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Sustaining sustainability

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cocoaOn the corporate sustainability front there are signs that that it is moving beyond mere PR and blue-sky vibes. It might even be true, descending at last from somewhere past Mars on the corporate visibility scale to an Earth-based reality.

Speaking of Mars — the candy company of the same name, that is — it has claimed it is the “first global chocolate company to commit to fundamentally changing the way sustainable cocoa farming practices are advanced by aiming to certify” that its entire cocoa supply is produced in a sustainable manner by 2020.

It wants to achieve this through collaboration with the Rainforest Alliance, an international non-profit. They unveiled new goals in their ongoing campaign to help cocoa farmers get on the path toward sustainability. They agreed to redouble efforts to help thousands of farmers meet holistic social and environmental standards so that their farms could earn Rainforest Alliance certification.

Near-term, Mars aims to buy enough certified cocoa so that the Galaxy chocolate bar, for example, which is highly popular in the United Kingdom, can bear the Rainforest Alliance Certified green seal of approval by early 2010. galaxy-chocolate


The Rainforest Alliance accepted the company’s challenge to bring enough farms up to code so that 100,000 tons of Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa would be available each year by 2020.

Let’s hope it’s aim is true. Mars says this is the “latest milestone in a long-running sustainability effort,” and demonstrates a “real commitment” to sustainable farming.

“Mars’ commitment to buying sustainable cocoa is unprecedented in size and scope, and the benefits to farmers, farmworkers, tropical environments and wildlife will be tangible,” says Tensie Whelan, president of the Rainforest Alliance. “This initiative is an example of the tremendous impact global companies can have when they commit to sustainability.”

Another indicator that sustainability is becoming serious business in corporate boardrooms came recently from the non-profit Center for Sustainable Innovation, which released a new model for measuring corporate sustainability performance.

true-sustainability-index2It’s called the True Sustainability Index. CSI’s model comprises 15 indicators that sustainability managers can use to assess the full triple bottom line performance of their organizations. TSI says the model will be useful in their attempts to understand, rate and rank the sustainability performance of organizations as a basis for making investment decisions.

The model features indicators and metrics that track or measure organizational greenhouse gas emissions, an organization’s impacts on air quality, water use, non-water natural resources, organizational emissions of solid wastes, impacts on ecosystem habitats, flora, fauna and biodiversity. Another set of indicators assesses an organization’s impacts on human capital, its contributions to creating and maintaining social institutions, social infrastructure and livable wages.

Unlike other sustainability indexes and there are many of them around, the TSI is made up of metrics that are context-based, meaning that they express organizational performance relative to actual social and environmental conditions in the world. Water consumption, for example, is measured against renewable supplies; solid wastes are measured against landfill capacities; and impacts on social and economic conditions are measured against societal needs. The model released that was released late last month “is an early prototype – an 80-percent solution – and remains a work in progress,” CSI says.

CSI’s context-based approach to measuring and reporting organizational sustainability stands in stark contrast to other mainstream reporting methods and indexes, most of which are context-free.

Even the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which advocates for the inclusion of sustainability context in related reports, fails to provide firm guidelines on how to do so. Most, if not all, GRI reports are therefore “devoid of context,” according to CSI, and “rarely make it possible to understand the true sustainability performance of the organizations they describe.”

Perhaps the time is right for sustainability. A recent survey from the American Marketing Association and Fleishman-Hillard, Inc. found that nearly 60 percent of corporate marketers expect their companies to increase environmental sustainability initiatives over the next two or three or years. Also, one-half of those surveyed said current economic conditions will encourage the adoption of sustainability practices. Click here for their survey report.

The key is that for the sustainability impetus to sustain itself further it has to move beyond the prototype stage, with clear and universally accepted guidelines and standards. TSI looks like a great step. Give ‘em a chocolate bar.

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Written by William DiBenedetto

16 April, 2009 at 12:41 pm

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