7 innovations driving certified-sustainable markets of the future

Certified sustainable segments of industries with the biggest environmental and social footprints -- agriculture, forestry and tourism --  have been growing for a decade. Rainforest Alliance Certified farms produce 4.6 percent of the world’s coffee, 10.2 percent of cocoa, 11.2 percent of tea, and 15 percent of bananas. Forest Stewardship Council forests worldwide cover an area about the size of Chile. Sustainability certification is expanding into new markets, like the first certified cattle ranches and the first FSC certified TV set. The list of businesses committed to 100 percent sustainable sourcing is impressive and growing.

This sort of growth is a new normal, and in a way, old news, although no less welcome for being an established trend. But beyond that, something else is emerging in the certification and sustainability sectors these days: The sense that as they grow, they’re supplying the knowledge and innovations their entire industries will need to function well as sustainability challenges ramp up. 

According to KPMG, “sustainability megaforces” -- from population growth and food security to deforestation and climate change -- will affect every business’s performance and profitability within 20 years. A new study finds the food and beverage sectors are at the highest risk. Pioneers of sustainable production and sourcing are confronting problems and evolving solutions today that the rest of their industries may depend on tomorrow. Their work was showcased at a Sustainability and Certification Innovation Workshop the Rainforest Alliance organized last week in New York, featuring business leaders and experts sharing what they’re learning and inventing as they climb the sustainability curve.

Throughout the workshop, common themes emerged:

Cut waste -- IndoTeak Design purchases reclaimed teak at auction and re-uses it to craft flooring, paneling and decking. It’s finding major savings by reducing packaging and changing package shape to optimize it for shipping containers, which cuts transport costs 40 percent. Kingfisher, Europe’s leading home improvement retailer, reduced landfill waste 70 percent and cut packaging costs by Dumpster diving to investigate what its stores were throwing away and why.

Raise yields -- Meeting rising food demand sustainably requires raising farmers’ yields and farmer incomes on existing cropland, including for coffee and cocoa, which are threatened by climate change. In West Africa, low yields keep many rural smallholder cocoa farmers in poverty, pressuring them to encroach on nearby forests. To prevent that, Barry Callebaut, the largest cocoa manufacturer, trains farmers to raise yields and income on the land they have, while global supply chain manager Olam is co-financing an experimental REDD project to give farmers additional income. In Latin America, Nestlé works to raise coffee farmers’ yields and incomes, providing training and higher-yield (non-GMO) plantlets. 

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