Sustainable Natural Rubber project
By David Shaw
As the world increases momentum towards sustainability and corporate social responsibility, all players in the rubber industry value chain are rapidly focusing their attention onto the application of sustainability principles and the global supply chain with regard to resource efficiency/purchase of raw materials, says IRSG.
Natural Rubber is soon to get a rubber stamp of sustainability. At the World Rubber Summit in Singapore during the week of 19-21 May, members approved a Sustainable Natural Rubber programme.
The programme as agreed will mean little operational change for most growers or smallholders in the short term. Longer term, it should result in a serious programme which can help the users of rubber to demonstrate the sustainability credentials of this most environmentally-friendly polymer.
First things first. It is a voluntary scheme, Growers, processors and others can choose to join the scheme or not, as they see fit.
Second: The scheme is based on self-certification. There is no external accreditation authority – which means the costs associated with external accreditation are minimised.
Third: The scheme has built-in review stages so that it can adapt and change as the interests of producers and/or the requirements of consumers change with time.
Fourth: The scheme has the broad approval of all stakeholders in the rubber industry, from governments of Producing Nations to growers’ representatives and consumers.
Fifth: It has been designed to take into account the cost structures of the global natural rubber industry and aims to minimise the costs to smallholders.
The roll-out programme will involve information leaflets, presentations at industry conferences across the world and other publicity, including articles in magazines such as this.
As noted above, the scheme is voluntary for all participants. There is no compulsion or requirement to sign up to the scheme. Individual business managers can make that decision based on their assessments of the potential rewards and costs.
Furthermore, individual smallholders have a choice of ways to become accredited to the scheme. The scheme includes a provision for groups to gain collective accreditation. For example, a processing house might work with its suppliers to accredit all of them as a group.
In other cases, a downstream customer might fund the accreditation process on behalf of a grower.
Alternatively, a plantation or larger smallholding might choose to gain individual accreditation.
Today there are a handful of rubber growers in the world who have won accreditation to the FSC (Forestry Sustainability Council) and other sustainability standards. In many cases, the benefit to the farmer has come in the form of increased prices.
However, the improved price has not been the biggest benefit, according to Günther Lottmann, general manager of the industrial unit at Guatemala’s Grupo Agroindustrial Occidente, who is manager of the first FSC-accredited rubber plantation in the world, in Guatemala. He said the biggest benefit is in the improved management practices and better yields and quality that come from the compliance programme.
In the specific case of the IRSG scheme, most observers agreed that the criteria are at a low level. This means that most rubber farmers will automatically achieve accreditation levels with minimal effort. The scheme provides a way for downstream customers to demonstrate that their supply chain has adopted sustainability criteria.
Full Article in PTA June/July issue