How Sustainable is Your Valentine's Day Candy?

How Sustainable is Your Valentine's Day Candy?

It's easy to lose sight of sustainability issues on a day that's so focused on material expressions of affection, but there are resources that gift-givers can use to measure the impacts of their Valentine's Day presents -- especially one of the most popular: chocolate.

"It's one of those sad ironies of a global economy that a gift that we give with love often has misery behind it," Dara O'Rourke, the co-founder and chief sustainability officer of GoodGuide, said of chocolate.

GoodGuide, through its eponymous website, provides sustainability ratings on more than 150,000 consumer products and, by extension, the companies that make them. The GoodGuide ratings for candy number almost 2,500 items and a hefty portion of those products contain chocolate -- bars, boxed sweets and some hard and soft confections.

Issues of sugar and fat aside, a big problem with chocolate has to do with its supply chain and the cacao beans used to make it. More than 40 percent of the cacao used in the industry comes from West Africa, where issues of child labor and labor in general are rife, O'Rourke noted when I caught up with him by phone yesterday.

"I think most people think of candy as a sinful pleasure and they aren't thinking about the nutritional or environmental issues," he said. "If you're buying chocolate, it's a treat."

The point isn't to be a killjoy, he said, but to let people know there are greener options when it comes to buying chocolate -- or just about anything else -- if they are set on making a purchase.

GoodGuide's candy listings, which made their debut about this time last year, provide overall ratings on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being a perfect score. That number is based on ratings for impacts related to:

  • Health, which considers the candy's contents
  • Environment, which deals with how the product was cultivated or produced
  • Society, which is based on the company's social policies, practices and performance

The most sustainable chocolate, according to GoodGuide, doesn't come packaged in a form usually associated with gifts.

Black and Green's organic, 85 percent dark chocolate bar has the best overall rating among all the candy analyzed by GoodGuide.

With a cumulative score of 7.3, the Black and Green's candy also was best in class among chocolate bars, and its rating topped the highest scores among:

 

  • Boxed candy. The leader was Lindt Lindor's 60 percent chocolate truffles with a 4.7 rating. By comparison, the average rating for Godiva products is 2.7. There's no average rating for See's, Whitman and Fannie May candy because GoodGuide had only partial data on those products. However, scores that are available -- for environmental and society impacts, for example -- are posted on the site.
  • Candy bars in general, meaning those that include ingredients besides chocolate. The top scorer was Endangered Species Chocolate Almond Nut Clusters with a rating of 7.1
  • Hard candies. Ambrosoli Honees, Energy Plus Honey candy, led the list with a 5.8 rating.
  • Soft candies. The leader in the category, which dominate by fruit-flavored sweets, is the Yummy Earth Organic Gummy Bears with a 6.7 rating.

Here is a snapshot of the three best- and worst-rated candies from the GoodGuide listings:

O'Rourke recommends that chocolate buyers focus on certified products, such as those bearing Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance or Fair for Life certification labels.

Other popular Valentine's Day gifts such as fragrances, some of which are rated by GoodGuide, and cut flowers and jewelry, which are not, also have supply chain issues to consider. But there are alternatives for those whose hearts are set on buying something for their significant other.

"You can go to a local farmers' market, seek out local organic flowers, find local artisans who make food, chocolate and other things," O'Rourke said. Better yet, he added, "you can make something."

With concerns about sustainability and the sheer amount of stuff in the world, "people are moving from gifts that have a global supply chain and to one that are local and very personal," he said.

ClimateCounts.org also has a searchable online database of major consumer product and service companies and rates them on their efforts in corporate climate responsibility.

Photo of chocolate hearts via Shutterstock.com.