumber=23145