The tool developed by The Sustainability Consortium (TSC), a global initiative to improve the sustainability of consumer products, is a valuable tool to improve the sustainability of Dutch consumer products. This was the conclusion drawn by initiators Ahold, Rabobank, ZLTO, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Wageningen UR following the completion of a three-year pilot of this tool in the Netherlands.
TSC, founded in the USA in 2009, developed a scientific measuring tool which can be used all over the world to exchange information about the sustainability of consumer products in the chain. This tool allows retailers to assess sustainability as well as price and quality when making their purchasing choices. TSC has more than 100 members, including Ahold, Unilever, Mars, the Dutch branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature and Solidaridad, who worked together with the coordinating universities to optimise this measuring tool. More than 1,700 suppliers use this tool to supply retailers with information about their product sustainability. This currently involves more than 120 billion euros in consumer sales; almost four times as much as the total supermarket turnover in the Netherlands.
Speaking the same language now
‘It is a great sign of progress that we are now speaking the same language when it comes to the actual improvement of the process of sustainability from producer to retail. This means that we can now focus on cooperation and action to make important improvements to many different products,’ states Alain Cracau from Rabobank. According to Erwin Maathuis from the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, the scientific basis of this research is especially salient.
TSC can play an important role
Richard Schouten from ZLTO (the Dutch Southern Agriculture and Horticulture Organisation) explains, ‘It is imperative that farmers are given a clear indication as to what their clients expect of them in terms of sustainability. TSC can play an important role in this process by correlating the applied indicators. I do believe, however, that the primary sector needs to become more involved in this initiative and in establishing standards.’
‘The quantitative environmental indicators particularly appeal to me' says Leon Mol from Ahold. 'In addition to its wide-ranging applicability to all products, these indicators truly distinguish TSC.’
Sustainable consumer products all over the world
‘By using such tools, purchasers in the retail sector can make a real difference. Furthermore, the extensive scale on which TSC operates means these tools are already making an important contribution to the sustainability of consumer products all over the world. Through broad and large-scale application, including in the Netherlands, this effect can continue to grow,’ concludes Koen Boone from Wageningen UR enthusiastically.
Sustainability of the food consumed in the Netherlands
The European branch of TSC was opened in 2011 under the direction of Wageningen UR. The main task of this branch is to ensure that this tool is suitable for application in Europe. In 2012, a pilot scheme co-financed by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs was initiated in which the developed questionnaires were submitted to Ahold suppliers. The feedback that was provided by the suppliers and project partners of this pilot resulted in the improvement of the globally used indicators, the clarification of the indicators and better coordination with widely applied sustainability initiatives such as GlobalG.A.P (the global organisation for good agricultural practices) and the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI). The second pilot scheme was launched in 2015 with a different large retailer in the Netherlands. A project has since been implemented with Alliantie Verduurzaming Voedsel (a Dutch cooperative alliance working for the sustainability of food), in which the Dutch retail, catering, hospitality, food processing and agricultural sectors work together to promote the sustainability of the food consumed in the Netherlands. The proposed wide-ranging utilisation of the globally coordinated questionnaire will benefit all the partners in this project.