Good for Business Can Also Be Good for Planet

Photo Credit: Michael Toolan, 2018

By Jakob Schenker, Coordinator, Markets Transformation

Over the years, growing concern over climate change, human exploitation, and global health crises has caused corporations to rethink their roles and responsibilities in the global marketplace as they relate to these issues. Many forward-thinking business leaders have pledged to transform their practices to support a greater vision for advancement and development around the world.

Today, on World Environment Day, these efforts are especially in the spotlight, with the opportunity to look back and look ahead at opportunities and programs to drive impact.

At events such as Ethical Corporation’s Responsible Business Summit in New York City earlier this year, a variety of major brands, investment firms, and standard setters had an opportunity to come together and share their thoughts on current sustainable supply chain initiatives, examining how their business models can fit in within these greater global objectives. While many companies took different approaches to sustainable sourcing and reporting, there were a few common themes that emerged.

Many discussed the burden of evaluating and determining frameworks to benchmark their sustainability efforts against. However, as companies further described their sustainability journeys, many ultimately found the clear overarching nature of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be the most valuable current tool for guiding this effort. Created with a global consensus, the SDGs cover a wide range of social and economic development issues including climate change, gender equality, environment and social justice, making it an ideal framework across a variety of industries. With many sub-indicators for each SDG, there are also more detailed insights that companies can draw from to focus their sustainability efforts further. As many companies evaluate their operations to SDG indicators in a variety of areas, the Rainforest Alliance sees an important role to play in helping companies make progress for goals specific to land and resource management.

For example, in SDG Goal #15, Life on Land, the end mission is to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. With the Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard, dozens of types of agriculture commodity operations can be measured against a rigorous standard that we believe provides one way to meet principles in this SDG. In our standard, we lay out specifics for managing environmental and social impacts of agricultural, including tackling deforestation through audited criteria such as no destruction of high conservation value areas. Similarly, the Rainforest Alliance is one of the founders and certifying bodies of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC™) to drive sustainable forestry and forest products sourcing.

Another contributor to support greater progress and accountability towards companies’ meeting deforestation-free and ethical supply chain commitments is the Accountability Framework initiative (AFi). By establishing consensus-based norms and metrics, incorporating existing best practices, and aligning these within existing reporting frameworks, the AFi will help companies to improve implementation of their commitments and to deliver on their publicly asserted ethical supply chain commitments. The Framework is working closely with a multitude of other efforts to support the implementation of commitments, foster transparency, and track progress to help companies that are unclear about the path forward, better understand how to honor their sustainability commitments. The Framework is being developed by a coalition of leading environmental and social NGOs, of which the Rainforest Alliance is a leading member, in consultation with private companies, government, and other stakeholders.

By creating a uniform set of definitions and metrics covering the full scope of corporate deforestation-free supply chain commitments, and aligning these with existing systems, tools and norms, the AFi will enhance the credibility and legitimacy of implementation actions and foster greater accountability and transparency. To reach their global sustainability goals on time, the Framework will also support companies by helping existing reporting systems integrate the AFi’s metrics.

As part of the services of the Rainforest Alliance Corporate Advisory team, we provide customized solutions to sustainable supply chain development. Through our advisory work, we partner with companies and brands to develop and implement sustainable sourcing policies across a variety of commodities, including forest products and palm oil, among others. As part of this process, we map out related sourcing and evaluate those materials across company-specific risk factors that then inform corporate strategy and sourcing development for the future. In this approach, we value the importance of analyzing company supply chains in depth to further inform overarching company goals.

As an NGO that works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior, we welcome companies pursuing a variety of frameworks and approaches to meet these end goals. Whether under the guidance of the SDGs, The Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard, the AFi, our targeted advisory work, or other endeavors, companies are better equipped than ever to support a healthy planet, through conscious, effective business practices.

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