Collaborative Learning: Measuring Up!
Greetings! Welcome back to our Collaborative Learning Series and the launch of our next topic:
Measuring Sustainability: can measurement tools help guide sourcing decisions?
For the next few weeks we will be taking a closer look at indices and metrics and learning more about how these tools can help guide supply chain decision-making and investments.
Introducing our Thought Leaders
We are lucky to have two world class experts on the subject of sustainability measurement join us for our topic discussion and webinar: Laurence Smith, Senior Researcher at the Organic Research Centre in the UK, and Dr Sabine Deimling, Food & Agriculture expert at the sustainability and software consulting firm PE International.
Senior Researcher, Organic Research Centre, UK
Dr Sabine Deimling,
Food & Agriculture Sector LCA Expert, PE International
More about Laurence and Sabine can be found here.
Laurence and Sabine will be tasked with guiding us through the landscape of sustainability metrics; sharing their views on the pros and cons, opportunities and challenges, of applying numbers to impacts - and sharing their experiences within this expanding field of knowledge and application.
Meet Sabine and Laurence during our webinar on the 12th and 13th March. Register here.
There are various ways the textile industry can reduce its impact on the environment (and upon communities and society at large). One obvious way is to use less of what is known to be hazardous, scarce, and/or in dwindling supply.
Cotton growing: We know that cotton growers can use a lot of chemicals (such as pesticides, fertilisers containing nitrogen and phosphorous, defoliants such as paraquat) and water for irrigation on their farms – potentially resulting in a heavy carbon and water footprint.
Did you know? According to some researchers, Earth's phosphorus reserves are expected to be completely depleted in 50–100 years and peak phosphorus to be reached in approximately 2030..?
Textile dyeing: Many substances and processes used in the manufacturing of textiles are chemically-intensive. Some of the process and finishing chemicals used are known to have hazardous properties. For other chemicals we have little information available on their toxicology or other potential impacts. The amount of water consumed, and effluent generated, during processing can also effect water availability for other purposes, and of course the water quality.
These are two examples in the textile supply chain where reducing what we know to be hazardous, scarce, or in dwindling supply is necessary to improve impact on the environment.
“You cannot manage what you have not measured.”
Often it is difficult to appreciate the extent of an impact if we do not know “how much” we are dealing with and how this figure might compare with other practices or against industry benchmarks.
A number of tools have been developed in recent years which allow producers to assess specific impact areas and identify areas for improvement. The array of tools available can be confusing however as a result of differences in scope, the data sources used, and the time investment required. For example, some tools provide a quick overview of an entire farm and consider only carbon emissions within the farm gate, whereas others provide a product focussed assessment that accounts for emissions throughout an entire production life-cycle.
Recognising the impact at Tier 4
PUMA's pioneering work in Environmental Profit & Loss accounting revealed the significant impact of textile producion occurring at 'Tier 4' - raw material production.
PUMA - EP&L results
Over half (57% or € 83 million) of all PUMA's environmental impacts are associated with the production of raw materials (including leather, cotton and rubber) in Tier 4 of PUMA’s supply chain.
“The unprecedented PUMA Environmental Profit and Loss Account has been indispensible for us to realize the immense value of nature’s services that are currently being taken for granted but without which companies could not sustain themselves,” said Jochen Zeitz, Executive Chairman of PUMA and Chief Sustainability Officer of PPR.
A Question of Scope
As Laurence Smith points out, the limited scope of many of the tools currently available, whilst giving us some insight - particularly into one or two key impact areas such as water use and carbon emissions - can also be limited in their usefulness, leaving out more holistic considerations such as soil health, biodiversity, and food security.
Diagram: Soil & More – demonstrating the typical scope of the system boundaries of a carbon footprint
And of Applicability
There is also a question of applicability; a tool that only considers the effect of actions without taking account of site specific variables, such as soil type, water availability, and cost of resources, can lead to misleading results (for nitrous oxide emissions and soil carbon sequestration rates, for example).
Assessments could also be improved through encouraging a conversation between farmers, the assessor, and members of the supply chain, throughout the process. Such an approach could foster a truly effective approach to sustainability that moves beyond a simple ‘numbers game’ and identifies effective, tailor-made solutions. Sustainability tools should help build awareness and capacities on sustainability issues.
