2018 promises to be an exciting year as we begin the last leg of the journey towards 2020. This is the date which so many industries have used as a starting point for a sustainable future for us all. As a consumer who is concerned about my family’s environmental impact, I look towards the one pledge which has the biggest potential to reduce my family’s environmental footprint. The Consumer Goods Forum(CGF)
With a combined annual sales of USD4.2 trillion globally, their ability to bring positive change is second to none. In their own words:
The( CGF is the) only organisation that brings consumer goods retailers and manufacturers together globally, we are a CEO-led organisation that helps the world’s retailers and consumer goods manufacturers to collaborate, alongside other key stakeholders, to secure consumer trust and drive positive change, including greater efficiency. With our global reach, CEO leadership and focus on retailer-manufacturer collaboration, we are in a unique position to drive positive change and efficiency across the consumer goods industry and around the world. We do so for the benefit of both people and the planet, as well as our businesses, ensuring better lives through better businessOne of their key initiatives is the reduction of deforestation in the soya, palm oil, logging and cattle commodities which they acknowledge as the biggest drivers of deforestation globally.
One of their key initiatives is the reduction of deforestation in the soya, palm oil, logging and cattle commodities which they acknowledge as the biggest drivers of deforestation globally.
We aim to achieve this through the responsible sourcing of these key commodities – soy, palm oil, paper and pulp and cattle – so that the sourcing of these key commodities will not deplete tropical rainforests.
This goal to “not deplete tropical forests” or zero net deforestation is a realistic target compared to the zero deforestation commitments which so many corporations have made under pressure but failed to maintain. The difference between “zero deforestation” and “zero net deforestation” is best described by World Resources Institute.
Zero deforestation means no forest areas are cleared or converted, while zero net deforestation allows for the clearance or conversion of forests in one area as long as an equal area is replanted elsewhere.
It will be a monumental achievement if the Consumer Goods Forum can deliver its zero net deforestation goals by 2020. It will be a difficult ask of their raw material suppliers to ensure that if forests are lost to development, that an equal area be protected but this must be done. There are a multitude of reasons for forest loss including deforestation for subsistence farming over which we, as consumers in North America, have little influence over. What we do have influence over is what is being offered in our markets. These would be the goods and services supplied by the CGF members.
One side note here is that this heavy focus on saving tropical rainforests leads to a sad lack of attention for ecosystems like prairies or grasslands which must have a place in global conservation and the fight against climate change. More attention has to be paid to commodities like soy and corn which have a very direct impact on our own backyards in North America. This new analysis on ocean dead zones is a good read to understand what’s going on.
One certified ingredient does not make the whole product sustainable
As for palm oil, the newly launched North American Sustainable Palm Oil Network(NASPON) by the RSPO should contribute much to removing deforestation from consumer products that use palm oil. This is especially so for NASPON members who are Consumer Goods Forum members as well. Palm oil producing countries like Malaysia which supply a good chunk of the one million plus tons of palm oil imported into the US must also do their part to help consumer product companies to realize their zero net deforestation goals.
However, our focus as consumers must be on the total environmental impact of products in their complete lifecyle. From the farms and factories to the end wastes when we toss out the packaging. When it comes to the sustainability of the ingredients, we should question first, if the main ingredient was sustainably produced.
If I use a member of NASPON as an example, let’s say Pepsico. The oil itself maybe certified as sustainable but what of the final snack we put in our mouth? According to the Rainforest Action Network, Pepsico uses palm oil in snacks like Granola Chewy Bars and Frito Lays chips. The main ingredients in these snacks are oats and potatoes by volume, not palm oil. Are these ingredients certified as sustainable?
In addition to the ingredients of products, we should question if the packaging uses recycled or at least recyclable materials and whether the factories run on renewable energy.
The use of certified palm oil would be quite meaningless if the end product around this one ingredient carries a heavy environmental impact.
The launching of NASPON now is great timing as 2020 is a mere twenty four months away. I wish them success in educating North Americans on the importance of using certified palm oil in consumer products. It’s a tough market that draws more shoppers to a Black Friday sale than consumers willing to click on an online petition against palm oil.
In spite of this, concerned consumers in North America can find inspiration from Europe where the noisy few have been able to affect market change. If we start asking for it now, it is possible that we will see consumer products that are more forest friendly on store shelves after two more Christmases.