Sustainable Herbs Program launches comprehensive toolkit to help companies bolster sustainability efforts

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images
Getty Images

Related tags herbs Medicinal plants Sustainability Traceability Fair trade

The Sustainable Herbs Program has launched a comprehensive sustainability toolkit document that can help support a cultural shift at companies toward sustainability, traceability and environmental responsibility.

The 52-page document, formally titled the SHP Sustainability & Regenerative Practices Toolkit, is the work of SHP director Ann Armbrecht, PhD.  The toolkit has been published with the help of SHP’s partner, the American Botanical Council.

In writing the document Armbrecht, whose doctorate degree is in cultural anthropology, took a broad view of what sustainability means in the herbal sphere.  It’s not just about the plant species themselves, how they’re faring, how supplies are holding up, what the climate change challenges might be, etc.  Rather, it was about the whole community, of which the plants are a part.

“Because of my academic background is why I’ve focused on the beginning on the people as much as the plants.  It’s how everyone involved can work together in creating sustainability,” ​Armbrecht told NutraIngredients-USA.

Practical resources

The toolkit is an online collection of practical resources and best practices for the herb and botanical industry that businesses of any size can use to become more socially and environmentally responsible. SHP also created a video​ that explains the purpose and content of new toolkit.


Armbrecht made liberal use of video links in the text of the document.  She is skilled in writing video scripts herself.  In 2009 Armbrecht partnered with filmmaker Terrence Youk to produce the award-winning documentary film Numen about herbalism and medicinal plants. 

Armbrecht said she started working on the toolkit in earnest several months ago with the hope to debut portions of it at the Natural Products Expo West trade show in March.  As that event was canceled because of the coronavirus crisis, the decision was made to make the who document available now, in the week of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970.

“I’ve had this idea for a while, from the creation of the Sustainable Herbs Program, to have a resource aimed at companies.  The SHP website from the beginning was focused on consumers buying herbal products,”​ Armbrecht said. “I have been gathering information for a while but I really started working on it last fall.”

The 14-section, 52-page SHP Toolkit is part of an extensive set of educational videos, articles, newsletters, and blog posts offered for free by SHP to educate and inspire members of the global medicinal plant industry and community. The collection details information on operating according to values and guidelines that enhance sustainability and regeneration in managing supply chains and value networks for botanical raw materials, extracts, and essential oils.

The toolkit supports SHP’s goals to inspire further increases in the quality of botanical ingredients and sustainable and ethical sourcing, and to enhance the quality of life of people working in botanical ingredient value networks. The SHP Toolkit also serves as a roadmap for companies to create greater overall transparency in telling the story of how herbal teas, dietary supplements, natural cosmetics, and other botanical products reach consumers.

Armbrecht said her background as a teacher led her to structure the toolkit almost as a lesson plan, if you will.

“Now the plan is over the next few months to break it down into smaller sections and share that content within a larger framework.  The document will be influential on as far as it is used,”​ she said.

The smaller segments are structured with video content, a list of questions and action items. Armbrecht’s concept is that these smaller bits could form the content for brown bag lunch type meetings within companies, to foment the collaborations and communities that will make lasting change possible.

“A lot of that change will have to do with where the money goes within a company, where somebody might primarily be rewarded for example for bringing in a plant at a lower price,”​ she said.

Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC, said his organization primarily participated with funding help and back-office IT support, as well as providing editorial input along with the 17-member SHP Advisory Board.

 “While many people in herb companies, and elsewhere, are interested in becoming more sustainable, they are often unsure where and how to begin. This toolkit provides them with more than enough resources to do so,”​ he said.

“I think this is one of the most significant projects in ABC’s 31-year history,” ​Blumenthal said.

Other side of crisis

Armbrecht said the current tumultuous state of the botanical ingredients markets and the world in general makes this the perfect time for companies to take stock of where they want to be on the other side.

“Our own health and wellness are inextricably connected with the health and wellness of the human and ecological systems in which we live and on which we depend,” ​said Armbrecht. “Many of us as individuals and as companies are asking how we want to emerge from the current pandemic crisis. How can we put in place systems that recognize and build on our interdependence and practices that support biodiversity, social equity, and healthy soils? This toolkit provides resources to begin or continue this journey.”

Inaugural Underwriters for SHP include: Applied Food Sciences, Inc.; dōTERRA; Euromed; EuroPharma; Gaia Herbs; HumanN; Indena; MediHerb; MegaFood; Nature's Way; New Chapter; Now Health Group, Inc.; Pharmatoka SAS; RFI Ingredients, LLC; Standard Process; Thorne Research, Inc.; the United Natural Products Alliance; Valensa International; and Verdure Sciences.

Additional Underwriters and Supporters include: Banyan Botanicals; Biotropics Malaysia Berhad; Herb Pharm; Ixoreal Biomed Pvt. Ltd.; PLT Health Solutions, Inc.; Pukka Herbs; and VDF FutureCeuticals.

Click here to learn more about the Sustainable Herbs Program​.

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