There’s currently no official or widely accepted definition of a ‘sustainable emulsifier’. And, in fact, there may never be one. There is, however, a clearly documentable difference between those that are based on sustainably sourced ingredients and which are produced via sustainable production processes, and those that are not. It’s largely a question of degree.
Here’s the current state-of-the-art:
First, today’s most sustainable, palm oil-based emulsifiers comply with the RSPO’s (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil) SCCS (Supply Chain Certification Standard), Segregated (SG) model. That rather complicated title describes the organisation’s highest level (see article link), and for emulsifier manufacturers, it takes quite a bit of investment and resources to achieve. Also known as the SG level, sourcing and controlling palm oil ingredients for emulsifier manufacture in this way is a definite step up from the much less stringent MB (Mass Balance) certification.
Second, wherever possible, all the other minor ingredients of emulsifiers should be sustainably sourced, too. That’s worth asking your emulsifier manufacturer about, particularly if your brand needs to close off any possible gaps that could threaten its reputation in a marketplace that’s increasingly interested in sustainability. That’s going to depend, to a large degree, on the demands the manufacturer makes on its suppliers via its responsible supplier programme.
Third, sustainable emulsifiers need to be produced under sustainable circumstances. In the food processing industry, which requires vast amounts of energy to process raw materials, the most obvious criterion here is 100% carbon neutrality.
CO2 or carbon neutrality describes the aim of companies to remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they put into it. The overall goal is to achieve a zero-carbon footprint (100% neutrality), and the organization can best become neutral by taking each step of a three-step process of calculating emissions, reducing them, and offsetting residual emissions. The last of these steps is also the simplest way to achieve greater neutrality by, for example, planting trees to offset electricity consumption, or purchase green energy certificates. It is, of course, possible to perform step three alone, purchasing very large amounts of off-sets, but it hardly represents a real commitment to sustainability.
There’s no overnight fix to turn a large emulsifier manufacturer into a CO2-neutral producer. But, as our own company has proven, it can certainly be done.
So, to summarize, today’s most sustainable emulsifiers are those that, as a minimum, fulfil two main criteria: Their palm oil ingredients comply with the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)’s ‘Segregated’ (SG) level – and they are produced in a 100% CO2-neutral factory. But watch this space: there’s plenty happening both in terms of raising the sustainability profile of palm oil-based emulsifiers and non palm-oil based ones in the years to come!