Perspectives for Agriculture –
Progress Through
Sustainability Assessment

Symposium, 21-22 March 2013, Berlin
Hosted by BASF

On 21-22 March 2013, leading experts from the agriculture and food industry, academia and societal organizations gathered
in Berlin, Germany, to define and refine what sustainability assess- ment can do for the agricultural industry and food supply chain.

Designed to increase transparency and clarity in this field, the ‘Perspectives for Agriculture – Progress through Sustainability Assessment’ symposium was designed to provide participants with a collaborative space where they could take stock of sustain- ability assessment methodologies and discuss the steps needed for advancement.

“This symposium was designed to jointly in- crease transparency and clarity in the field of sustainability as- sessment. BASF’s guiding principle is ‘You can only manage what you have mea- sured’. For the pros- perity of agriculture,
it is fundamental to manage and show progress in its sus- tainable development.”

Markus Heldt

President BASF Crop Protection

The global challenges for agriculture

Over the next 40 years, as the planet’s population grows to approximately
9 billion people, the demand for food, feed, fiber and fuel is due to almost double.

Both new and existing demands for agricultural produce will therefore place growing pressures on the planet’s already limited agricultural resources and areas.

A truly more sustainable, global agricultural industry is widely accepted as the only way of addressing these issues in a credible way.

However, in order to facilitate a global shift towards sustainable agriculture, there is a pressing need for new tools, technologies, machinery and management practices to grow more from less with ever decreasing resources.

Taking these challenges and requirements into consideration, there is now a clear need for well managed processes, a basis from which to work; and new ways of monitoring progress.

Decio Luiz Gazzoni

Researcher at EMBRAPA

“We have to start to address the land-use topic when talking about sustainability in agriculture: We need to increase yields without increasing amounts of arable land.”

“The farmer will do a good job if he has the right tools for sustain- ability assessment.”

Alastair Leake

Head of Allerton Research Farm

What is sustainable agriculture and
why assess it?

Stefan Canz

Sourcing Specialist at Nestle

“Where does sustain- ability begin and where does it end? We have to look at it holistically – beyond the farm gate. We have to look at it from a Life Cycle per- spective: Balancing it globally is key.”

“The deeper you go, the more complex sustain- ability measurement will be. Therefore the key challenge is to simplify the communication
to the consumer and remain reliable at the same time.”

Jörg Krüger

Head of Department for Nature Conservation and Environmental Policies and Deputy Executive Director, NABU

Chris Brown

Director Sustainable Business, ASDA

“We might have a communication issue: Our results are too technical for decision makers.”

“The food industry cannot dictate to farmers. We have to work together and define a common understanding.”

Udo Hemmerling

Deputy Secretary-General of Deutsche Bauernverband (DBV)

Advancement of sustainability
in practice

The concept of sustainability means different things to different people. But there is
a general agreement by most stakeholders that it is not possible to manage what
has not been measured. Therefore, over the last 20 years a multitude of quantitative
methods have been developed to assess sustainability — including the use of
resources, e.g. life-cycle assessment for consumption; carbon foot-printing; and
the Environmental Performance Index for environmental policies.

Through the assessment of selected indicators which represent particular
sustainability concepts, these tools serve as an effective method of helping to:

trade and

Analyze the
of a production

and supply

Assess the
costs and
benefits of

products and

This session yielded
the following results:

Different methods have diverse target audiences and therefore vary in their content and focus. Whereas some tools focus on green house gas emissions, others attempt to address agriculture in two or even three dimensions of sustainability.

There are large numbers of contrasting tools in use across the world. This leads to regionalized approaches and potentially incompatible results. However, having only one ‘universal’ tool would be impracticable.

There is a partial overlap between the different methodologies, e.g. carbon footprints as part of the environmental dimensions is also part of most of the methods and assessed in light of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) methodology.

Topics like soil health and biodiversity are considered important but are not fully reflected in all systems. Indicators such as animal welfare, food waste or indirect land use change (iLUC) are largely missing.

There is a convergence of sustainability assessment and certification. It can be expected that certification schemes will become more quantitative in nature and focus more on continuous improvement, balancing impacts on all three dimensions of sustainability.

The incorporation of management practices into
the assessment schemes was considered key in order to bring sustainability to life.

Easy and understandable communication of the results is considered a difficult task, as well as the clear deviation of results and guidance for improvements.

Overall, there are real opportunities and gains for the tools to be linked to each
other, helping to universalize requirements, understanding and implementation
of sustainable agriculture from region to region. Moreover, a harmonization of
the key messages was seen as a critical step towards a better
understanding of the results.

“Many people are confused by the tools that aim to quantify sustainability impacts. We see a lot of these tools. If we don’t manage to choose a simple set of indicators, standardize basic data and algorithms, we will create more rather than less confusion. Out- comes must primarily be relevant to the grower to manage his activities. This will drive innovation.”

