11/12/2013 06:04 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:56 EST

Creating a Global Platform for Sustainability

Earlier this fall I participated in a panel at the Toronto Board of Trade about "Achieving a sustainable and responsible global sourcing policy."

This was the Board's first panel on sustainability and given strong attendee interest, it won't be the last. And that's essential. Given their supply chain power, companies must continually advance more sustainable practices and must be reinforced by benchmarking transparency standards.

In practice, what does this mean?

On the panel we each discussed our own company's approach to sustainable sourcing; who we view as sustainability leaders in our respective industries; the rise of eco-labels; global sourcing standards, and emerging trends. We also explored what sustainability initiatives are ideal versus realistic in today's business environment.

Global sustainability challenges have prompted many companies, including mine, to create procedures and policies to ensure an increasingly sustainable supply chain -- from raw materials (cradle) through production, point of sale, and end of life recovery and reuse (grave). So establishing more uniform global sustainability standards would seem natural but the reality is more complicated due to different geographies, climates, cultures, manufacturing techniques, and regional socio-economic differences.

What is needed to create more uniform sustainability standards? To start, we must establish key focal points that consider shared sustainability commitments, no matter the industry. They can include:

  1. Integration of transparent sustainability commitments from cradle to grave of the product lifecycle.
  2. Identification of key points of greatest sustainability impact along that product lifecycle -- materials, footprint, community impact, use, and recyclability -- and implementation of plans to mitigate those impacts and disclose progress.
  3. Policies and systems by companies that expect similar standards and disclosure from suppliers to ensure a business relationship.

My company now tracks chain of custody from field to shelf in partnership with our customers. Imagine if every company sourcing commodities did the same. We would empower consumers to make purchasing decisions that support companies with leading sustainability efforts.

Our chain of custody work starts with our clear public policies captured in our Forest Conservation Policy. In it, we highlight several key deliverables that we hope will drive change in our industry, setting a model for other industries too. Among them are several that could be included in a uniform global standard for all commodities' industries. These include but are not limited to:

  1. Adoption of international best practice for rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.
  2. Independent monitoring by environmental organizations.
  3. Assessing and ensuring suppliers adhere to the similar standards.

In the end, all the panelists found we shared a need to publicly demonstrate a commitment to reduce social and environmental impact; to improve communities we touch; to harness feedback from consumers and third-party watchdogs driving us to be better.

And for the Board of Trade's first sustainability panel, that's a good place to start, knowing that much more will need to be discussed on future panels if we wish to educate more businesses that can play a key role in accelerating the social and environmental change we all wish and need to see.

Ian Lifshitz is North American director of sustainability & stakeholder relations at Asia Pulp and Paper Group (APP), the world's second largest pulp & paper company. To learn more about APP's community initiatives and sustainability efforts, visit