… The conflicting views about the soy program’s worthiness underscore one of the fundamental challenges of Unilever’s sustainable living plan: the word “sustainable.” Like “natural,” the word “sustainable” is sufficiently vague to mean quite a lot or nothing at all.
“The challenge in setting standards and measuring progress is that there is no universally agreed definition for sustainability,” said Aron Cramer, chief executive of BSR, a consulting firm. “And the standards that do apply vary by industry, commodity and even product line.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sustainability means “the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.” To the Rainforest Alliance, which Unilever uses to certify its tea, cocoa and vanilla, sustainability means “environmental protection, social equity and economic viability.” To the Round Table on Sustainable Soy, which certifies the crop in South America, sustainability means avoiding deforestation, protecting indigenous people’s land and not using child labor — important issues, but not ones that resonate in Iowa. For Unilever, it’s about “continuous improvement.”
“There is no absolute measure of farm sustainability. It’s a moving target,” the company said in a statement, responding to questions about the soy program. “We take the long view. This means continuous improvement over time.” …