New SustainAbility Report: Signed, Sealed…Delivered? behind certifications and beyond labels

We recently came across an interesting report from SustainAbility titled Signed, Sealed…Delivered? Behind Certifications and Beyond Labels, which explores the value and challenges that business find in using sustainability certifications and labels to improve economic, environmental and social outcomes across global value chains.

We’re sure this report will be of interest to sustainability supply chain stakeholders, both those looking to use ecolabels to drive specification in their procurement activities and those interested in applying certifications to their own private label products. Everyone agrees we need more science-based data to make good green decisions. Certifications and labels are an important part of that journey.

Recognizing that certification, labeling and the standards-setting organizations behind them have been pioneers in building a more sustainable economy, SustainAbility undertook this research to examine what could be learned from the eco-labelling landscape about how to improve supply chain impact, increase trust among value chain partners and change customer and consumer behavior. Further, how these lessons could help inform the scaling of sustainability overall.

The final report outlines some top challenges, key findings and a vision for how sustainability labels need to evolve in the future to better serve businesses and society.

The full report is available for free on the SustainAbility website. There’s also a short summary video that provides a concise overview of the findings.

Key tips & resources for effectively measuring sustainable purchasing programs

Flickr / Pink Sherbert

How many times have we heard it, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”? It’s  a management consulting mantra that is repeated so often you could almost tune it out.

“Yes, of course” we affirm to our peers and colleagues. But inwardly most of us would agree that developing good key performance indicators (KPI’s) and accurate tracking mechanisms are generally underdeveloped across the triple bottom line, and definitely in their infancy when it comes to sustainable purchasing.

Yet the reality is that metrics are a key success factor in building out a solid sustainable purchasing program, providing a clear indication of program strengths, weaknesses, and by extension, areas for future development and improvement.

Nonetheless, at Reeve Consulting our experience has been that the development and measurement of quality metrics is often overlooked or identified as a future priority.

We know clients face organizational challenges to implementing quality measurement systems, such as a prioritization of policy and procedure at the expense of performance tracking, or difficulty measuring the ‘green-ess’ of products and suppliers, which can be time intensive and confusing. Further, traditional accounting systems often don’t consider sustainability measures.

While we won’t attempt to address all these issues in a single blog post, some of our recent work has us compiling a set of useful resources for developing customized metrics for sustainable purchasing reporting and management systems, both for measuring overall program performance and specific aspects – such as purchasing categories (e.g. vehicles). We’ve shared a collection of these below.

To get started, we’ve also created a short list of key tips for developing effective metrics, which we encourage our clients to consider at the outset.

Key Tips for Developing Effective Metrics:


  1. Link to corporate sustainability initiatives – An important step in customizing a set of metrics is to ensure they are linked to corporate sustainability objectives and reporting systems. For example, if your corporation is concerned with minimizing waste, then sustainable purchasing metrics should include performance measures related to the amount of waste diverted by buying products with reusable or reduced packaging.
  1. Realistic to measure – Also, ensure that you will be able to realistically measure the outcomes of all metrics overtime. Building on the earlier example, if waste reduction is measured at the corporate level, set a metric that requires measurement of packaging reduction in a few product categories, rather than all product categories, the latter being more time consuming and difficult to measure.
  1. Plan to expand – Don’t get bogged down in the development stage by trying to define a comprehensive set of metrics and reporting processes. Plan to expand your metrics and performance reporting with time. Start with realistic metrics to ensure early success in reporting.

 Helpful Resources for Developing Customized Metrics


   Metrics for tracking at the Sustainable Purchasing Program Level

  • The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) provides high-level performance indicators that have been adopted by many corporations across the globe. You can also view the GRI Product Responsibility Indicator guide HERE. You may want to align your tracking and reporting systems with relevant GRI metrics.
  • Kaiser Permanente, a USA-based healthcare organization that Reeve Consulting has interviewed on a few occasions around their best practices, has recently developed the PS Annual EPP Success Story Achievements document that outlines the metrics they’re tracking and reporting with regards to EPP (environmental preferable purchasing). This includes metrics for vehicles and office IT equipment.

   Metrics for tracking impacts at the Product Level

  • Third-party Ecolabel standards can also be used to identify metrics. For example, the key environmental attributes (e.g. toxicity, material utilization) of the individual standards developed by Canada’s EcoLogo program for different products could be used to determine what you track for specific product categories, such as office equipment, furniture, etc. The Responsible Purchasing Network has outlined a detailed list of other third-party ecolabel standards that you may want to consider.
  • The Responsible Purchasing Network also has a wide variety of calculators that can be used to measure the impacts of your sustainable purchasing practices. They are product specific. It is recommended that you try using existing online calculators to help you measure the impacts of specific product categories as a starting point. For example, they have an Office Electronics Calculator, so you may want to develop metrics for this product category, knowing there is a calculator in place to help you assess outcomes.
  • E3 Fleet Rating is designed to evaluate and recognize performance, and allows fleets to be rated at the Bronze, Silver or Gold level of performance. E3 Fleet Rating uses a point-based Rating System Checklist for rating fleet performance, with points for fleet management practices and energy/emissions performance.
  • Look to your suppliers to help develop reasonable metrics. Many of your suppliers may already be tracking the environmental impacts of their products. Consult them to learn what data they can provide and then set metrics related to this data. For example, Cascades is tracking valuable data related to their paper products (e.g. tissue) that could be used to measure the impacts of buying more green cleaning products. As the following link shows, Cascades can provide data for water usage, recycled content in packaging, reduction in the use of trees, etc. that is related to the products they manufacture. Click HERE for details.

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.