Survival of the most sustainable: Global methodology accelerates sustainability of consumer products

Published on
April 25, 2019

Sustainability is a hot topic. This is not only true for consumers, but also for retailers, caterers, and wholesalers as they take responsibility in promoting the market demand for sustainable products. Retailers sometimes work with tens of thousands of products. This is why there is a great need for an integrated system that includes all sustainability themes and which can be applied to all product categories.

The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) developed a globally harmonised monitoring system for measuring the sustainability of consumer products. It provides businesses with an efficient tool to stimulate sustainability consistently, completely, and continuously throughout the chain. The tool is used by over 2500 companies globally.

Over the past three years, Wageningen Economic Research worked on the implementation of the TSC methodology in the Netherlands in the project "Continuous Improvement of Sustainability of all agro products" (CIS Agro).

Toolkits, hotspots and indicators

TSC compiled surveys for 113 different product categories. Each survey includes a maximum of 15 indicators (such as greenhouse emissions) and focuses on hotspots (bottlenecks). Worldwide, participating businesses sent the same questionnaire to their suppliers. They can provide answers to the questions faced by multiple buyers.

The surveys are a part of the toolkits and include instructions, background information, and references. The toolkits also include suggestions for increasing sustainability. The toolkits are based on science and are developed in collaboration with a large group of stakeholders.

TSC methodology is widely embraced

In the CIS Agro project, Wageningen Economic Research worked with a large group of stakeholders towards the successful implementation of TSC toolkits in the supply chains of food consumed in the Netherlands. Businesses such as Superunie, Aldi Nederland, Sligro Food Group, and Albron asked 56 suppliers to complete the survey for 15 product categories. The willingness to participate was great; over half of the total Dutch consumption was represented for several of the product categories.

It is an enormously powerful tool to increase sustainability: It is science-based, stakeholder informed and is the only one-stop-shop solution in the world
Koen Boone, Wageningen Economic Research

More sustainable products on the shelves 

The TSC toolkits have been implemented successfully in the Dutch context and have increased the importance of sustainability on the business agenda. They gained more insight into the sustainability scores of the products and the wishes of their buyers. The internal and external alignment regarding sustainability has also improved.

The participating businesses took a large number of measures, partly as a direct result of the project. From very concrete measures, such as the use of trucks with a lower energy rating, implementation of the sustainability certificate, and reducing packaging, to process changes such as appointing a coordinator and establishing a sustainability strategy.

Do you want to join?

In collaboration with the same businesses as well as new ones, Wageningen Economic Research will work on making other food categories more sustainable over the next few years. An investigation is also ongoing into whether the results can be used for communication with the consumer and in the financial sector. Project leaders Koen Boone and Birgit de Vos would like to get in touch with new interested partners.

About The Sustainability Consortium

The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) is a global non-profit organisation in which nearly 100 businesses, NGOs, and research institutions collaborate. Large multinationals from all parts of the chain, such as Bayer, BASF, Unilever, Pepsico, Marks & Spencer, and Walmart form the largest group of members. NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund and the World Resource Institute are also members. The coordination is in handled by three research institutions: Arizona State University, University of Arkansas, and Wageningen University & Research. Wageningen Economic Research coordinates the European activities of TSC.

Partners in sustainability

This project receives financial support from the Top Sectors Agro & Food and Horticulture & Propagation Materials. Within the Top Sectors, the business community, knowledge institutions, and the government work together in the area of sustainable production of healthy and safe food, and the development of a healthy, green living environment.

The private providers of finance are the Food Preservation Alliance (a collaboration of sector organisations from the Dutch food chain, LTO, FNLI, KHN, Veneca, CBL and Nevedi), Superunie, Aldi Nederland, Sligro Food Group, Groenten Fruit Huis, Flora Holland, Benefits of Nature, Albron, Elanco, PRé Consultants, Unilever and Grodan.