New sustainability toolkit to help herb farmers in the botanical industry meet “overwhelming challenges”
16 Mar 2023 --- The Sustainable Herbs Program (SHP) has updated its toolkit to support companies in ensuring a long-term, sustainable supply of botanicals. NutritionInsight sits down with Ann Armbrecht, SHP director, and Taylor Clayton, sustainability impact manager at Traditional Medicinals, to discuss how the update can help build a more sustainable herb industry.
“The botanical industry is uniquely suited to lead the way in doing business that serves health and wellness for all – for people, plants and the planet, not just finished product consumers,” says Armbrecht.
Botanicals are in growing demand as food and health ingredients, with a rising consumer interest in natural health products, functional foods and natural food ingredients with well-being benefits.
However, Armbrecht highlights that sustainability challenges threaten the long-term supply of herbs and medicinal plants, which are too significant for companies to tackle independently. “The challenges are tough and knowing where to begin can be overwhelming.”
“The toolkit offers a map to help companies at different stages of their sustainability journey. It brings together resources and case studies from other sectors of various industries to inform, inspire and guide a company’s progress.”
Clayton adds, “Different companies are frequently asking for different, separate data sets, placing an undue burden on farmers to comply. The tool kit helps to provide farmer perspectives along with links to working groups to help companies align in their approach to making data requests.”
Overcoming sustainability issues
The botanical industry should increase coordination and support toward helping farmers acquire new certifications, such as FairWild and the Regenerative Organic Certified standards, stresses Clayton.
Supporting farmers to obtain new certifications will help “boost incentives and long-term demand for certified herbs with voluntary sustainability standards.”
“Consistent alignment and communication with farmers is a pressing issue within the herb industry. Farmers face increased demands and challenges to acquire certifications and report on new metrics, such as those associated with Scope 3 emissions.”
Scope 3 refers to emissions associated with a company’s full supply chain.
Armbrecht adds, “I think the most pressing issues in the herb industry are labor shortages from aging farmers and wild harvesters and younger generations not being interested in the work involved and migrating to cities, climate change and the disruptions it causes, declining biodiversity and declining soil health.”
“But, if every company committed to investing in knowing where at least one botanical they source comes from, understanding the conditions at the source and taking action to improve those conditions, that would be a step in the right direction.”
The updated toolkit contains a short self-assessment to check where a company stands in its sustainability journey, explains Armbrecht.
Companies will also have access to webinars with experts on topics in the toolkit, such as regenerative farming, wild plant collection and stewardship, living income and social equity. These insights are also incorporated in the revised toolkit.
Clayton adds, “Elements new to the second version included updated resources and an increased focus on regenerative business models beyond environment (taking worker-based considerations into account in defining regeneration).”
He also advises companies in the botanical sector to get involved in working groups with farmers and brands to increase communications and align on best practices.
“Increased pre-competitive collaboration is critical to aligning how we measure, aggregate and communicate sustainability data and insights.”
Clayton explains that Traditional Medicinals’ sustainability team integrated many of the recommendations and resources of the first version of the SHP Toolkit in 2021.
“Most useful are the hyperlinks to external organizations and resources that allow for alignment with best practices in sustainability and botanical herbs.”
Erin Douglas, social & environmental manager at Banyan Botanicals, adds, “the toolkit is a simple, approachable, practical tool to bring teams sourcing and sustainability teams together to benchmark and set sustainability sourcing goals.”
He explains that the company uses the worksheet-style pages as working documents to update and reflect and as documentation for its certification audits, such as Fair for Life, Fair Wild and B Corp.
As consumers become more health conscious, companies are placing more importance on natural formulation containing botanical ingredients and sustainability claims.
Clayton explains that Traditional Medicinals has set a target for emissions reduction in 2022 through the Science Based Targets initiative. The company now focuses on other impacts associated with the business.
“Targets aligned with science-based guidance allow us to track and communicate progress reliably and transparently.”
“We are working over the next year to conduct a natural capital impact assessment to inform the establishment of Science Based Targets for Nature focused on water, biodiversity and soil health.”
Meanwhile, SHP is creating communities of practice for its members where they can collaborate on specific issues, such as partnering in projects in source communities, developing nature-positive benchmarks and goals to help address labor shortages, protect biodiversity and build soil health.
Armbrecht concludes that investments in improving sustainability “is not an add-on for when a company has extra resources but is essential to sourcing the high quality consistent raw material.”
By Jolanda van Hal
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