There has been a boom in environmental labeling schemes in recent years. According to Ecolabel Index – the global directory of ecolabels – there are currently 456 ecolabels spanning 199 countries and 25 industries. Of the 421 whose origin could be established, 35% had spawned in the last 10 years, the body says.
With such proliferation in the number of eco labeling schemes, is it any wonder that consumers struggle to understand who to trust?
Around three years ago, nutrition and bioscience multinational Royal DSM launched a new sustainability service, Sustell, aimed at providing ‘accurate, simple, and actionable farm-level solutions to improve the environmental footprint and profitability of animal protein production’.
Sustell, developed with Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) experts Blonk Consultants, assesses the baseline environmental footprint of animal production using actual farm and feed data rather than industry averages to develop case-specific recommendations. Now, DSM clients who use the service will be able to convey their sustainability wins to consumers via front-of-pack ecolabels.
The Dutch multinational chose to partner with NPO Foundation Earth and its Eco Impact system, which scores products by carrying out LCAs on actual data rather than general industry averages in a bid to provide as accurate scores as possible to consumers. (Notice a common theme here?) Products are scored from A+ (least impact) to G (most impact) and the methodology follows the European Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) standard, which evaluates 19 environmental variables. Foundation Earth says it has in 2022 conducted ‘several pilots with multinational companies to test the updated method and extract best practices’ and will publish a methodology document ‘in the next few months’.
Explaining how this particular ecolabeling would benefit animal protein producers, Dr Heinz Flatnitzer, senior director, emission value management, at DSM Animal Nutrition and Health (pictured inset), said: “In 2021, we introduced Sustell to enable our customers to measure and reduce the environmental footprint of animal protein products. Integrators worldwide already use Sustell, and full environmental LCA footprints have a number of applications throughout the value chain.
“In this case, the information can flow to consumers via an eco-label so consumers can make more informed choices. Other applications for producers include conveying scope 3 information to processors, retailers and CPG companies, or sharing it with financial institutions to access capital, demonstrate sustainability compliance or secure favorable funding rates.”
What put Foundation Earth’s eco scores ahead of the pack was also the option to measure impact more granularly. “Many ecolabels rely on less than fully transparent criteria or do not allow for enough differentiation between more sustainable and less sustainable products,” said Flatnitzer. “We believe in eco-labels which allow for true differentiation between products based on the actual scored footprints of the producers.”
He continued: “In addition, basing footprints on primary, farm-specific data is key; some approaches rely on average production or emissions figures for eggs, milk, meat and fish. Yet we know that some farms are more efficient and more sustainable than others. That’s why we put emphasis on farm-level data, so that the most sustainable operations can be recognized for their efforts and perhaps capture price premia that incentivize more planet-friendly production methods.”
There are otherwise no changes to how Sustell works, we were told. Blonk is set o remain a key partner in the project and Sustell will remain connected to databases provided by the company.
“This announcement is not a change to the previous system, though our teams are working diligently to bring further improvement and functionality to SustellTM, which we expect to announce soon,” said Flatnitzer. “This is a new opportunity for current and future Sustell customers to convey the value of their sustainability efforts to consumers through a front-of-pack, easy to understand eco-label.”