Measuring Sustainability

Our second topic will give us a closer look at indices and metrics, and we will learn more about how these tools can help guide supply chain investments. 

Laurence Smith, Senior Researcher at the Organic Research Centre in the UK introduces us to the topic: 

A number of tools have been developed in recent years which allow farmers and supply chain partners to assess the ‘carbon-footprint’ of their holding and identify areas for improvement.  The array of tools available can be confusing however as a result of differences in scope, the data sources used and the time investment required. For example, some tools provide a quick overview of an entire farm and consider only emissions within the farm gate, whereas others provide a product focussed assessment that accounts for emissions throughout an entire production life-cycle. The issue of carbon sequestration is also left out in some cases, whereas other tools provide a detailed breakdown of this area. 

The limited scope of many of the tools currently available can also limit their usefulness, in particular issues such as soil health, biodiversity, water use and animal welfare can be left by the wayside due to this primary focus on carbon. There is also a question of applicability; a tool that only considers the effect of actions without taking account of site specific variables, such as soil type, water availability, and cost of resources, can lead to misleading results (for nitrous oxide emissions and soil carbon sequestration rates, for example). 

Assessments could also be improved through encouraging a conversation between farmers, the assessor, and members of the supply chain, throughout the process.  Such an approach could foster a truly effective approach to sustainability that moves beyond a simple ‘numbers game’ and identifies effective, tailor-made solutions.

The topic thought-starter blog can be found here


Webinar 2: Conversations on Measuring Sustainability

On the 12th and 13th of March we will hold our second live conversation with two experts on the subject of metrics: Laurence Smith, Senior Researcher at the ORC, UK, and Marc Binder, Director, PE International based in Germany.

More about our Topic Leaders: 

Laurence Smith is Senior Sustainability Researcher at the Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm, UK. His work is focussed on the development and application of sustainability assessment tools and farm-system modelling. Laurence is also leading a work package within the Defra and Devolved Administration funded Greenhouse Gas Platform and is pursuing a part-time PhD at Cranfield University exploring the impacts of a large-scale conversion to organic farming in England and Wales.

Organic Research Centre: The Progressive Farming Trust Ltd trading as Organic Research Centre is the UK’s leading independent research, development institution for organic agriculture and agro-ecology. It aims to develop and support sustainable land-use, agriculture and food systems, primarily within local economies, which build on organic principles to ensure the health and well-being of soil, plant, animal, man and his environment.

The ORC’s multi-disciplinary and collaborative research covers plant breeding, crop production, bio-diversity and eco-systems services, agroforestry, livestock systems sustainability assessment, climate change, and socio-economics and policy, in many fields using participatory methods and with a strong focus on knowledge dissemination. The Research Centre has been involved within greenhouse gas and research and sustainability assessment for over 10 years, evaluating the effects of management decisions on productivity, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration. Click here for more information on the Organic Research Centre.  


Dr Sabine Deimling has a master degree of Agriculture Biology and a PhD in Agriculture Science from the University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart. She has over twelve years experience in LCA, specializing in agricultural and forestry systems. At PE International, Sabine is responsible for the renewable resources sector, including agriculture and food production, renewable energy, forestry production, food packaging and material use of renewables. She has experience in setting up databases on renewable materials and has led on the development of specific models within GaBi Software for complex agrarian processes. Sabine is a member of the Technical Working Group “land use change” of the WRI and WBCSD Initiative developing the “Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard.

PE International is one of the world’s most experienced sustainability software, content and strategic consulting firms. With 20 years of experience and 20 offices around the globe, PE allows clients to understand sustainability, improve their performance and succeed in the marketplace. Through market leading software solutions, Five Winds strategic consulting services and implementation methodologies PE International has worked with some of the world's most respected firms to develop the strategies, management systems, tools and processes needed to achieve leadership in sustainability.

The extensive services in the field of sustainability include e.g. Life Cycle Assessment, Design for Environment, Carbon and Water Footprint, Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), and CSR consultancy. Moreover, PE International offers two leading software solutions, with the GaBi software for product sustainability and the SoFi software for corporate sustainability. Click here for more information on PE International.

Discussion Highlights

To download all learning material please register for the Collaborative Learning Series here



Links to Further Reading

Farm Assessment:

United Nations FAO Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems (SAFA) guidelines

Organic Research Center (farm-level methodology and tools)

PE International (for LCA methodology and software)

FiBL SAFA Assessment Overview

Soil & More Carbon and Water Footprints

Sustainable Food Lab Commissioned the Cool Farm Tool

The UNEP Life Cycle Initiative

Leonardo Academy – The National (US) Sustainable Agriculture Standard


Textile Industry:

>> Outdoor Industry Association - EcoIndex (evolved into Higgs Index)

>> Sustainable Apparel Coalition Higg Index and Nike Materials Sustainability Index  

>> PUMA Environmental Profit & Loss (highlights) and PUMA Financial Report EP&L

>> WRAP Sustainable Clothing Action Plan – Metrics Working Group