In today’s trendy world, you might say that sustainable is the new black. And that’s a good thing. Saving the planet sits pretty high on most people’s agenda. And now that the whole world’s gone sustainable, dietary supplements should not be too far behind.
When it comes to dietary supplements, sustainable is a bit of a moving target. A forest of sustainable tress, grown for lumber, is pretty easy to visualize, while a sustainable calcium tablet takes a bit more imagination. Sourcing and making supplements, and getting them to you, is a complex process. Still, like any other product, we can dig into the manufacture and distribution process, and shed some light on the final product. Just be prepared to think in a slightly more complex way that abandoning paper towels.
Supplements come in a plethora of varieties, and each arena has its own challenges, so let’s start with herbs, which might be the easiest to conceptualize, and probably the easiest to bring to market sustainably. After all, there just plants, and we harvest other plants sustainably. One of the global leaders in sustainable herb marketing is Organic India, those guys who made tulsi tea famous. According to their founder, Prashanti deJager, “One of the things I am most interested in is preserving biodiversity; specifically, using the market to drive sustainability and to starve out non-sustainable practices.
Part of this is to buy herbs that are a product of sustainable cultivation and wild-cultivation (The difference between the two is typically the length of the growing period and the attention given to the crop). However, another major goal in this is to ensure that the local people involved in the production of the herb gain as much financial support as possible, because it is well known that human poverty is one of the main causes of the loss of Biodiversity, as then people have less ability to protect their environment from exploitation, and a greater tendency to exploit it themselves.
One way to get supplement sustainability started is to make a commitment to organic practices, which themselves put less strain on the planet. Gaia Herbs, a mainstream health food store herb brand, goes beyond organic herbs to hold a commitment to using organic alcohol for their tinctures.
Heading over to the Chinese herb arena, Spring Wind Herbs is a leader in the new movement toward organic herbs being grown in China. They point out that “The earth is an integrated body. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers spread beyond the farm.”
When it comes to the wide range of other supplement categories, the discussion gets a little more slippery. Is it sustainable to mine calcium from giant cliff side deposits? Those will eventually run out, but it would take an awfully long time to strip out all the calcium carbonate from the Earth’s crust. Better to use oyster shells, you say? They are waste products from food industry, so they might be better in the waste not, want not sense. But remember, it takes a lot of energy to farm that oyster in the first place, while the calcium mine gives up its mineral for free. Or take fish oil. Wild salmon are disappearing, along with many other fish species. Why not use a species that swims in healthy numbers, and that experts say is sustainable?
New Chapter, a high end supplier of a collection of supplements, is a leader in sustainable thinking, and their awareness extends way beyond the herb field. “Sustainability begins with intention” is their motto, and they apply that intention to everything from office recycling to transporting, packaging, and sourcing practices.
On the social side, envisioning a sustainable future for our children means that the children themselves must have a sustainable life. Vitamin Angels is a charity that aims to reduce child mortality worldwide by supplying essential nutrients, especially vitamin A, to infants and children. Nourish America is another notable group that provides daily multivitamins for 26,000 needy children and their families in the United States.
Sustainability has not been a byword in the dietary supplement field until recently, but, like every other emerging industry, the direction is clear. Expect to see a new push for sustainable practices in the near future.
After all, if we can’t hold on to Mother Earth, what will we get from a few vitamins?