Corporate social responsibility, from glasses to pandas: SupplySide West report


Companies are taking new steps to support communities and the environment.

Photo by Manyman [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

SupplySide West isn’t just a time for companies to share their new product developments, but also a time to share how they are giving back to the communities they work with and the planet. Two companies discussed details about their latest corporate social responsibility initiatives.


OmniActive’s Improving Lives Foundation

OmniActive Health Technologies (Morristown, NJ) introduced its new Improving Lives Foundation at SupplySide West. The foundation is dedicated to supporting the farming communities in rural India that produce raw materials for OmniActive.

At SupplySide West, Brian Appell, marketing manager, OmniActive, explained that the Improving Lives Foundation focuses on a few key areas based on the communities it works with and was launched based on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. OmniActive hired a consultant who helped the company to take a look at its business and align its initiatives with these goals. “Out of 17 guidelines, our program impacts seven of those: 1) zero hunger, 2) good health and wellbeing, 3) gender equality, 4) reducing inequalities, 5) clean water and sanitation, 6) climate action, and 7) partnerships to achieve the goal,” Appell said.

The company recently completed the first phase of the foundation's work, which involved a year-and-a-half of testing multiple initiatives with the goal of producing positive change, equality, and sustainability in those communities. Company personnel traveled to India, where they helped engage in numerous projects.

One of those projects was running health camps to address poor eye health. “There are about 12 million blind people in India, and 80% of that is the result of a condition that is completely curable, or that requires cataract surgery,” Appell said. “We find there’s a huge issue with vision loss and/or blindness within these small communities, with no means for those people to help themselves.” Through the health camps OmniActive set up in the communities, it identified 240 people who needed glasses and another 189 who needed cataract surgery. OmniActive funded both the glasses and the surgeries. (The company also specializes in supplying eye health ingredients, including its flagship Lutemax 2020 lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin ingredient.)

Another initiative involved helping the government in India provide free iron supplements to address the high incidence of anemia, which also results in a high rate of maternal deaths. OmniActive also helped provide seeds for iron-rich vegetables.

Other initiatives included educating women in the goal of feminine hygiene and educating children about the importance of handwashing. Finally, OmniActive helped provide toilets to communities and educate the communities on the hazards of open defecation, which is often practiced in rural communities.

Appell calls these activities, as part of phase one of the foundation, the pilot phase. Armed with the knowledge of how these programs performed, the company will now target its ongoing efforts. For instance, he said, the company will definitely repeat its eye-health portion of the initiative.

“The first phase was us looking and saying, ‘Did this work?’ Was it impactful? And now we’re looking at the next phase. It will include a lot of the elements that we’ve done here already. We’ll either be following up with the communities we worked with, or find new communities and figure out their needs.”

He pointed out that the company’s goal is to ensure that its work is purposeful. “We partnered with local communities and talked to NGOs in that area to find out what those communities need,” he said. “We did not want to duplicate efforts and do what an NGO or what a government agency was already doing.”

Within its Improving Lives Foundation, OmniActive is also including its PlantActive verification program, which is the name for the company’s commitment to quality, sustainability, and traceability throughout its supply chain. PlantActive spans everything from the company’s rigorous testing and authentication of raw materials to its focus on sustainability, such as by supporting small farmers by providing buyback programs and guaranteed, fixed prices, as well as educating them on Good Agricultural Practices.


A Panda-Friendly Supply Chain

Botanical ingredients supplier Draco Natural Products (San Jose, CA) shared details about the groundbreaking and significant work that the company, together with other partners, did to create a “Panda Friendly” seal and ingredient supply chain-all to protect giant pandas, a threatened species.

As explained in Draco’s literature: “Industrial growth in China has resulted in the destruction of bamboo forests, forcing pandas out of their homes. Although the Chinese government has created laws protecting a main part of the giant panda habitat, these laws did not protect the entire forest. There are still giant pandas that live outside the immediate sanctuary region, as well as ones who migrate along the habitat corridors. Unfortunately, these unprotected areas are subject to habitat loss due to deforestation from encroaching human populations and climate change.”

