Wageningen, The Netherlands
April 24, 2012
Wal-Mart has announced this month that it is set to use sustainability indicators, developed by The Sustainability Consortium (TSC), in the assessment of its suppliers. It is the first retailer to make such an announcement. Various other retailers within the consortium are expected to follow Wal-Mart's example in the near future. As the coordinator of the European activities of this globally-operating consortium, Wageningen UR is intensively involved in the development of methods of measuring sustainability at product level and identifying options for improvement. LEI is one of the parts of Wageningen UR that play a role in this. Besides having offices in the USA and Europe, TSC opened a new office in South America this month, and expansion is also planned into Asia.
TSC is an independent organisation of producers of consumer products and retailers in the food and non-food sectors. Besides Wal-Mart, TSC members include retailers such as Ahold and Marks & Spencer, as well as recent new additions Tesco and Delhaize. A number of NGOs such as the World Wide Fund for Nature are involved with the initiative. Other examples of the organisations involved worldwide, of which there are more than 80, include: BASF, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DSM, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Tyson and Unilever.
TSC wants to provide scientific and academic support for the increased sustainability of consumer products. The most important sustainability issues (hotspots) are therefore determined for each product category. Indicators and improvement options are being devised for these hotspots. These indicators can be used by retailers' purchasers to assess their suppliers and to encourage them to make improvements. A pilot scheme is due to be launched in the near future with a database available for all participants in order to harmonise the exchange of responses to these indicators between retailers and producers. This will avoid many irrelevant questions and producers will no longer have to answer a different questionnaire for every retailer. Besides these product category-broad tools, product-specific instruments are also being developed with which a producer can demonstrate in a quantitative manner how its product distinguishes itself in all areas of sustainability from the average product. By now, seven product-specific analyses have been done and this year indicators will be devised for 100 product categories. Between now and 2015, an additional 500 product categories are scheduled to be addressed, resulting in almost the entire supermarket range being covered.