Eco-credentials for eco-premium prices

22 December 2014

by Dr Brent Clothier

Overseas large-scale retailers and supermarket chains are creating assurance schemes to ensure that the produce they sell is sustainably produced. Walmart, for example, produces annual guidelines outlining its responsible resourcing of products, including environmental sustainability. Such assurance schemes are essentially eco-credentials of the footprint of the production system. This will lead to more sustainable primary production, and it has implications for growers and producers in New Zealand.

Products may indeed be excluded from premium markets if they do not meet the retailers’ environmental standards, or have not undertaken sufficient monitoring to satisfy the eco-credentialling requirements. On the other hand, sustainable producers will gain access to premium markets and prime shelf space when such standards are met. This will return an eco-premium to the producers.

In order to meet standards, recording and reporting must be undertaken in order to quantify aspects of the footprint of production, such as how much water is used, or carbon emitted. This accounting should become standard, just as financial accounting is. Ideally, our science will create a standardized metric which can be used across different products and into the future, tracking performance over time. The International Standards Organisation (ISO) has already ratified standards for water and carbon footprinting, and their increased application is imminent.

The science behind this process is rather complex, but the eco-credentials themselves must be simple to quantify, whilst being capable of being easily understood by the ‘gatekeepers’ of the retailers and supermarket chains. For example, water has many inflows and outflows of a system: rain, groundwater supplies and replenishment, irrigation, evaporation, storage within plants, streams and rivers. The challenge is to apply our knowledge of complex biological systems in order to create a simple metric that can be monitored, independently verified, and conveyed to retailers.

I have been involved in research with Plant & Food Research for Zespri, NZ Winegrowers, Pipfruit NZ and Horticulture NZ, helping to create metrics around water use and carbon emissions. In the case of kiwifruit, the science here was successful not only in helping Zespri to provide quality eco-credentials to European supermarkets, but also in terms of scientific rigour evidenced by publication of our protocols and results in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The latter provide an independent assessment of the science behind our footprinting methods and results.

It may be a challenge for producers across New Zealand to implement such monitoring. Such monitoring should, however, become routine, as with other reporting requirements. Nonetheless, as the market for sustainably-produced food grows larger and becomes more vigilant, it will become a necessity, and benefit, to secure access to premium export markets, especially for our fresh produce and wine. An additional advantage is that it will help make New Zealand into a more environmentally sustainable country with our natural-capital assets safeguarded into the future.

Mike Shaw
Communications Manager, Corporate Communications,
Plant & Food Research Mt Albert,
120 Mt Albert Road, Sandringham
Auckland, 1025, New Zealand
Telephone: +64-9-925 8652
Mobile: +64-21-2419 417

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