Cutting Complexity and Confusion Around Sustainability Standards

Jun 9, 2021 11:25 AM ET

Cutting Complexity and Confusion Around Sustainability Standards

We all know that to tackle the scale of the societal and environmental challenges we face, every business has a vital role in helping to make a positive impact for people and the planet. As World Environment Day has just highlighted, actions today are not just impacting the wellbeing of communities and our environment now – they are determining whether future generations will thrive, and even survive. At the same time, the Covid-19 crisis has intensified the risks facing some of the world’s most disadvantaged communities. 

One vital way to protect people and the planet is for businesses to ensure sustainability across their supply chains. This is true for supply chains large and small, global and local, at sea and on land. Independent audit and certification schemes for supply chains offer a sense of confidence to suppliers, buyers and consumers. They cover crucial areas – from combatting forced labour to the health and safety and workers.

But with each scheme taking its own approach to evaluating sustainability, and with hundreds of options to choose from, deciding which one to use can be difficult. It can be challenging for organisations to know which scheme they can  trust; a decision made more difficult given that not all auditing, monitoring and certification programmes cover sustainability measures in the same way. This unnecessary complexity can often result in a distrust of audits and misalignment in the industry.

At The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), we’re working hard to change this situation and bring clarity to the sustainability standards landscape. By benchmarking third-party audit and certification schemes, our Sustainable Supply Chain Initiative (SSCI) recognises only those schemes that meet our expectations, improving overall supply chain due diligence and helping companies make better responsible sourcing decisions.

We draw on the skills and knowledge of our large network of members, stakeholders and partners to develop benchmarking criteria that give clear guidance to buyers and suppliers on which schemes satisfy key sustainability compliance requirements. The SSCI sets the bar for what the industry expects from auditing, monitoring and certification schemes. The SSCI is an essential tool companies can use in their supply chain due diligence efforts, not another social compliance standard or certification. Since launching in 2019, the SSCI has become a leading source for the industry’s understanding and expectations of social sustainability standards

In addition to our work on social sustainability, we are now focused on creating a benchmark for environmental standards to align different approaches and give businesses confidence in which schemes they can trust. We will develop a robust set of criteria that clearly outline industry expectations of environmental sustainability programmes and create a list of recognised schemes for companies to use. 

Rather than being yet another compliance standard or certification scheme, the SSCI’s new environmental benchmark will align different schemes on the topics and methods they use to monitor the environment. Over the coming months, we’ll be engaging with industry experts, businesses and other stakeholders to identify where the SSCI can have the greatest impact, and how we can add the greatest value to the industry. Moreover, we’ll also start collaborating more closely with the CGF’s other Coalitions of Action focused on environmental sustainability – the Forest PositivePlastic Waste, and Food Waste Coalitions – to understand their experiences with different standards and include their input in our criteria.

The consumer goods industry, like everyone, has to take up the climate challenge – and the SSCI’s future environmental benchmark can give companies the clear guidance they need to accelerate positive progress. There is no time to lose: the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which has launched today to highlight the 2030 deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals – and the same timeline identified as the last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change – highlights the urgency of the issue. 

We are committed to using our influence and reach to create changes which have tangible and lasting positive effects on people, planet and business. We’re confident the SSCI’s benchmarking approach will be a powerful way to help create the outcomes we all want, and need, to see in our industry. 

This blog was written and contributed by:

Didier Bergeret

Director, Sustainability 

The Consumer Goods Forum