Peter Erik Ywema

GM of Secretariat of the Agriculture Initiative (SAI)

Pierre Gerber

Senior Policy Officer, FAO

“We don't necessarily need to have a common idea/definition of sus- tainability to move forward. We can start by agreeing on how to measure performance on certain aspects. We lack balanced, detailed, yet comprehensive data on environmental per- formance and bio- diversity.”

“Sustainability is all about our collective ability to endure. Understanding that
we all share in the consequences of failure means that collab- oration is a must and traditional competi- tiveness only hinders our chances of suc- cess. As for agriculture and food, if we are to feed 9 billion people, while preserving our ability to do so indefini- tely, our challenge is to help growers achieve their highest potential… but only with the finite resources we have available.”

Fred Luckey

Chairman, Field to Market

Sustainability in agriculture: Looking to the future

The symposium defined the overarching
areas on which to focus:

Identifying where existing assessment systems complement each other.

Improving methods to measure sustainability.

Mapping lessons from the whole agri-food value chain.

Pinpointing key levers to im- prove cooperation between all involved stakeholders.

The symposium working groups then developed
thinking around a set of predetermined areas
which need to be addressed
as progress is made in the following areas of focus:

Trade-offs and weighting

The tools currently in use do not sufficiently address the trade-offs between operating on a global vs. local scale or, indeed, productivity vs. sustainability. The group drew attention to the complexity of carrying out trade off analyses and the lack of global-level data.

Decreasing the conceptual variability/diversity of indicators and using a combination of different modeling approaches were seen to be possible ways of overcoming these challenges.


By simplifying some of the processes, by only assessing the selected indicators, for example, significant resources can be saved. Indicators which cannot be influenced directly by decision makers are often seen as confusing; therefore it was recommended to focus on indicators and impacts which can be influenced directly by farmers, rather than where accepted and agreed solutions already exist. Coupled to this, it was widely considered that the tools can be used very successfully when exploring scenarios for optimization.


The groups also discussed the levels of accuracy needed in a particular situation. In some scenarios, the level of accuracy could be considered as a trade-off if high-precision calculations are not necessary. However it should be noted that it is important to understand (and document) the trade-offs associated with each decision to aid transparency.


Monetization could play an important role in the attempt to solve trade-offs and to combine the results from different tools in a meaningful way. However, monetization intrinsically bears an ‘exchange rate problem’: For example, how to relate e.g. greenhouse gas emissions to social standards. Furthermore, the models for monetization are often discussed in different ways and are not widely accepted.

Jetse Stoorvogel

Land Dynamics Group, Wageningen University

“If we really want to have an impact, we have to find compre- hensive methods that can be applied in a relatively straightfor- ward and easy way. Our challenge is to find the balance between comprehensiveness and applicability”

Closing the gaps

The working groups noted that there are gaps in the assessment methods when for example considering biodiversity, social impacts and indirect land use change. This was again due to different regional locations attributing different values to impacts.

Gaps mainly concern implementation, refining and dissemination of results; however for many of the problems there are answers in place which simply need to be agreed by stakeholders and implemented.


It was considered critical to adapt existing Life Cycle Assessment methods to be able to include social impacts and to integrate social elementary flows in LCA databases. It was also highlighted that there are “hot-spot” issues (“no go” or “cut off” criteria), which need to be addressed.


Covering indirect land use change as an emerging and widely debated concept, testing of available methods, improving and consolidating them was seen as key. To establish the necessary transparency, general resources and tools, such as standardized factors for different impact categories and databases, should be put in place. This needs to be tackled by a dedicated expert community.


Various approaches towards quantifying biodiversity are in place with differing levels of detail. In order to establish a state-of-the-art biodiversity model as an impact category in existing LCA models, a consolidation and adaptation of defined parts of existing models would need to take place.


Communication is often too technical for decision makers and stakeholders to use and understand effectively. Improved communication across regions was seen as a credible way of addressing many of the outstanding issues. One of the areas earmarked for further work was to look at the methodology for weighting and aggregating impact criteria, as there is scope to improve. It was seen that single scoring results might be helpful to understand the messages from a study and to use the results in decision-making processes.

Jannick Schmidt

LCA Consultants

“The key challenges today are identified
as modeling of indirect land use changes (iLUC), biodiversity impacts and social impacts. For many problems, a solution exists. Gaps mainly concern imple- mentation, refining
and dissemination.”

From sustainability assessment to certification

The key areas for improvement include reducing complexity and the sheer number of schemes, labels and requirements to meet. The complexity and opaqueness of the schemes and the clarity of the results, from both the consumers and the farmer’s point of view, need to be addressed whilst at the same time ensuring the whole food value chain is assessed and certified.


A general trend was observed in sustainability certification to move from a focused approach; one or two indicators; to a broader and more customized collection of varying indicators. International Sustainability and Carbon Certification Plus comprises a good example for this trend.