To develop ways to protect these bamboo areas, and ultimately, the giant pandas, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), an organization dedicated to conserving nature, including panda habitats, along with other partners, managed an initiative of the EU-China Biodiversity Programme (ECBP). This ECBP project aimed to develop a model for sustainable harvesting of medicinal plants in the giant panda habitat areas in forests of the Upper Yangtze Eco-region. This required bringing panda biology and habitat experts onto the project team. ECBP was funded by the European Union, and several groups participated in the program: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and WWF-China, as well as Draco Natural Products and herbal product manufacturer Traditional Medicinals (Sebastopol, CA). In 2011, at the end of the five-year ECBP project (2007-2011), a “Panda Friendly” standard was developed as a major outcome of the project. (Read more about the project here.)

Together, the ECBP project participants identified plant species that are wildcrafted in the panda habitat zones-plants that are sometimes harvested in ways that may be detrimental to panda habitat. The first plant targeted by the program was the southern schisandra berry (Schisandra sphenanthera)-an herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, touted for conditions such as chronic diarrhea, asthma, night sweats, and coughs, Draco Natural Products explains, noting that the herb helps support liver function, vision, hearing, and the calming of skin irritations like eczema and hives. While the more well-known northern schisandra berry (Schisandra chinensis) grows wild in northeastern China and in the habitat of the endangered Amur tiger, southern schisandra berry, a climbing vine, grows in and around the bamboo forests that pandas inhabit in mountain ranges of southwestern China. “Typically, schisandra berry harvest is destructive,” Draco explains. “The whole vine is pulled down, killing the vine and often damaging the host tree that supports it.”

In an effort to change destructive harvesting practices and to protect the bamboo forests where pandas live, with the support of the ECBP, the Pingwu Shuijing Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Cooperative was established to implement sustainable wild harvesting practices. With the help of WWF, rural villagers who joined the cooperative received trainings on how to harvest schisandra berries sustainability and responsibly, incentivizing participants by establishing a fair trade price structure based on guidelines of the FairWild standard. As part of the Panda Friendly program, Draco Natural Products committed to purchasing the schisandra berries from this co-op, creating full-spectrum standardized herbal extracts which the company then supplied to Traditional Medicinals to use in its herbal consumer products.

In 2016, the Standards for Giant Panda Friendly Products became an official Chinese national standard, after which in 2017 the Pingwu Shuijing TCM Cooperative was the first enterprise to be inspected for compliance with the new standard. The cooperative passed the inspection and in 2018 became the very first panda-friendly certified operation.

The Panda Friendly program has been so successful that Draco says, although the official five-year period funded by the EU expired in 2011, the wild harvesting program is now self-sustaining. In 2017, 30 metric tons of dried schisandra berry was purchased from villagers by the co-op, with members expanding to 22 villages. This economic model gives the supply chain the incentive to support a panda-friendly market: as more companies and consumers support the panda-friendly seal and what it stands for, it will generate demand for more panda-friendly practices and products.

Draco Natural Products is encouraging more finished product brands to purchase Panda Friendly ingredients. Jerry Wu, president of Draco Natural Products, says the company plans to expand its portfolio of Panda Friendly herbs. “Southern schisandra is the first product which has been certified as Panda Friendly product and is part of our current product line,” he says. “We are working on certifying more herbs in 2019…Since over 75% of herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine can be found growing in panda habitat areas, we plan to gradually introduce more herbs into our production line as they are approved.” The company is targeting a list of 17 herbs grown in panda-friendly habitats (some farmed and some wild collected), including turmeric rhizome, magnolia bark, sea buckthorn berry, dong quai root, ginger rhizome, reishi mushroom, astragalus root…the list goes on.

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