PMI’s monitoring-verification and reporting framework for sustainable leaf curing fuel is adopted by a global certification body

28 Nov 2023
Friend of the Earth, a global eco-certification body and part of the World Sustainability Organization (WSO), has taken up PMI’s methodology as the foundation for a new sustainable tobacco leaf curing certification.

Natural capital is a wealth we all share and depend on. It is essential that we protect, sustainably manage, and nurture it. Moreover, a healthy natural ecosystem plays a vital role in tackling climate change.

The raw materials used in our products rely on fertile soil, stable climate conditions, and access to water. As a business with an agricultural supply chain, it’s paramount we take the required steps to protect and preserve the ecosystems where we operate in order to manage risks and prepare for the future.

Tracking and reporting on our environmental impact is critical for transparency, for achieving success, and for continuous improvement—which is why we are focused on enhancing traceability across our supply chain. We believe traceability is useful for implementing impactful initiatives as it helps to uncover and address negative externalities on our journey towards a net positive impact on nature.

To this end, Philip Morris International (PMI) engages with key stakeholders in the tobacco supply chain with a strong focus on traceability and the implementation of sustainable management practices to protect forests from deforestation risk.

In 2016, we launched our flue-cured tobacco Monitoring, Verification and Reporting (MVR) Framework for Sustainable Leaf Curing Fuels and since then, it’s been one of our main initiatives to address deforestation risks in the tobacco supply chain.

The framework consists of four principles:

  1. Know your fuel
  2. Be sustainable
  3. Be transparent and replicable
  4. Include stakeholders

Each of these principles contains requirements, indicators, and evidence to verify that our tobacco suppliers are working with contracted farmers to address each one on a yearly basis. The information we collect under this framework is audited by a third party both through on-the-ground assessments with our tobacco suppliers and desktop reviews to cover the full scope of our contracted flue-cured tobacco.

In 2022, Friend of the Earth, a globally recognized eco-certification body, approached PMI with the idea of co-developing a certification for sustainable, low-carbon emissions tobacco production. Friend of the Earth is an international sustainability certification scheme for agricultural and farming products, with principles based on the safeguarding and protection of the entire ecosystem.

To date, over 5,000 farms, accounting for an estimated 50,000 farmers, have had their production (with an estimated total value of more than EUR 1.5 billion) certified by Friend of the Earth. More than 35 different agriculture and farming products have obtained the certification, ranging from fruit and vegetables to dairy, eggs, poultry, and meat.

Collaborating with third parties for a more sustainable future

The systemic issues we seek to tackle require multiple stakeholders and so PMI and Friend of the Earth entered technical discussions for how to turn the vision of a certification for sustainable tobacco production into reality.

It became clear that our MVR Framework for Sustainable Leaf Curing Fuels could benefit other companies who wanted to move toward more sustainable tobacco production. Furthermore, we knew that opening our own framework to a third party would add a further layer of robustness and transparency to our own efforts.

So, in 2023, we began building on our MVR Framework for Sustainable Leaf Curing Fuels to co-draft, together with Friend of the Earth, the world’s first standard for sustainable flue-cured tobacco curing fuel.

Upon completion of the standard methodology, PMI and Friend of the Earth undertook pilots of the standard with three of our suppliers: First, in Philip Morris Italia S.R.L., and then with our third-party suppliers, Trans-Manila Inc. and Universal Leaf Philippines Inc. Following the successful completion of these pilots, which indicated that the standard can be implemented, PMI received a certificate for each supplier based on the 2023 tobacco volumes purchased by PMI.

Turning vision into reality

At the Friend of the Earth World Sustainability Organizations Day in Milan in September 2023, Friend of the Earth and PMI discussed this collaboration and the role it could play in driving industry practices forward. There, Michele Pisetta, Senior Manager, Environmental Sustainability for PMI Operations and Luisa Maurizi, Senior Leaf Manager, PM Italy, presented the work to a live audience of over 300 representatives from business, government, the media, and civil society.

“This collaboration has been crucial,” said Mr. Pisetta, “and we are enthusiastic about the fruits of this collaboration, and about how this methodology could help inform industry best practice on more sustainable production.”

Our suppliers are already required to implement PMI’s MVR Framework for Sustainable Leaf Curing Fuels. In 2024, we will encourage our key suppliers to externally certify their practices in line with the new standard toward certification—together with our Good Agricultural Practices program, which defines the principles and measurable standards that must be met by all who grow and supply tobacco for PMI.

In our view, sustainability is a constant journey to upskill, reskill, and refine lessons learned and actions to be taken. We maintain the aspiration that sharing our methodology more widely across the sector can help inform best practice in sustainable tobacco production, and help reduce carbon emissions and deforestation beyond our own operations as a company.