“We have created the largest food sustainability database in the world”

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and you’d be amazed how many companies still have no idea of ​​the social or environmental impact of their products,” says João Brites, Director of Growth and Innovation at How good is this– billed as “the world’s largest food sustainability database”.’

“A full life cycle assessment can easily cost $100,000 and take six months, and many food companies struggle with this, especially if they make a lot of products,” Brits says. “And that’s where our database comes in, because it’s about making environmental impact information more accessible to food companies.”

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure”

So how does HowGood work and how accurate are the ratings it makes on the individual food items in its database?

According to Brites:We’ve spent the past 15 years mapping global sourcing systems and building a massive database that draws on over 550 different data sources to evaluate over 33,000 different ingredients and materials across more than 200 sustainability measures for more than two million consumer goods.

“The partners who work with us, including Danone, Ingredion and Nestlé, use this data to do three things. The first is to measure their impact on sustainability. The second is to understand how to improve it. And the third is understanding how to communicate that impact with integrity and in accordance with local regulatory standards.

GHG emissions, water footprint, land use, labor risk, biodiversity, soil health, animal welfare

He added: “For every ingredient ​[in a given finished product a client wants to assess], we map major sourcing locations for this ingredient based on our global import and export database. So if you’re manufacturing in the US and buying soybeans, we know the top 10-15 countries you’re likely sourcing from, or if you’re sourcing domestically, the top 10-15 US states that supply it. Soy from Brazil, for example, is at risk of deforestation, so we pull the data from the relevant local database, which in the United States, for example, might be the USDA LCA Commons Database.​

The companies we work with tell us where they source their ingredients from and for each ingredient we look at GHG emissions, water footprint, land use, labor risks, biodiversity, soil health, animal welfare and consult our databases. And then, at the end, we take into account the percentage of inclusions of each ingredient in the formulation and get an overall product score as well as metrics on each area, like water use, land use , etc.

One of the most appealing aspects of the software – which Brites says is used by product developers, sustainability teams and brand managers – is the ability to quickly assess the potential impact of changing an ingredient in a formulation against key environmental and social impact metrics as businesses. develop new products or reformulate existing ones, he said.

“As something like 80% of a product’s sustainability impact happens at the agricultural stage, you can use the platform to try different formulations and compare the sustainability impact and then try to design a product. more sustainable.”

The partners who work with us, including Danone, Ingredion and Nestlé, use this data to do three things. The first is to measure their impact on sustainability. The second is to understand how to improve it. And the third is understanding how to communicate that impact with integrity and in accordance with local regulatory standards.

João Brites, Director of Growth and Innovation, How good

“We update our database every quarter”

But how much life cycle assessment data exists on food ingredients, and how accurate/reliable is it?

“There is a lot of data on some ingredients like soy, while other types of ingredients can be more difficult,” The British recognized. “We update our database quarterly, so if any of these 550 underlying data sources change, we incorporate those changes into our platform on a quarterly basis.”

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Image credit: HowGood

The platform uses two types of data sources, he explained: “The first is structured data sources, typically life cycle assessment inventory databases based on ISO standardsthe standards of the Greenhouse Gas Protocolthe Product [Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting] Standardand it is often peer-reviewed international research.

“Then we have unstructured data sources, things that are not in an LCA database, but in a scientific journal such as the International Journal Of Lifecycle Assessment, Journal of Cleaner Production, Journal Of Industrial Ecology, as well as primary data collected by companies that have carried out life cycle analyzes on their products according to internationally recognized standards.

Sustainability claims: advantages and disadvantages of general and specific claims

As Brites walks around trade shows and supermarkets, what does he see on the packaging?

He added: “I was at Natural Products Expo West in March and saw a lot of unqualified sustainability claims, references to regenerative agriculture and eco-friendly products, and I think that’s going to generate a lot legal risks for companies.

That said, if companies eschew generic “climate-friendly” claims and focus on details of certain ingredients or packaging materials that are backed by certifications, for example, this can lend a “green” halo to products that are fundamentally bad for the environment. , he admitted.

For example, since the majority of emissions in food and beverage products will come earlier in the agricultural emissions cycle, Brites says he is wary of companies that claim their green credentials solely on the basis of packaging, because “Packaging typically only accounts for around 5% of the footprint when you do a full life cycle analysis.”

Likewise, if you only focus on one aspect of sustainability, you may miss the big picture, he said: “We can’t just talk about carbon footprint, or just water use, because you can make a change that might reduce your carbon footprint, but might have negative effects on biodiversity, so you have to take that into account. has a wide range of inputs, which is why we look at social and environmental impacts and the full life cycle of the product.

Shelf durability rating system

He added: “From a consumer perspective, you can’t tell shoppers on a single package, this is my water footprint, this is my carbon footprint, this is my biodiversity footprint, this is my land use footprint and so on. , so we developed a rating systemwhich is used by Stop & Shop and Giant stores, rating a product as good, excellent or better.

“It’s a positive sustainability rating system that compares 2 million products in our data set that we’ve analyzed from retailers we work with, such as Walmart and Ahold Delhaize, so we have lists of ingredients and certification information for these products.We also work with food manufacturers such as Danone and Nestlé, food service companies such as Chipotle and ingredient companies such as Ingredion.

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