When all countries’ borders locked down in March, the World Sustainability Organization, global leader in sustainability standards and certification, such as Friend of the Sea (www.friendofthesea.org) and Friend of the Earth (www.friendoftheearth.org), for food and non-food products and services, found itself in a difficult situation.
For over 30 years its qualified and nationally accredited third party auditors had been trotting around the globe, on plane, cars and trains, with consequent environmental impact and risk for auditors’ health, to carry out factories and vessels’ inspections. During COVID-19 time, most of the auditors were not even allowed to leave their own homes.
Remote audits had normally been a second choice audit, based only on documental evidence, deemed acceptable only in case the company to be audited was located in a remote area, not accessible with normal transportation means.
But WSO’s activity had to continue and that’s when the organization, leveraging on existing relatively simple and well tested technologies, came out with SARA – the Sustainable Augmented Reality Audit. It was a way to run an onsite audit from the auditor’s desk, thus reducing time, costs, auditors’ health risks and pollution, while delivering a better than average and more reliable audit.
SARA system is an open one, which can can potentially be built around various similar applications and online platforms already available on the market. The steps are the following: the audit checklist must be filled out online by the person-in-charge of the audited company and it is reviewed by the auditor; a date is then set for the Sustainable Advanced Reality Audit to be carried out by qualified and independent auditor, commanding audited company mobile cell phones and camera, recording all images and data; the video of the entire audit is then stored in blockchain and the audit report is finalized by auditor and sent to client.
SARA allows audit to be carried out at any time and in any place. Audits can be scheduled and rescheduled at very short notice, allowing for example to audit unloading vessels without concerns about unexpected delays due to bad weather or other. No time is wasted by the auditor for traveling or food. Tons of emissions are saved and social distance can be easily maintained.
The final product, the full audit report, is not anymore only an auditor’s text to-be-trusted, but a comprehensive, detailed, verifiable, indisputable video and images evidence, saved on blockchain and thus definitive and not modifiable without record. In the future, any third party which could put in doubt the validity of the audit, could be authorized to watch the full audit video for confirmation.
“Several companies worldwide have already tested the system” explains Paolo Bray, Founder and Director of WSO, “and most of them have been enthusiastic about it. In particular they fully endorse SARA as the way to audit in the future. SARA saves them time and money, but they realize that the audit procedure is thorough and the audit report much more truthful and reliable than the outcome of until-now traditional audits.”
SARA initiative has been noted by FAO- the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN-FAO) – which highlighted it as a global initiative for support to small-scale fisheries in particular during COVID-19 situation. Global seafood media have also highlighted SARA as a valid alternative to traditional audit.
Blockchain has found several applications in agriculture and seafood, including supply chain tracking, finance management, data management, and land and property ownership, among others. Food processors and distributors are able to track food commodities at different temperatures and times. This helps them store food efficiently, further leading to the reduction in wastage. Cooperation from regulatory bodies and government organizations will build upon the benefits of blockchain in making the supply chain efficient. (Source: BIS Research).
Blockchain when combined with sustainable ecolabels will help many of the seafood processors, exporters, suppliers, retailers and restaurant chain businesses at a greater extent. Traceability is one of the important criteria of many of the sustainably led seafood initiatives. According to research by environmental advocacy group Oceana, as many as one in five fish samples tested were mislabelled. Around 70-80 percent of the seafood which is consumed globally is either imported or exported and re-imported for processing. So many a times it becomes highly difficult to determine from where exactly the food arrive along with its source or traceability.
Across the globe, consumers are seeking to know more about food supply chain systems. They question the source of food, the different production methods, animal welfare programs being in place, social accountability. 70 percent of consumers want retailers to be more transparent about their sustainability efforts (Source: IBM Food Trust, 2018). A digitally recorded blockchain provides more transparency, trust to food systems and increased awareness about sustainable opportunities and practices during different stages of the food chain.
Forecasted Value of Blockchain in Agriculture and Food Market Worldwide from 2017-2018 (in million US dollars)
Source: Statista 2020
Many countries’ governments globally are focusing on traceability driven food supply chain systems. Recently in May 2020, Govt of India through its Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) has expressed the importance about traceability and sustainability of seafood and allocated funds to strengthen the system in the country.
The global food and retail industry is being severely impacted by COVID-19 and it will take some time before to the sector will get back on track. Innovations like SARA – the Sustainable Augmented Reality Audit system, combined together with sustainability certifications such as Friend of the Sea and Friend of the Earth are paving the way to support the responsible and sustainable food sector to uphold and enhance its credibility face consumers, while reducing waste of time, costs, health and emissions.