Today’s Industry Gatekeepers By Visions Group

Since our last issue, much has been published concerning sustainability in the floriculture industry. The complexity and sheer volume of the information only reinforces our opinion that this very involved issue is not going away and will become an important part of our everyday business and personal lives. In November's Big Grower, we attempted to define sustainability and remove some of the mystery from the many terms associated with this topic. In this issue we will present an overview of the types of standard-setting organizations and also look at some of the more familiar standards (codes of conduct) that presently exist, with a closer view of those that pertain to floriculture.

Who's in Charge Here?

Standards can be established by many types of organizations. Standards that are set by governments are generally called regulations. They can occur at the city, county, state and federal level and are almost always mandatory. The one exception is when the standard is developed and administered by semi-independent agencies (USDA), and then they can be voluntary. The U.S. Organic Program is one such standard. Both of these types of standards may or may not include a certification process.

The industry itself can also be a standard-setting organization. Standards may come from producers (first-party) or the buyers or retailers (second-party). They can also be developed in-house or by an independent third-party standard developer, either independently or in conjunction with a trade or industry group. These third-party standards developers are usually accredited by a national or international independent accrediting organization such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). They usually carry a certification process that is administered by a third-party certification organization, which has no stake in the business being certified. These programs are voluntary, but certification can be a requirement for membership in certain organizations or even a requirement imposed by potential customers to be able to conduct business with them.

Outside the Industry

Here are some of the existing standards and certification programs in nonfloriculture industries that you may be familiar with.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC): Encourages socially, economically and environmentally sustainable forest management for the timber trade and forestry professionals.

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC): Promotes principles and criteria for sustainable fishing and environmentally responsible fishery management.

Starbucks Coffee and Farmer Equity (CAFƒ) Practices: Promotes the sustainable production of cherry and green coffee.

Neumann Kaffee Gruppe (NKG) Sustainability: German-developed standard that conserves natural resources and creates a respectful and supportive environment for coffee workers. Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI): A program of the American Forest and Paper Association that promotes a system of principles, objectives and performance measures that integrates long-term sustained growing and harvesting of trees while protecting the environment where they are grown.

USDA Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) Requirement: Mandates by law that U.S. retailers notify their customers of the country of origin of most food products.

International Standards Organization (ISO): There are a number of ISO standards covering various manufacturing and management practices.

Closer to Home

Now we'll take a look at the standards presently in existence for the plant and flower industry. The earliest programs were developed mainly for the cut-flower segment of the industry or for organic production. Recent programs are more all-inclusive, covering all segments of the industry.

Milieu Programma Sierteelt (MPS): This program was developed in the Netherlands in 1993 to reduce the impact of floriculture on the environment. It has since spread to other, mostly European, countries. Eighty-five percent of the flowers sold at the Dutch auctions are certified under MPS. This program analyzes a grower's pesticide use, recycling practices, and energy and water use. The information must be reported monthly. There are three levels of certification — A, B or C — based on the data and level of achievement in each category. MPS has recently begun to introduce certification programs that include some social standards.

Kenya Flower Council (KFC): This program was developed in 1994 by six of Kenya's largest cut-flower producers in collaboration with various ministries of the Kenyan government. This code includes both labor and environmental standards and was intended to improve the industries reputation in overseas markets. Members have a one-year grace period to reach compliance in one of the program's two levels, silver and gold. The silver level includes compliance with labor rights, health and safety standards, and environmental regulations. The gold level includes stricter environmental standards. Audits are external and repeated every six months. Certified producers benefit from the use of KFC's "environmentally friendly" label on their products and advertisements.

International Code of Conduct (ICC) for Cut-Flower Producers: This was proposed in 1998 by the International Union of Food Workers and unions in Germany, Holland and Switzerland. This code emphasizes employers' respect for labor rights, such as freedom of association, collective bargaining, equal treatment, living wages, child labor, compliance with health and safety standards, environmental protection, and limited pesticide and chemical use.

Max Havelaar: Beginning in 2001, the Switzerland-based Max Havelaar Foundation began to award its label to ICC-certified cut-flower producers from Ecuador, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The foundation certifies agricultural products that are produced and sold in accordance with international criteria for fair trade. Exporters selling flowers with the Max Havelaar label have received a higher price in the Swiss market because Swiss consumers will pay more for certified flowers.

Flower Label Programme (FLP): Created in 1996 as a business-to-business code between BGI, a German importers association, and the Association of Flower Producers and Exporters of Ecuador (Expoflores). The initial standards focused on environmental conditions associated with cut-flower production but were expanded to include social and labor conditions in 1999, when ICC standards were incorporated into FLP. There is an annual inspection required prior to re-certification.

U.S. National Organic Program (NOP): This program came into existence in 2002 and is administered by the USDA. It requires that all products sold in the United States as "organic" be certified as produced under organic practices by a third-party independent certification organization or USDA-accredited state certification program.

Eco Options: This is not a national standard, but rather a proprietary labeling program owned by the Home Depot and attached to products sold in its stores that meet established environmental criteria in one of five areas: clean air, water conservation, energy efficiency, healthy home and responsible forest management. This program is administered by an independent accredited third-party certifier (Scientific Certification Systems). Home Depot retains the right to add products to this program and market them under this label.

VeriFlora: VeriFlora is a sustainability certification program for fresh cut flowers and potted plants. VeriFlora-certified products have been produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner with the highest standards for freshness and quality. This program began in 2003 when a group of U.S.-based cut-flower producers, distributors and merchants saw the success of European-labeled sustainably grown programs and contacted SCS (Scientific Certification Systems) to develop standards that would better address differences between the North American and European markets.

What resulted was a certification program for both cut flowers and potted plants, including young plants, which encompasses criteria in the following areas: sustainable crop production, resource conservation and energy efficiency, ecosystem protection, emissions and waste reduction, fair labor practices, community responsibility, product quality, and product safety and purity. This program is administered by SCS and includes yearly audits to retain certification. This standard is included in the Proposed National Draft Standard for Sustainable Agriculture that has been accepted by ANSI and is presently going through the acceptance process to become the American National Standard for Sustainable Agriculture. This process is in the beginning stages of stakeholder meetings facilitated by the Leonardo Academy.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, this is a very complex and fragmented issue. It is clear that employing sustainable practices in all phases of your business has the potential to benefit ownership, your employees, your customers, the community and the environment. Whether we should is really not the question; the design of sustainable programs and practices and how you implement them within your business is the dilemma. When correctly formulated and employed, sustainable practices can reduce costs, increase revenue and profits, and offer future owners greater longevity, all while differentiating your business and products from your competitors.

Visions Group

Visions Group LLC is a solutions group providing marketing, management and production assistance to the green industry. The group can be reached at (440) 319-2458.

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