SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  21 January 2011
Volume 12 Issue 1

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Summary of Sustainability Assessments and Communication Platform Session, 2010 SETAC North America Annual Meeting

Emma Lavoie (US Environmental Protection Agency) and Annie Weisbrod (Proctor & Gamble)

This session continued presentation and discussion of assessments, approaches and communications of sustainability by varying organizations. Presentations demonstrated the broad approaches and issues that organizations need to address in making more sustainable choices, from practical decisions to reduce environmental impacts in product manufacture to basic environmental survey to decision analysis. These stories gave a high level perspective on the practical decisions to be made in order to apply basic SETAC science to large scale problems and alternately develop sustainable approaches to reduce environmental pollution in the future.

There seemed to be a broadly held opinion among session participants that corporations should manage the social and environmental impacts of their supply chains. The first three talks described diverse initiatives to measure and communicate sustainability performance within supply chains. Bruce Vigon (SETAC) summarized the Phase 1 results of the United Nations Environment Program—SETAC project to develop a capability framework for businesses and their supply chains, which is intended to identify and manage social and environmental issues in business strategies and practices. Notably, the pilot studies on how to effectively deploy life cycle management practices in lower tier suppliers (particularly in developing economies) found several common areas for improvement and demonstrated that technical jargon and lack of information in local languages present barriers. Annie Weisbrod (P&G) discussed the development and use of a supply sustainability scorecard developed by P&G in partnership with 20 major suppliers. Suppliers’ scorecard responses are used in an annual rankings process, effectively connecting improvements with business rewards, like contracts. The scorecard is offered as ‘open source’ for anyone to use and includes metrics defined by international standards for energy and water use, waste handling, CO2 emissions, environmental management systems, permit violations, etc. Robert ter Kuile (PepsiCo) spoke about an end-to-end sustainability program impacting supply chains and consumers. Initiatives like designing packages to increase recycling value, using biodegradable polymers, reducing energy use with new cooling technologies, and sustainable agriculture programs are intended to improve supply chain sustainability. Other programs are intended to improve consumer use sustainability, such as through increasing bottle recycling in the US and biodegradable chip bags, which turned out to be unpopular.

The next two talks highlighted approaches by NGOs to encourage sustainable product design. Topher Buck (GreenBlue) spoke about assisting organizations with new tools and resources to identify the sustainable product design attributes most relevant for a given sector or product category. Examples included methods developed through the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and the CleanGredients database. CleanGredients provides physical-chemical data and independently verified data on human and environmental health attributes of listed chemicals, along with typical product attributes like cost and performance. Cara Welch (Natural Products Association) spoke on newly developed criteria for 'natural', driven by consumer interest areas and expectations for the natural products industry. The criteria entailed a thorough investigation of existing standards for natural and organic products around the world and addressed four concepts: natural, safety, responsibility and sustainability. Criteria include ingredient disclosure and requirements on chemical processing.

The last two talks were on interesting related subjects. Pieter Booth (Exponent) described use of the Equator Principles, voluntary standards for determining, assessing and managing social and environmental risk in project financing, patterned after performance standards developed by the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank. A case study of a hydroelectric plant proposed to be built in very large tropical forest was used to show the requirements lenders have for assessing the risks to ”Critical Natural Habitat” by such infrastructure proposals. Cynthia Stahl (US EPA) spoke about how sustainability assessments based on sound science and good decision making share the same traits. A case study of how regional senior managers make budget allocation decisions based on the vulnerability of the environment was used to illustrate of the feasibility of the Multi-criteria Integrated Resource Assessment process.

This was the third consecutive platform session offered on “Sustainability Assessments and Communication” at SETAC-NA Meetings. Due to continuing interest in this field among members and the development of a Global SETAC Advisory Group for Sustainability within SETAC, we plan to propose a similar session for SETAC-NA in Boston in 2011.

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