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A Question of Certification

Rainforest Alliance’s recent Follow the Frog week helps to raise the profile of sustainably produced products, but does it go far enough? Are truly sustainable products rewarded enough in the market place? At the moment an often simple one-size fits all mentality is applied to sustainable certifications, but is it time to differentiate and award an elusive A* to the very best sustainable and innovative products?

Consumer research would suggest that products need to be clear in the message they portray to avoid confusion, but the ethnically/sustainably produced consumer is traditionally a ‘back of pack’ reader, so surely more could be done to demonstrate how an A* product is produced to a higher level.


Take the hugely successful global retailer Whole Foods for example, they use a 5 Step Animal Welfare rating system, clearly differentiating between why one product is better than the next, easy to understand and implement. It would be interesting to do the same for tea! For example Energy could be one category, with the top grade growing their own sustainable energy through renewal timber plantations and utilising solar energy, to the bottom poorest certification using timber from indigenous forest. Consumers could then understand actually how the sustainability of products varies hugely despite appearing to be certified.

What would be even more interesting was if the percentage of the certified blend was revealed. How often does a product state a sustainable certification but when you read the pack only a minimum 50% is actually certified. Surely this should only be awarded an Orange light, or B at best rather than an A grade for sustainability and ability to apply the certification logo in full?! Brand’s should reveal the sources on a percentage basis of their blends, removing the temptation to showcase only their A grade sources to the public, implying all of the tea in their packs is from these sources, whilst actually these sources only make up a tiny percentage of the blend.

Food for thought!