Sustainability Schemes should work together

The RTRS  (Roundtable on Responsible Soy) EU sustainability scheme for soy oil derived biofuels has been re-approved, which is good news. However there was a period of over a year when the approval of the scheme had expired.  It fits the pattern that food and farming schemes expire and remain without EU approval for long periods, during which certificate holders are inconvenienced or even have to gain an additional certification to trade. In contrast the schemes that specialise in bioenergy like ISCC, REDcert, and RSB manage to gain re-approval with no break in their validity.

In order to gain re-approval, schemes must adapt to regulatory changes and new requirements for transparency and robustness. With the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) EU RED Scheme due to expire this month, and no re-approval yet published, they may also be following the same pattern. 

This has significance beyond biofuels. Sustainability of agricultural commodities is a key concern for consumers. International brands are seeing it as increasingly important, helped by NGO assessments of their performance. As the different sustainability schemes compete with each other for recognition and uptake, neglecting the needs of certificate holders brings consequences. Consumers and producers would both like a choice of sustainability schemes and they want them to operate in a transparent and efficient manner.

The bioenergy schemes, which were first created to guarantee the sustainability of crop-based biofuels on the European market, are expanding into new regions and new markets like food, feed and fibres. For example, ISCC and 2BSvs between them have 68 certificate holders in the South American soy supply chain, which is similar to RTRS (64). 

Perhaps it is time for the original food schemes, which include Bonsucro, RTRS and RSPO, to work together to gain more uptake. One way is to make transactions easier for their certificate holders. A common chain of custody system for all of the schemes would allow key parts of the supply chain like traders and processors to verifiably transfer their products without losing the branding of the original scheme. The idea has been around for a while but has never been implemented. There are efforts to extend the reach of individual schemes by selling certificates or credits separate from the physical material. This is a partial solution but it remains to be seen whether it will enough to halt the advance of the competition. Working together would be even more effective.

Published: 12 December 17

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