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Improved certification scheme modeled loosely on USDA organic model

A certification scheme similar to the USDA Organic certification scheme in which a third party certifying agent would evaluate producers, processors, and handlers to determine whether they conform to an established set of sustainability guidelines. At the end of the day, we are going to need a standardized and cost effective approach that provides transparency all along the means of production, and we can learn from the successes and failures of the current organic system.

Photo of Sean Hewens
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I propose a certification scheme similar to the USDA Organic certification scheme in which a third party certifying agent would evaluate producers, processors, and handlers to determine whether they conform to an established set of sustainability standards. Products conforming to the standards are certified by the agent and allowed to use a logo, product statement, or certificate to document their product as certified "sustainable". This logo or seal would adhere to the packaging of qualifying items, and could potentially include a QR code tracking relevant information, such as where the product was grown and distance traveled to market, price paid for the product, etc.


Proposed "sustainable" criteria might include:
1) All persons involved in the producing, processing, and handling of the food item were paid a “livable wage”, a figure that would vary with geography upon location (San Francisco vs. South Carolina) and which would be determined by the certifying agent and a set of standardized criteria.
2) All ingredients used in the product can be identified and tracked to their source.
3) All reasonably obtainable ingredients were sourced locally.
4) The product was grown "X" distance from where it was sold.


Advantages:
1) Simple and relatively cost effective. The scheme would be voluntary in nature (like getting certified as organic) but regulated if a party chose to certify their food product as "sustainable" under the scheme.
2) Would piggyback off the successes and learn from the failures of the USDA organic certification system.
3) Many consumers wish to purchase responsibly, but unfortunately don't have the time or the resources to acquire all of their food at farmer's markets or in other responsible ways. Consumers could be confident that products with the "sustainable" seal (even if purchased from Whole Foods or the local supermarket chain) were produced in a manner consistent with "sustainability" standards.
4) With the rise of QR Code technology, it would be relatively easy to provide information on the origin of the "sustainable" product (such as where it was grown; who grew it;) directly from a QR code affixed to the "sustainable" seal.

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Photo of Sean Hewens

Hi Sina. Thanks for the question. What the organic certification system does is that the "certification" portion of things is done by licensed third parties. It was the USDA, however, that created the organic guidelines. I'm thinking that for the "sustainable" scheme I've outline, the certification would be conducted by an NGO in the pilot stage, very much like the B-Corp certification that exists now (http://www.bcorporation.net/), with the plan that if the scheme grew and proved sustainable, it could be adopted by a state or federal agency and turned into law. This is what is happening right now with the B-Corp certification, where several states are in the process of creating an official corporate status based upon the B-Corp structure.

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