Consensus Building at The Sustainability Consortium
The Sustainability Consortium held its biannual member summit this May in Atlanta. PRé Founder Mark Goedkoop and PRé North America President Renée Morin used this opportunity to learn, as well as influence, how The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) is developing
PRé has entered its third year as a Tier 1 member, and thus has full access as well as a deep understanding of TSC and its initiatives. A hot topic at the meeting was the consolidation and distribution of information on hot spot identification and improvement opportunities.
A bold declaration
The Sustainability Consortium was recently coined by Scientific American as a “world changing initiative.” This is, of course, great news for an organization aimed at transforming the way companies communicate, report, and improve product sustainability. But it also puts a lot of pressure on the organization to deliver. We must work to be worthy of this moniker.
A qualitative approach to hotspot identification
When TSC started, work began on developing a consensus on an LCA-based reporting system. In 2011, it was decided that this approach was taking too long, and could not be scaled to cover all 40,000-plus products. So instead of measuring and comparing products, TSC embarked on a more qualitative approach. A new focus was developed on understanding where the hotspots are, and what the commonly agreed improvement opportunities are per sector.
After a consensus-building process, the agreed upon hotspots and improvement opportunities were translated into a questionnaire to be used to assess the entire value chain (life cycle) of a product group. This approach works really well. The first 100 product groups have been assessed and a questionnaire based on the results has been developed. Consumer giant Walmart uses the questionnaires for all purchases. The next batch of 100 product groups is being released soon, and work on further batches in underway.
Adapting for a wider audience while avoiding questionnaire fatigue
During the meeting much discussion focused on how to develop the tools and infrastructure for an efficient and effective adaptation of these results, for members other than Walmart to use. TSC presented an experiment with SAP to develop a repository for all questionnaires and their replies. The ambition is to fight questionnaire fatigue by having a central repository.
Streamlining LCA results for global ease of use
We discussed with meeting attendees how this would work. One problem is that next to SAP, there are likely to be multiple other initiatives also developing a one-stop repository for supplier information, which will again lead to questionnaire fatigue.
PRé has been one of the first to think about this potential for needless overlapping and repetition. By 2002, PRé was the first to sponsor the Earthster system to assist with the issue of questionnaire fatigue. TSC also originally selected Earthster as an open-source solution, but the system has not been implemented.
PRé does not want to become a global repository ourselves. Instead our position is that we should help all of our corporate SimaPro users to easily connect to whatever systems are developed. We would like to develop publish and search functionalities within such systems. The group also discussed fresh startup www.supplyshift.net.
PRé is very interested in this area, and to that end we are working hard to connect SimaPro to this very important development. More news will follow in August 2013.
When I established PRé in 1990 I ran a design consultancy, then I decided to do ecodesign. But, how do I tell the good from the bad? And how can I measure ‘eco’? So I started on a journey together with a few pioneers in the emerging LCA scene and gave up designing. I realized then that these same questions need to be answered by any company embarking on the route to more sustainable products and services, preferably in a scientific, honest, and businesslike way. Providing good transparent tools, data, and methodologies to empower organizations to make the transition to sustainability, that is my drive.