Moreover, certification schemes increasingly move from a qualitative into a more quantitative type of assessment, which ultimately offers the opportunity to create synergies between certification and sustainability assessment on the part of the farmer.


Discussions also focused on determining ways of ensuring continuous improvement for assessment schemes, for example by encouraging all partners across the supply chain to work towards continuous improvement, as well as identifying “hot-spots” in the supply chain.


Overall there was an understanding that clear, trustable, meaningful communications, combined with a sustainable governance model was needed. It was noted that certification will not solve all problems – realistic expectations need to be managed.

Norbert Schmitz

Managing Director of ISCC GmbH

“We need to create transparency along the enitre value chain. Es- tablishing harmonized, practicable and inde- pendent certification schemes will enable
us to do this.”

Harmonizing of assessment schemes

The working groups agreed that harmonized principles are needed. Harmonization efforts should be directed towards principles, parameters and shared databases. Taking into account factors such as regions and languages should lead to the development of a ‘clearing house’ for information, reporting and tools. Tools should be applicable to all farming systems and strike a balance between qualitative and quantitative information – linking to a 'Social Hotspot Database' was an identified example.


The groups discussed developing one set of principles for assessment and having a single, universally applicable, principles-based framework.

Harmonization needs to be inclusive, between the social and economic pillars, and engage stakeholders (including the general public). Harmonization should be achieved through the use of technology and farming-system neutral tools, i.e. working for smallholders in developing countries as for large commercial farmers in developed countries.


The principles for achieving harmonization will need to be science-based, ensuring they can be used in evidence-based policy making and balanced towards outcomes in the short to long term.

Sarah Lewis

Manager of Food, Beverage &
Agricultural Sector of The Sustainability
Consortium (TSC)

“The Sustainability Consortium includes social issues in its content and bases this on peer reviewed literature for product categories. In this meta-analysis of existing research in social sustainability for consumer products, we have identified that there are gaps in the research related to strategies for addressing the social issues associated with the consumer-products industry. There is an oppor- tunity to invest in research that explores the most effective practices in improving social sustainability within supply networks.”

Panel Discussion: Bringing sustainability to life

“Farmers are partners
in nature conservation. Meeting the EU’s high standards means higher costs of production for European farmers. The value chain should work together and create transparency for self- improvement at all levels.”

Pekka Pesonen

Secretary-General of COPA-COGECA

Harald von Witzke

Department of Agricultural Economics, HU Berlin

“We should work together with farmers and provide trans- parency for self-improvement.”

“Let us demonstrate to smallholders that sus- tainable farming can benefit them.Less input and higher yields is the way forward.”

Peter Smith

Supply chain sustainability manager for Grains and Oilseeds, Cargill

Friedrich Knecht

Head of Sustainability & Product Stewardship, BASF Crop Protection

“Extension systems in developing countries need to be developed to allow for delivery of assessment tools.”

“We should reward farmers who deliver their important role of stewardship of the land.”

Darren Moorcroft

Head of Species & Habitat
Conservation, RSPB

Antoine Hoxha

Technical Director,
Fertilizers Europe

“Reducing the environ- mental lifecycle foot- print of our products is fundamental. The input industry is definitely part of the solution towards more sus- tainable agriculture.”

The path forward

1. Food value chain has to work together

Going forward it will be necessary to assess sustainability along
the entire food value chain. This will allow the food value chain
to work together for internationally consistent results and full
inclusion of relevant stakeholders - from grower to consumer.

2. Importance of holistic assessment

There is a need to work on the one hand towards more holistic and on the other
hand more simplified measurement and assessment approaches - across
the environmental, societal and economic dimensions.

3. Focus on social indicators, soil and biodiversity

Further developments should focus on data availability and quality,
indicators and weightings for the social dimension, indirect land
use change, and biodiversity.

4. Common standards for a global shift

For initiating a global shift in sustainable food supply, there is a need for
common language, terminology and concepts to universalize the methods
being used. Future efforts should be directed towards working across the
supply chains, using universally accepted standards for calculation and
interpretation as well as for communication and certification.

5. Think global, act local

The understanding of sustainability and agricultural practices differs around
the world. Therefore, any global approach must lead to regionalized and
complementary implementation plans with a worldwide acceptance of its
evaluation results.

Next steps

BASF agreed to facilitate a dedicated action group to build on the
outcomes of the symposium and develop common principles for
sustainability assessment across the entire food value chain.

In keeping with the open and transparent methodology of this process,
the action group would be happy to consider any further comments or
suggestions from the wider stakeholder community.

Please find correspondence details at the following link:

“We will facilitate this initiative in order to promote a common framework for indicators. The discussion platform will help to increase coherence and credibility for the different method- ologies and value chain needs.”

Dirk Voeste

The symposium has created a momentum,
now we need to keep working together ...