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Measuring Sustainability

global farm metric sustainability food farming

We are pleased to have launched the Global Farm Metric. You can learn more on the website.

If we are to truly transition to sustainable food and farming systems, we need to measure our impact. This is why we have been working to establish the Global Farm Metric (GFM), a whole-farm framework for measuring sustainability on all farming systems and landscapes.

When adopted, the GFM will align existing sustainability assessments to establish a common language that enables all stakeholders in food and farming to drive positive change.

The Global Farm Metric has now evolved into a coalition of over 50 partners, including farming and environment groups, certifiers, food companies, financial services, and government.


The problem

We stand at a critical moment in history for food and farming. During the last century, our extractive farming practices have depleted nature and brought us to the brink of a planetary emergency, resulting in climate change, catastrophic biodiversity decline and a crisis for public health. With half of our land now used for agriculture, farmers across the globe have become the primary stewards of nature, climate and health. Yet their delivery of public goods depends on redesigning our businesses and industries away from systems based on extraction and growth and towards approaches based on the principles of regeneration, sustainability and the circular economy.

At the moment, there is no common way to measure the sustainability of food and farming systems across the world, making it very hard for farmers and land managers to know the impact of their practices and what they can do to improve. This means the costs of food and farming systems remain hidden and displaced as those that pollute are not held financially accountable for the damage caused. This makes it difficult for governments to know which food production systems to support, food companies to know which producers to source from and consumers to understand what the most sustainable and healthy options are. We believe this is a critical barrier slowing the transition towards sustainable food and farming systems.

The solution 

To address these challenges and make meaningful steps towards healing people and the planet, we must measure the sustainability of food and farming systems in a way that is meaningful, inclusive, and developed by farmers. Further, such a measure should take a holistic, whole-farm approach and be owned by all to ensure the delivery of public goods. These are some of the key principles that have guided the development of our Global Farm Metric (GFM).

To ensure the metric embodies these principles, like the financial accounting standards, the GFM measures social, economic and environmental impacts in a common way that is comprehensive and compatible with existing assurance and certifications schemes (see the 11 categories of assessment). The GFM is also driven and developed by farmers in collaboration with experts and other key stakeholders in the food and farming industry to save farmer’s time; ensure cross-sector consensus; create a common language; and facilitate communication across global food systems.

Central to this is keeping measures inclusive and applicable to all farm levels, so all farmers can internalise those hidden costs and make incremental steps towards becoming more resilient, sustainable, regenerative and ultimately a climate change solution.

The future 

This global measure of sustainability could be used by governments to deliver public goods, food companies to aid supply chain transparency, the finance community as a basis for sustainable investment and consumers to better understand the relative sustainability of food products they purchase. This way, we can reward producers who are delivering genuine benefit to the environment and public health and subsequently shift the balance of financial advantage towards more sustainable production on a global scale. Further, the GFM could be used to set international targets for agriculture and monitor progress towards these goals.

The Sustainable Food Trust has been consulting with farmers for over 4 years to help design the first iteration of a harmonised Global Farm Metric and begin the transition towards a more sustainable future. We have now built a coalition with multiple stakeholders to prove the idea in practice, understand how the metric could be used, and gain support for a global food and farming sustainability assessment.

To read more about the Global Farm Metric, head to the GFM website.