Melanie Williams Consulting

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Chain of Custody certification is 25 years old

If a performance standard is at the heart of a sustainability scheme then the chain of custody standard is the circulatory system which brings the sustainable supply chain to life. Twenty-five years ago the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), one of the world’s most successful sustainability schemes, issued its first such certificate. It now has over 34,000 chain of custody certificates in 123 countries. 

The chain of custody describes the tracking of sustainable material from purchasing through processing to sales. Without it, the performance standard becomes just another benchmark, on a par with established standards like ISO14001, OHSAS 18001 and ISO 9001. 

In the absence of a chain of custody certification, companies can’t make claims about selling responsibly produced goods and their customers can’t claim to be buying them. Companies are sometimes deterred by the changes to their systems required by the chain of custody standard. But in reality, most commodities schemes for metals, wood and agricultural products offer considerable flexibility in both timescale and implementation methods.  It is easier than you think!

The key requirement for an operation that wishes to purchase, process and sell both sustainable and conventional material simultaneously is to have a method of accounting for both types separately in their system. This entails quantifying the flows of both sustainable and conventional material through internal processing steps. There are different software solutions available to automate this procedure. They can also be used for sustainable sourcing and supply chain traceability outside of a certification scheme. Where a scheme allows sales of sustainability credits or certificates, separate from the physical material, then it is the chain of custody standard which describes how this can be done.

Schemes and their members are constantly improving their chain of custody systems. The Roundtable on Sustainable Soy (RTRS) will soon allow certified operators in a country to aggregate their accounting systems across sites to form a national version of the chain of custody. The aim is a faster market scale up for sustainable soy. FSC has introduced new transaction verification requirements so auditors can check the quantities of certified wood transferred between FSC operators. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has launched PalmTrace which is an online traceability platform for all certified operators. These changes will enhance the strength of the supply chain of certified operators from raw material production, through trading and processing to final product fabrication.

As the backbone of a responsible production system, chain of custody certification gives confidence to the end customer that when they buy a product derived from certified raw materials then that product is true to its claims. It encapsulates trust, which is the lifeblood of a healthy sustainability scheme.

If you would like to know more then do get in contact.

Published: 4 July 18

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