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Changes to Ethical Consumer's rating system

Jan 11

Written by:
11/01/2017 17:56  RssIcon

New Palm Oil and Controversial Technologies categories


This month Ethical Consumer has made some important changes to its unique rankings system including the addition of a new new palm oil ranking category.

The rankings, used in our Product Guides, are calculated by comparing company performance across 19 categories areas such as Human Rights, Climate Change and Factory Farming.

Occasionally this scoring system needs some changes to reflect changing times, for instance as new issues come to light, company behaviour changes or new campaigns start. This means this sometimes the scoring system can become outdated and needs refreshing.

In January 2017 we are announcing five such changes: 

  • We are creating a new rating category called ‘Palm Oil’ in the Environment group of categories and changing the way we rate companies' palm oil policies
  • We are creating a new category called ‘Controversial Technologies’ in the ‘Politics’ group of categories which will include nuclear power, nanotechnology and genetic engineering
  • We are retiring ‘Nuclear Power’ as a stand-alone column in the Environment group of categories.
  • We are retiring Genetic Engineering as a stand-alone column
  • We are moving Nanotechnology from the 'Pollution & Toxics' column to the new 'Controversial Technologies' category.

You'll be able to see the new categories ('Palm Oil' and ‘Controversial Technologies’) in the expanded score table view on the product guides (see images below).


The new Palm Oil category

We know from the number of emails we receive on the subject and visits to the palm oil section of our website that palm oil is an issue that interests (and worries) many of our readers.

We therefore felt it was time to improve our ranking and give it the space and prominence it deserves in our ranking system. We have opted to use a best, middle and worst rating system to make it simple for readers to understand.

As many of you will know palm oil is an ingredient used in thousands of products from chocolate to shampoo. The mass production of palm oil is devastating the world's rainforests as well as being linked to human rights abuses and we felt that we needed to reflect this more fully in the rankings tables in our product guides.

Ethical Consumer has been ranking company performance on palm oil for over 15 years now.  Until now companies have picked up marks in three categories for this issue (Habitats, Climate Change and Human Rights) and we feel that this has become a clumsy way of representing what is now a key concern for many ethical consumers.

Companies able to demonstrate a fully certified supply chain for all palm ingredients used by the whole company group, and who also declare suppliers and volumes will receive a best rating. Companies that are palm oil free - using neither palm oil (CPO), palm kernel oil (PKO) nor palm derivatives - will also receive a best rating.

Ethical Consumer will use information sourced from companies' Corporate Social Responsibility communications, responses to our questionnaires and/or their latest Annual Communication on Progress (ACOP) to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

New Controversial Technologies category

Ethical Consumer is creating a new category called Controversial Technologies. We felt that as time progresses we are likely to be faced with an increasing amount of controversial technologies and so by grouping them together in this way we can better monitor companies progress (or lack of it) in this area, making it a more useful resource for both consumers and campaigners.

This category will bring together three areas we already rate companies under (and the scoring of each will remain the same):


1) Nuclear Power (formerly its own column in the Environment category)

Under Nuclear Power, companies will still be marked down for being involved in managing nuclear power plants or providing services to the nuclear power industry. Those energy companies where more than 5% of their energy mix comes from nuclear power will also lose marks under this category.

2) Genetic Engineering (formerly its own column in the 'Politics' category)
Under Genetic Engineering, companies will be marked down if they are involved in the manufacture or sale of non-medical products likely to contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms); lack of a clear company wide GMO free policy or publicly support the use of GMOs in non-medical products. Those involved in the following: the non-medical genetic modification of plants or animals; gene patenting; and xenotransplantation will also receive criticism under this category.

3) Nanotechnology (formerly in the Pollution & Toxics category)

Nanotechnology is controversial because it remains unclear what long-term effects many nano-particles – used in a range of products from suncreams to tennis balls – will have on humans and the environment.

Why we moved the Nuclear Power category

The explosive growth in renewables over the last few years, and the Fukushima nuclear accident, has sounded the death-knell for nuclear power. As green alternatives become much cheaper to produce, nuclear power has become increasingly uncompetitive - even with huge subsidies for end-of-life 'waste management'. In Europe almost no-one is looking to build new nuclear capacity, with the UK's strange, but surely impractical, obsession over Hinkley C the exception.
The reduction in the exposure we'll be giving the issue on our ranking tables reflects the success campaigners – and common sense – have had in defeating this dangerous, environmentally damaging and costly fuel source. 
The last time Ethical Consumer retired a category in this way – as societies moved on – was in 1993 when the South Africa boycott over apartheid was ended and so we retired the ‘South Africa’ column.

Personalised scoring and tables
Changes have been made to all the 150 guides on our website to implement the changes to the scoring system as outlined above. Subscribers may therefore need to change their slider settings on the 'Customise your scorecard ratings' widget next to the scorecards to reflect the new scoring system. If you don't already use them, these sliders allow you to personalise the ratings by changing the weighting given to each category.

The next issue of the magazine

The guides in the next issue of the magazine will also feature these changes. We will be covering Shampoo, Toothpaste, Make-up and Laundry Detergents, products where the use of palm oil is prevalent. It is due out in mid February.









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