HORTICERT Successfully Completes its Pilot Phase

HORTICERT successfully completes its second project phase – Pilot tests and optimization of the certification concept

HORTICERT successfully completed the second phase of the project “Development and implementation of an international certification system for peat substitutes” in November 2023. Phase II comprised the conduction of pilot tests as well as the further development and optimization of the certification concept developed in Phase I of the project.   

The aim of the pilots was to test the HORTICERT certification approach for the first time in practice. During the pilot tests, HORTICERT worked together with well-known peat substitute and growing media producers, who were the first companies to undergo the certification process on a trial basis.

Between January and September 2023, over 20 production sites were visited in order to test the HORTICERT certification approach. During the visits of Belgian, German, Indian and Sri Lankan companies, all supply chain steps of green compost, wood- and bark-based as well as coconut-based peat substitutes were covered – starting from raw material extraction to further processing and final growing media production. The results helped to better understand the different supply chains, to identify challenges as well as areas of improvement, and to ultimately optimize the certification concept. 

Prior to the pilot tests, quantitative and qualitative risk analyses were conducted in collaboration with NGOs (Lake Constant Foundation, Global Nature Fund, Welthungerhilfe) and GRAS Global Risk Assessment Services GmbH. These results were used to define country-specific risk levels, which determined the scope of the assessment of sustainability requirements during the pilot tests. 

Additionally, benchmarks with the requirements of existing certification systems such as PEFC, FSC and SA8000 were conducted to check whether these systems could be recognized under HORTICERT. This would simplify the HORTICERT certification process for companies already holding the above-mentioned certifications.

A further component of the pilot tests was the calculation of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of various peat substitutes and final growing media based on the pilot partners’ production data. These findings were used to optimize the HORTICERT GHG methodology.

Additionally, HORTI-TRACE, a digital supply chain tracing system was developed to enhance transparency along international supply chains. In the future, HORTI-TRACE will be used to digitally forward sustainability data along international supply chains. In doing so, HORTI-TRACE facilitates the documentation for companies and the audit process, while at the same time meeting high data security standards.

Based on the activities and experiences of the pilot phase, the HORTICERT system documents were created, which set out the rules of the certification system and include the requirements for sustainability, supply chain traceability, greenhouse gas calculation and audit implementation. These documents have been approved by the Agency for Renewable Resources (FNR) and will serve as guidelines for system users and certification bodies in the future.

The results of the pilot phase form the basis for the third and final project phase, the transition to regular operation. In this phase, the first official audits will be carried out, the first HORTICERT certificates will be issued, digital solutions for conducting audits will be further developed and requirements for additional peat substitutes will be defined. In addition, structures for the further involvement of stakeholders will be established, international recognition and accreditation of HORTICERT will be pursued and further elements of the certification system will be developed. 

The first products with the HORTICERT label are expected to be available in 2024. After the project ends in 2025, HORTICERT will continue as a stand-alone, independent certification system.