28 February 2019
Peat moss is the major component in most potting soils. The environmental impact of its extraction depends on the production practices used by peat producers. Formally established in 2013 with its board installed in Vilnius (Lithuania) in September the same year, RPP is the label that stands for Responsibly Produced Peat. RPP Secretary Hein Boon explains to FCI why responsible and sustainable peatland management is of paramount importance.
From the peat bog to the peat manufacturer, to the garden centre shelf and to the growers’ rolling bench: this is the story of RPP and its industry-wide call to help build a sustainable peat industry. Much is at stake, say RPP’s Secretary Hein Boon and executive officer manager Maureen Kuenen in their office in Naaldwijk, the Netherlands.
High Conservation Value
Peat moss develops in a peat bog, a distinctive kind of wetland which accumulates decomposing moss for thousands of years. It’s not something to be ruthlessly extracted in a couple of months. “RPP ensures that areas with High Conservation Value (HCV) are identified and conserved. If, for example, the area is home to rare wildlife or plants extraction is strictly off limits. However, where an area has been drained, used for agriculture and as such is highly degraded with peat producing harmful carbon CO2, RPP recommends extraction,” says Boon.
What’s more, Responsibly Produced Peat certification secures the best possible development following peat production, with preference for restoration. Of course, the foundation is also committed to ensure the long-term security of what Boon calls ‘the most important and valuable constituent for growing media accounting for around 75% of their volume’. “Peat is free of pathogens, has good water and air holding properties while it is devoid of nutrients. Peat moss is widely used in the ornamentals sector but in vegetable transplants and potted herbs as well,” Boon says.
RPP is the brainchild of RHP, the European growing media quality control body with whom RPP shares its Dutch-based office, together with VPN, the Dutch trade association for growing media producers. Co-funded by the Dutch government and backed by international soil scientists and NGOs such as Wetlands International and the Estonian Fund for Nature, RPP is also a charm offensive in a bid to win ‘a social licence’ to operate from a retail business audience that is increasingly demanding transparency from the whole supply chain.
Asked whether awareness and demand from consumers are equally strong Kuenen says, “It’s a matter of time. People pay attention to environmental credentials especially those of the new generation. We have seen examples of environmental influencers which prompted change in a short time. The problem is that you can never tell when this will happen. For now, the biggest demand stems from the retail sector. The sustainability debate can also put governments under pressure, as in Germany, with political decisions that are not always well thought-out and sometimes even harmful. Overall, the industry must take the lead and not wait for consumer demand. It is important to be a few steps ahead to ensure that future customers don’t lose trust in the environmental claims of your product.”
Speaking of claims, the anti-peat lobby, which is particularly strong in the UK, defends itself by saying that a range of alternatives such as compost, wood fibres and coco coir are readily available. But in some segments of the industry, plant propagation for example, there is no real substitute for peat. Peat free growing has different watering requirements and this requires more examination and understanding.
Boon: “More peat is already being kept in the ground and there’s ongoing research on substitutes. However, volumes and quality of these alternatives are still an issue. In addition, a comparative study for alternative organic matter and its carbon footprint when shipping it around the world is needed. The idea is to have responsibly produced peat readily available while further research on renewable alternatives can continue. The continuation of the peat free trend will slow the overall demand for peat. However, IPS (International Peatland Society) market research reveals that the demand for growing media is expected to be strong over the next thirty years. The share of peat is relatively decreasing, but due to the strong growth of the total market, peat volumes are expected to double. Of course, we hope this will apply to RPP peat.”
RPP Secretary Heinn Boon: “One should also take into consideration that in our relatively small industry it is not so easy for greenwashing to go unnoticed.
Legitimate labels versus greenwashing
A few hurdles have yet to be overcome. One of the biggest is the myriad of product labels touting eco-friendly credentials. How can buyers tell if the green certification and labels are legitimate or just greenwashing? “The volumes of RPP produced peat and its share in the value chain when it comes to manufacturing potting soil must be under strict control,” stresses Boon. He continues, “Based on the chain of custody principles all participating companies must be RPP registered to use both the label and registration number. Besides, RPP constantly inspects the harvesting with independent inspectors checking satellite images and visiting the area. They also supervise what happens afterwards. It is important that peat producers help nature restore itself for example by planting Sphagnum. This way, we make sure peat is harvested responsibly with respect for the environment. One should also take into consideration that in our relatively small industry it is not so easy for greenwashing to go unnoticed. One way companies can foster trust is to be transparent.”
Mass balance concept
Another challenge is the so-called mass balance concept which basically means that if customers buy half of their peat as RPP certified they can put the label on half of their peat mixes, even though these might not contain the RPP certified peat. Peat is shipped and processed in large quantities, which means it is usually very costly and undoable to keep certified peat from non-certified peat. Kuenen is quick to add that RPP’s traceability system means you can be sure the certified peat that enters the value chain originates from RPP certified peat producers, even though it is mixed with non-certified peat later on.
To date, the Board of Responsibly Produced Peat granted the RPP certificate to 45 sites across Germany, Sweden and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Combined, they cover an area of approximately 13,000 ha. RRP’s ultimate goal is to become mainstream by having 150-200 sites certified and at least half of total production area dedicated to the extraction of ‘horticultural’ peat. In Europe the total area of peat production sites covers 120,000 with half of it in use for growing media and the remainder for energy purposes. gardening.
To date, the Board of Responsibly Produced Peat granted the RPP certificate to 45 sites across Germany, Sweden and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.