Another important consideration is...
“Not everything that can be measured matters – and not everything that matters can be measured.”
Numbers do indeed have their place. I don’t think anyone would dispute this. But just as important is the unpacking of these numbers – and what we do with them. They need to be meaningful to all stakeholders. They also need to be joined up to other numbers, and proportional.
Compost is a great example, explains Tobias Bandel of Soil & More. If not attended to properly, compost can be a significant contributor to methane gas production and create a negative “score” (methane has a carbon equivalence 25 times higher than C02). Yet, with good management, farmers are known to achieve carbon credits as a result.
A Common Consensus
Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems (SAFA)
We all know that the word “sustainable” is being increasingly used and abused; allowing impact areas to be “cherry picked” while neglecting others, or devaluing the term by calling something sustainable at the blink of an eye.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) consulted with a wide range of stakeholders to reach an understanding of the “dimensions” of sustainability and produce a suite of indicators appropriate for measurement. The Sustainability Assessment on Food and Agriculture (SAFA) and Guidelines have recently been released and are now being piloted in a number of countries, products, and supply chains.
SAFA: A holistic framework
Nadia El-Hage Scialabba of the FAO explains that the SAFA Guidelines and Assessment tool are:
- Appropriate for all sizes of enterprises at all levels of the food/ agriculture/ livestock/ forestry/ fishery chain – it serves primary producers, processors/manufacturers and retailers
- An umbrella approach that builds on existing schemes - it does not replace existing certification or reporting schemes
- Provides analysis of successes in sustainability performance and target areas of improvement – it builds awareness and capacities on sustainability issues
- Intended for self-analysis, internal management, impact assessment or B2B communication - it offers a fair playing field
Commendably, the SAFA tool encourages us to view sustainability metrics holistically and to report actual performance rather than defaulting to the way more intangible reporting of a percentage improvement.
Sustainable Apparel Coalition - Higg Index
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) is an industry-wide group of over 80 apparel and footwear brands, retailers, suppliers, nonprofits, and NGOs (early members included Nike, Gap Inc, H&M, Levi Strauss, Marks & Spencer, and Patagonia) who are working to lead the apparel industry towards developing improved sustainability strategies and tools to measure and evaluate sustainability performance.
The Coalition is developing a metrics-based tool that will assist companies in the measurement of their environmental and social impacts. Known as the Higg Index; evolving from Nike's Apparel Environmental Design Tool and the Outdoor Industry Association's Eco Index. The index will help companies assess usages of energy, water, and chemicals, and also evaluate products' entire life cycles. Companies will be able to measure their performance, compare them to their peers, and receive guidelines and resources for how they can improve their performance across all such metrics.
OIA: Eco-Index Flow Diagram- demonstrating the seven impact lenses
How do metrics support organic cotton as a product-of-choice?
We know that organic agriculture:
- Uses no toxic or synthetic chemicals in the production of cotton and other crops.
- In best practice situations, organic systems are "closed loop" meaning the system does not require external inputs or produce waste.
- Soils are built up using organic matter to increase the water-holding capacity. More often organic production is low - or no - till.
- Currently, most organic cotton production is rainfed (~80-85%) particularly in Africa, parts of India and Latin America, and Texas where water scarcity is an issue.
- Grey water is usually less contaminated - no chemical sprays to neutralise, or high NPK fertiliser runoff into waterways or ground water - or causing eutrophication.
- Harvesting is mostly by hand - since chemical defoliants are not used.
- Yields are sometimes higher and sometimes lower than other farming systems - however most importantly biodiversity is often high due to the use of botanic products, polyculture, and promotion of trap crops and vegetative borders.
It is clearly a huge opportunity for organic agriculture to be recognised as a viable option for companies wishing to shrink their environmental footprint - and research by Textile Exchange and many others will help position organic cotton well on the Higg Index.
So... this blog is intended to be a thought starter...
We would love to hear from you!
What is your view on the contribution measurement tools make to our understanding of sustainablity and how useful are metrics to your business when it comes to making business decisions?
Share your comments and experiences in the comments box below. We look forward to hearing from you!
How Can We Build A Sustainable Farming System For All http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/blog/farming-system-principles-based-sustainable?intcmp=239
For list of further reading and references please click here.
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