Slow Road to Sustainability

June 22, 2016

Last week members of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) met in South Africa to ‘’seize opportunities in the face of disruption’’. Just before the summit WWF published a report that provided for important talking points between CGF manufacturers and retailers. The report ‘’Slow Road to Sustainability’’, based on NewForesight research and analyses, concludes that at present very little is done by CGF members to source soft commodities sustainably.

WWF indentified 14 soft commodities that have the greatest impacts on biodiversity (in both forests and oceans), water and climate, particularly in the most critical places for conservation value. To protect our environment now and for the future it is key to source these commodities, which lie at the base of our food and clothing production, sustainably. Frontrunning consumer goods companies recognize this need, and in 2010 the CGF Board committed to support their members to achieve zero net deforestation globally by 2020 by the responsible sourcing of soy, palm oil, paper & pulp and beef. However, our analyses show that CGF companies are slow to act.

Only 42% of all CGF members publish a sustainability report or include sustainability information in their annual report, and just 46% reports specifically (in a report or on their website) on their soft commodity sourcing policy or strategy. Palm oil, soy, beef, timber, paper & pulp, wild caught (whitefish, tuna, low trophic level species, tropical shrimp), aquaculture (farmed shrimp, farmed salmon), cotton, sugar cane and dairy are the commodities that are relevant for CFG members. ‘’Slow Road to Sustainability’’ gives a distressing overview of the sustainability policies and performance of the 256 CGF manufacturers and retailers related to the sourcing of these commodities.

A weighted average of 22% of CGF companies endorse credible certification standards recommended by WWF for the commodities which are material for their businesses. By commodity, this figure varies from 3% to 71%. Moreover, a weighted average of just 14% of relevant companies have made quantified and time bound commitments to source according to the credible standards recommended by WWF. By commodity this varies from 0% to 28%. Committing to WWF-recommended standards is a reliable way to include environmental requirements in sourcing strategies and a first step to source sustainably.

This report highlights the urgency for CGF companies to commit publicly to source only credibly certified commodities for 100% of their volume requirements by 2020. In addition, companies should publish quantified, time-bound action plans detailing how they will achieve their commitments.