4.5 Best Practice Development

If you decide to apply your company’s own set of sustainability criteria rather than using an external standard, it will take time and effort to have a good idea about the options available for (more) sustainable agricultural sourcing, and to review the criteria that need to be set in the future standard. As a rule, firms will seldom choose a standard before having explored the best available options for improvement first. Best practice development is often more than a cooperative learning process in which farmers and suppliers are involved. Other partners in (pre-competitive) best practice development may be competitors, industry associations, technical and scientific institutes, governments and non-governmental organisations. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are the main issues that your company wants to tackle with its (future) sustainability criteria or standard? (For example, pesticide use, water consumption, erosion, and labour conditions.)
  2. Have best practices already been developed for these issues (by your own company, by suppliers, by farmer organisations, by industry associations, by competitors and by others)?
  3. What are the main issues for which best practice guidance still needs to be developed?
  4. Are there opportunities to collaborate with other companies on a pre-competitive basis so as to not “reinvent the wheel” and to drive consensus towards improvement?
  5. Are there opportunities to work and/or partner with NGOs, governments and others on these issues so as to share the burden of, for example, farmer capacity building, initial investment etc?
  6. What parties can best be involved in exploring best practices to ensure effective implementation of the future standard?

Companies Leading in Best Practice Development

Developing best practices for sustainable agriculture means cooperation – with suppliers and farmers and, more than often, with NGOs, scientists and governments. The Coca-Cola Company partnership with WWF (described in Example 8 below) illustrates cooperation between an industry leader, its suppliers and a leading NGO to achieve synergies and attain objectives in the conservation of water.

Example 8. Coca-Cola Partnership to Conserve Water

Water is vital to both WWF and The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC). Beverages are the firm’s business, and water is the main ingredient in every product the company makes. Safe water also is vital to the sustainability of the communities that the company serves. WWF’s mission is the conservation of nature and the protection of natural resources for people and wildlife. This includes protecting freshwater ecosystems. Through a partnership, TCCC and WWF are combining their strengths and resources to support water conservation throughout the world.

The partners have agreed to:

  • Measurably conserve seven key watersheds;
  • Improve the efficiency of the Coca-Cola system’s water use;
  • Support more efficient water use in the company’s agricultural supply chain, with an initial focus on sugarcane, expanding to oranges and corn;
  • Decrease the Coca-Cola system’s carbon dioxide emissions and energy use; and
  • Inspire a global movement by uniting industries, conservation organisations and others in the conservation and protection of freshwater resources around the world.

Source: TCCC and WWF Partnership

Example 9 below presents another case on growing apples sustainably and shows how HEINEKEN, a leading cider producer, seeks cooperation with farmers, governments and others.

Example 9. Cider from Sustainably-Grown Apples: Heineken and the HONE Network

HEINEKEN in the UK supports The Hereford Orchards Network of Excellence (HONE), which was established in late 2010 to build a long-term focused network of Herefordshire, UK, cider apple growers. Many of these growers supply apples for Bulmers ciders1, a HEINEKEN range of brands, in order to secure the supply of sustainably sourced cider apples. There are currently over 150 growers in the network.

There is a recognised need to develop more sustainable management systems for cider apples, given the very long-term nature of the crop (apple trees produce crops for about 40 years). Key issues are increasing input costs and impacts, climate change implications and regulatory pressures. To do this work is critical for the apple growers, for HEINEKEN UK as the world’s largest cider maker, but also for the wider rural economy in the west of England.

HONE provides a forum for discussion and engagement in the development of more sustainable management systems for cider apples and runs a number of trials of more sustainable techniques. The network management is 80% EU funded with HEINEKEN UK providing the required match funding. HONE is managed by the Bulmer Foundation. The EU funding for HONE is for two years, but growers are working on ideas to find more permanent funding because of the value it is providing.

The HONE network has three primary objectives:

1) to engage the grower community in the cider industry’s sustainability agenda which is managed by the trade association pomology2 committee, in which HEINEKEN UK is an active member, to successively create a more sustainable system of raw material production;

2) to provide an active engagement forum for growers to share best practice with each other and to disseminate news from relevant external sources; and

3) to conduct and evaluate a number of trials with growers to see what new techniques can be developed, especially in existing orchards where there is no option of new planting (ranging from new methods of nitrogen application to developing new accounting tools).

Source: SAI Platform Project 

1 Cider is an alcoholic drink made from fermentation of apple and/or pear juice

2 Pomology is the study of growing apple trees


Industry-Wide Cooperation for Developing Best Practices

There are several successful examples of pre-competitive industry-wide cooperation for developing and defining best practices. One example of an organisation contributing to best practice definition for multiple agricultural raw materials is the SAI Platform – see Example 17. Another example of an organisation developing a standard amongst competitors, for a specific crop, is the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) – see Example 10 below.

Example 10. Industry-Wide Cooperation for Developing Best Practices: The World Cocoa Foundation

Cooperation across the Cocoa Value Chain

The World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), based in Washington, is an international membership organisation representing more than 90 member companies across the cocoa value chain. WCF is committed to creating a sustainable cocoa economy by “putting farmers first – promoting agricultural & environmental stewardship, and strengthening development in cocoa-growing communities”.

WCF operates at the local and global level, bridging the needs of cocoa farmers and their families with the needs of the cocoa industry and the environment. Drawing on the strength of its members, and its partner network, WCF claims to combine unique industry experience, expertise and influence to deliver the necessary social, agricultural and economic advances to promote a healthy, sustainable cocoa economy that benefits everyone from producer to consumer.

Public-Private Partnerships

WCF works through public-private partnerships that bring together donors, industry members, producing country governments, research institutes and non-governmental organisations to achieve its goals. The Foundation supports programmes that benefit farmers in cocoa-growing regions of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Americas: programmes that work with farmers at the farm level, prior to sale or commercialisation of their cocoa, providing farmers with the skills they need to operate productive farms and make sound business decisions.

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