Yesterday the world’s first standard for sustainably sourced sugarcane production launched in Brazil. The joint initiative between stakeholders within the sugar industry, WWF, Coca-Cola, and the multi-stakeholder association Bonsucro could transform the way sugar is grown, produced, and marketed around the world.
On one hand, sugarcane production is a sustainable crop when land, water, and of course, people, are managed well and fairly. But as with any commodity, the massive production of sugarcane can create a host of problems for ecosystems, biodiversity, and workers’ rights. As Brazil has become the world’s breadbasket, orchard, and farm, regions like the savannah-like cerrado have been transformed into soy plantations and cattle pasture. Sugarcane could help cool the environmental effects of agribusiness throughout the cerrado, and the hardy plant has been the foundation for Brazil’s energy policy the past four decades. Cars with flex-fuel engines that can switch from gasoline to cane-based ethanol have now become the standard throughout Brazil.
To that end, Bonsucro’s sugarcane production standard includes a matrix that evaluates the environmental and social impacts of sugarcane production. Other key indicators including greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and energy consumption also have a role in determining whether a company’s sugar output is certified. Once certified, Bonsucro’s certification is good for three years and members must permit annual audits of their operations.
The first certified sugar churned out of a Raízen (a joint venture between Shell and the Brazilian firm Cosan) mill in Sao Paulo. The first batch contained 130,000 tons of sugar (purchased by a local Coca-Cola bottler) and 63,000 cubic meters of ethanol.
The development of the Bonrusco Production Standard was two years in the making. The two year multi-stakeholder engagement projects involved test pilots that ranged from Australia to India. Now each player throughout the sugar production supply chain, from farmer to food processor, has got to provide data to the company next in the step of sugar production.
The global demand for sugar for food, fuel, and feed will not recede anytime soon, and global water scarcity only complicates the issue. The Bonrusco standard should help the sugar industry thrive while conserving strained resources. With droughts slamming cane-producing areas hard, this step is one that other food and commodity sectors are wise to follow.