Blog Post

40 Years of Sustainability Accomplishments

40 Years of Sustainability Accomplishments

Note: This article is based on a speech presented by Linda Brown, Co-Founder and Senior Vice President on the occasion of SCS Global Services’ First Annual Founders Day which took place on April 18, 2024. This date commemorated the birthday of SCS’ Founder, Dr. Stanley P. Rhodes and the 40th Anniversary of the founding of SCS. 

Allow me to take you on a journey – one that started many decades ago. 

In the 1960s, when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, we learned how the indiscriminate use of agricultural chemicals, pesticides, and other modern chemicals polluted our streams, damaged birds and other animals, and jeopardized human health. People in our major cities were choking on poor air quality from automobile exhaust, and waterways were turning into cesspools. In 1969, the Cuyahoga river in Ohio famously caught on fire. Yet, at the same time, we were sending astronauts to the moon, and there was a sense that if we put our minds to any challenge, we could succeed. The modern environmental movement was born. On April 22, 1970, an estimated 20 million people in the US participated in the first Earth Day celebration.

One person deeply affected by these events was Stan Rhodes.  An accomplished chemist and strong advocate for access to clean, healthy food, Stan combined his two passions, and began exploring new analytical methods to uncover dangerous pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables.  Out of this process, a new company was born in the East Bay. The year – 1984. 

We called ourselves Ohlone, an homage to the people who lived sustainably and thrived in the East Bay for centuries.  Stan established the world’s first third-party program to test and certify foods that had no detectable pesticide residues, not just down to legal levels, but down to the very limits of laboratory detection capability.  This was a radical idea.  Stan knew the dangers that pesticides posed – neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, carcinogens and mutagens – and recognized that the system for protecting consumers and the environment from these pesticides, including federal and state testing, was wholly inadequate. He wanted to do something more.

And this is what defined Stan, and what has defined our company, ever since – the desire to make things better for people and the planet.  In those days, we didn’t talk about “sustainability” – that word wasn’t yet welcome in company boardrooms, and the concept of the triple bottom line – benefitting people, the environment, and the financial bottom line – wasn’t yet on the radar for most businesses. 

In 1988, we changed our name to Scientific Certification Systems, to better communicate our mission of applying the best science to the task of independently evaluating company performance against stringent standards based on a holistic, systems-based approach. By this time, we were not only certifying farms producing foods with no detected residues, but were also conducting nutritional analyses to shine a light on practices that enhanced the nutrient density of foods. We were introducing novel methods to protect consumers from food-borne pathogens, after several major incidents of salmonella and E. coli food poisoning rocked the nation.  Our approach included launch of the first HACCP-based food safety training and audit programs in the US for food producers, processors, handlers and retailers. 

Meanwhile, a funny thing was happening on the non-food aisles of supermarket and big box store shelves. Paper towels, napkins and toilet paper started showing up with chasing arrows indicating that they were made from recycled materials, and household cleaners began sporting labels claiming to be biodegradable. Seemingly overnight, the percentage of new products making environmental claims shot up from under 1% to more than 13% in just a few years. The green marketing craze was on. And “greenwashing” was everywhere. Companies were printing beautiful nature scenes on their packages, and claiming to be green, without any accountability.

So Stan did what came naturally to him – he helped his supermarket customers tackle the problem, creating the first third-party certification program for recycled content claims and for other claims like biodegradable, and we began training our manufacturing and retail clients to recognize and fight greenwashing. This was our entré into the world of green marketing, and we’ve never looked back.

It quickly became clear to Stan and his team that we needed to look beyond any single product attribute to consider the larger context in which it was created, distributed, and disposed. This led SCS to become an early practitioner and pioneer in the field of life-cycle impact assessment – connecting the dots between the inputs and outputs of any product system, and the resulting impacts to resource reserves, waterways, air quality, and habitats.  And it ultimately led to one of our most important innovations – an updated, more comprehensive method of climate accounting, internationally peer reviewed, that now forms the basis of our brand new Global Heat Reduction Initiative. 

Around the same time, in 1991, SCS also launched the world’s first third-party certification for responsible forestry management.  Our team, including Dr. Robert Hrubes who is here with us today, then put their forestry expertise to work with major NGOs and industry leaders to help create the world’s first multi-stakeholder, international forest management certification standard, the Forest Stewardship Council.  A few years later, we duplicated this effort, supporting Unilever and WWF in the formation of the Marine Stewardship Council to protect ocean fisheries.  And in the mid-1990s, we dove headlong into the world of green building, launching an innovative indoor air quality standard with our local partners at Berkeley Labs, among other standards.

This pattern has played out again and again over the ensuing decades, with Stan out front as chief scientist and visionary leader.  Here is a short list of some other “firsts,” which appear, along with other notable events, on this truncated company timeline.

  • In 2000, we became one of the first accredited certifiers under the new USDA National Organic Program.
  • In 2003, we worked with Starbucks and Conservation International to establish C.A.F.E. Practices, the world’s first responsible supply chain program for coffee. 
  • From 2004 through the next decade, we launched a series of initiatives to develop and support sustainable and regenerative agriculture standards, including the launch of our own comprehensive Sustainably Grown standard.
  • Also, in the 2000s, we developed and piloted a fair labor standard with Numi Tea, and added other social auditing standards to our certification repertoire. 
  • In 2021, we launched the world’s first sustainability rating standard for gemstone diamonds and diamond jewelry, which includes advanced origin confirmation testing, chain-of-custody protocols, and aggressive sustainability and climate performance benchmarks. 
  • This spring, we are launching a brand new water stewardship standard that should help guide companies in their efforts to conserve and protect water supplies. 
  • And, as I alluded to earlier, we are about to go live with our Global Heat Reduction Initiative to help companies, government agencies, and other stakeholder more fully evaluate the climate impacts of their operations and projects, and target solutions that can more effectively address the near-term climate crisis.

Finally, Stan walked his talk. From the beginning, the company has reflected his commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. He respected and promoted women, people of color, and LGBTQ staff.  He reorganized the company as a Benefit Corporation status the very first year this was an option in California. And in his final years, he launched a collaborative management model, and initiated the transition of the company to an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) to give his dedicated staff a direct stake in the future of the company. 

In his 40 years at the helm, Stan never rested. He viewed our common quest for a more sustainable world as a sacred duty, and challenged all of us every day to live up to that responsibility.  All of us at SCS are proud to have inherited his legacy, and to continue to stay focused on our common journey toward a more socially just and environmentally responsible future.

Linda Brown

Linda Brown

Senior Vice President