Close X

Measuring Sustainability

We stand at a critical moment in history for food and farming. Concerns about accelerating climate change, the impact of industrial agriculture, and growing public awareness about the connection between the way we produce food and our health, nature and future prosperity presents a moment of reset to build a more sustainable farming future. Alternatively, a global economic recession, triggered by the current health pandemic, could lead to a race to the bottom of cheap, unhealthy and unsafe food, that drives further climate change.

We believe a Global Farm Metric could be a game changer in speeding up the much-needed transition to more sustainable food and farming systems, giving power to farmers, consumers, governments and businesses to make the right choices.

The problem we are trying to solve

At present, there is a lack of a common means for assessing the sustainability of food and farming systems across the world. Taking the mantra of ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’, this can make it very hard for farmers to understand how to make incremental improvements, governments to know which systems of production to incentivise, food companies to source more sustainable products, and consumers to understand what to buy to be sustainable and healthy.

Connected to this, the hidden costs of unsustainable food and farming systems are not included in the price of producing that food or the price consumers pay, meaning that those who pollute are not held financially accountable for the damage caused. Instead, these costs are passed on to other parts of society or the environment for generations to come.

An internationally harmonised framework

In order to set international targets for agriculture, monitor progress towards sustainable, regenerative and circular food production and internalise these hidden costs – akin to the financial accounting standards – we first need a common approach to measuring impact at farm level (both positive and negative). To do this, we must facilitate the emergence of an internationally harmonised framework of metrics for measuring on-farm sustainability. This framework should be driven and developed by farmers in collaboration with experts and key organisations. The framework will aid farmer understanding and provide a common language for farm-level sustainability. It should take an inclusive approach, allowing all farmers to make incremental steps towards becoming more resilient, sustainable, regenerative and ultimately a climate change solution.

The framework could also be used by governments to design future public support schemes, 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 those 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. The Sustainable Food Trust has been consulting with farmers for over 4 years to help design the first iteration of a harmonised framework of assessment. The categories of assessment are:

  • Soil
  • Water
  • Air and climate
  • Biodiversity
  • Energy and resource use
  • Nutrient management
  • Plant and crop health
  • Animal husbandry
  • Social capital
  • Human capital
  • Productivity

With our partners we are now ready to take this to another level – locally and globally – to prove the idea in practice, create a simple tool for all farmers to use and gain support for a global framework.

Click here to read our latest project summary.