AHPA to discuss climate change impact on the botanical supply chain at AHPA Botanical Congress in August

AHPA’s chief science officer, Holly E. Johnson, PhD, sat down with Nutritional Outlook to talk about what AHPA hopes to achieve with this year’s Botanical Congress program and its focus on Planet Earth. The event takes place virtually on August 16-17.

Plant Earth and sustainability is the overarching theme of the 10th AHPA Botanical Congress, being held virtually by the American Herbal Products Association (Silver Spring, MD) on August 16-17. The association, which also celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, says on its website that it “deems it fitting to also celebrate this great planet we call home by shining a spotlight on Planet Earth during the Botanical Congress.”

The two-day event will include conference sessions and panels on the impact of climate change on botanical supply chains; what dietary supplement and herbal product consumers want in products these days, including around sustainability and transparency; plus how-to sessions on how companies can conduct environmental audits, become a Zero Waste–certified facility, and obtain B Corp certification.

“The goal is to focus on ways the industry can address relevant issues such as impacts of climate change on specific crop availability and, more importantly, caucus among like-minded individuals to explore solutions that will help heal, restore, and regenerate our planet,” the AHPA website adds. “This includes taking the time to listen to the views of the next generations who will soon inherit the responsibility of caring for and maintaining the health of Planet Earth.”

Nutritional Outlook spoke to AHPA’s chief science officer, Holly E. Johnson, PhD, on what the association hopes to achieve with this year’s program. For more information on the event, click here.

Nutritional Outlook: “First off, can you discuss why AHPA—upon the association’s 40th anniversary, no less—decided to make Planet Earth and sustainability the touchstone theme for this year’s Botanical Congress?”

Holly E. Johnson: “The need to reduce environmental impact by implementing and improving sustainability practices has gone mainstream and, in the face of climate change, become more crucial than ever. Consumers are also holding brands to increasingly higher standards when it comes to corporate and environmental responsibility. With beneficial herbs literally coming from the earth, sustainability has always been especially important to the herbal community and, at AHPA, we felt it appropriate in our 40th year and for our 10th Botanical Congress to spotlight sustainability.

AHPA chartered our Sustainability Committee in 2019, in part, to recognize sustainability as a key area of focus for AHPA and our members. Many AHPA members are already leaders in this space through their efforts in every step of the product journey—from regenerative farming practices to compostable packaging—but others and many in the wider herbal products industry are just getting started. The 10th Botanical Congress is intended to bring together those leading the way and those looking to take their sustainability efforts to the next level. We all have something to learn from one another and, together, our impact can be greater and longer lasting.”

Nutritional Outlook: “This year’s agenda will start off by delving into real-world examples of how climate change is impacting specific herbs sold by the herbal industry. In general, are consumers and our industry proactive enough at addressing the threats of climate change to the herbal supply chain?”

Johnson: “Responsible companies that prioritize strong relationships with suppliers and establish robust quality programs are already adapting to climate change, in conjunction with other industry challenges (i.e., COVID-19, inflation, and supply chain strains). Trends also show that more and more consumers are willing to pay more for products and support brands that align with their own values, such as being more sustainable and decreasing environmental impact. Overall, doing more to address the threats of climate change has become a need more than a want, and while there is certainly more to be done by both businesses and consumers, we increasingly see companies looking at sustainability as a specification when sourcing botanical materials.”

Nutritional Outlook: “What’s going to make this year’s Botanical Congress discussions different from years past? For instance, sustainability is an evergreen concern, not only for the health and longevity of the planet but also economically. However, have recent shocks like the pandemic, war, and inflation only exacerbated an herbal supply chain that was already stressed by climate change and natural disasters?”

Johnson: “Sustainable farming and business practices are more widely used and more effective than ever. This year’s Botanical Congress will provide a platform for sustainability leaders in the industry and beyond to share their successes and challenges and inspire others, wherever they are in their path to being more sustainable.”

Nutritional Outlook: “It’s been said that the COVID-19 pandemic increased consumer priorities around sustainability. We know that sustainability should be a long-term goal, but will other immediate concerns, such as fuel prices or inflation, cause consumers or companies to be less intent on prioritizing sustainability efforts, or is it in their best financial interest to continue doing so?”

Johnson: “Implementing more sustainable practices can be costly upfront, but, in the long term, investing in more eco-friendly materials and renewable resources can help minimize disruptions caused by things like supply shortages, inflation, and changes in state and federal regulations such as bans on single-use plastics. Many companies have the perspective that climate change will only continue to contribute to operational disruptions in the future, and some have actually been inspired by the immediate challenges to increase commitments to sustainable practices to ensure long-term viability of their brands and continued consumer access to high-quality herbal products.”

Nutritional Outlook: “Michael McGuffin, AHPA’s president, has in the past reminded companies that if they are promoting their efforts to improve sustainability, they should be able to back up those claims with evidence. In essence, they need to be actually taking action on sustainability and not just using it as a greenwashing marketing tactic. How will this year’s Botanical Congress remind companies about the importance of following through on their sustainability pledges?”

Johnson: “Thanks to the internet, it is really difficult to for companies to hide these days. Consumers are reading corporate mission statements, tracking contributions to environmental causes, and sounding off on social media. There is a growing demand for transparency, and responsible companies are holding themselves accountable for the promises they make to their employees, customers, and the planet. There is no finish line when it comes to sustainability, but our hope with the Botanical Congress is to encourage more individuals and organizations along their journeys to heal and restore the planet.”