Sheep sector advised to heed regulator greenwashing advice

Terry Sim, March 17, 2023

AUSTRALIAN sheep industry businesses have been encouraged to follow the advice of regulators on greenwashing following an industry sustainability forum last week.

More than 40 internal stakeholders from across the sheep meat and wool value chains met in Sydney last week at the first Sheep Sustainability Framework forum to discuss sustainability topics most relevant to industry.

Forum participants included representatives from Sheep Producers Australia, WoolProducers Australia, Australian Wool Innovation, Meat & Livestock Australia, LiveCorp, Animal Health Australia, NSW Farmers, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and other agricultural frameworks.

MLA said the forum provided an opportunity for stakeholders to be deeply immersed in the analysis of the issues that underpin the sustainability framework.

Discussion canvassed current and emerging sustainability topics, the commercial value of the SSF, and understanding the relative importance of specific measures and indicators of sustainability.

Dr Robyn Leeson from STR Consulting, who specialises in sustainability strategy and reporting, led a session where delegates reflected on the impact of the Australian sheep meat and wool industry on people and the environment, in addition to evaluating the risks and opportunities to the industry.

SSF Sustainability Steering Group chair, Dr Scott Williams, said the workshop was designed and facilitated by Dr. Leeson. She will analyse the outputs of the forum and make recommendations around how the materiality review of the framework could be run in FY24, he said.

Sheep business encouraged to follow advice on greenwashing

Sheep Sustainability Framework chair Scott Williams.

Dr Williams said Dr Leeson discussed the concept of greenwashing and greenhushing in the context of the importance of the SSF affirming material topics as impacts and risks and disclosing industry performance against the topics. He said the SSF had a role to play in providing evidence to the sheep industry and its businesses to enable them to make reliable, transparent and certifiable environmental and sustainability claims.

After a recent internet sweep by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission  found more than half the businesses surveyed for potential greenwashing were assessed as making concerning claims, ACCC deputy chair Catriona Lowe said businesses using broad claims like ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘green’, or ‘sustainable’ are obliged to back up these claims through reliable scientific reports, transparent supply chain information, reputable third-party certification or other forms of evidence. Sectors with the greatest proportion of concerning environmental claims included some in the textile and garment sectors.

Although the SSF has not consulted with the ACCC on the issue of greenwashing, Dr Williams said the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the ACCC are looking closely at greenwashing.

“We would encourage all businesses in the industry to follow the advice of both regulators as well as test cases as they develop.

“The SSF adopts principles used in recognised sustainability standards and gathers evidence to support industry claims,” he said.

“While the work of the SSF may be used by industry stakeholders, sheep businesses should conduct their own due diligence before making any commercial or product-related statements or claims.”

Forum outputs will refine SSF materiality process

Dr Williams said the forum’s objectives were to immerse internal stakeholders in the foundational concepts of the SSF and test the changed and updated universal material topics and agriculture sector standards developed by the Global reporting Initiative to which the SSF is aligned.

“The outputs will determine and refine the process to use for the SSF materiality review in F24.

“The materiality review proper will involve multi stage and multi stakeholder group consultation as was carried out in 2019 for the design and development of SSF,” he said.

He said the forum was an important step to shaping the next iteration of the framework.

“The discussion provided industry with a valuable opportunity to better understand the SSF and what it offers in an ‘in-house’ setting,” Dr Williams said.

“It also allows industry to shape the Framework, as we revisit the materiality matrix upon which the entire SSF rests.

“It is critical the industry understands, owns and has input into the Framework, as we want our customers, consumers and other stakeholders, such as advocacy groups, to accept its credibility and use it as a trusted scorecard of our industry’s sustainability credentials.”

‘Hard basket’ issues were discussed

The workshop also featured a frank exercise in identifying, discussing and elevating ‘hard basket’ issues.

Dr Williams said these issues included labour and employment practices and standards; safety, longevity and productivity of workforce; non-discrimination and equal opportunities; supporting the indigenous workforce; freedom of association, and; the scope of SSF and challenge of evaluating and reporting offshore downstream activities.

The workshop did not deal with how the ‘hard basket’ issues would be dealt with in the SSF, he said.

“These are issues which have arisen or gained increasing attention since the Sheep Sustainability Framework was first published.

“They were raised at the workshop to further explore their implications for the industry and what further needs to be known before considering them under the framework.”

He said no specific or immediate changes to the framework are planned.

“However, the process used for the materiality review in F24 is likely to be modified somewhat.

“The way this will be modified will be based on the forthcoming recommendations from Robyn Leeson from STR Consulting.”


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