Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems

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Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems



Draft 4.0 – compact version

Natural Resources Management and Environment Department

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

January 2012


Twenty years have passed since the principle of sustainable development received almost universal agreement at the 1992 Earth Summit. Recent years have seen impressive progress in the realization of a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable development. Stakeholders in the food and agriculture sectors have been at the forefront of this progress, improving agricultural productivity, protecting human and natural resources, and conceiving and implementing frameworks, standards and indicators*1 for assessing and improving sustainability across the sector and along the value chain. Yet, enormous challenges remain. The world is confronted with a multitude of crisis, from food and fuel crises to climate and financial crises. To further enhance the efficacy and efficiency of the various initiatives in tackling these challenges, a common language for sustainable agriculture and food systems is needed.

As a contribution to developing such a common language, and as part of its efforts for the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), FAO built on existing knowledge and, through a transparent and participatory process, developed the present voluntary Guidelines for Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems* (SAFA). A SAFA is the rating of a company’s or production site’s sustainability performance*. The Guidelines specify the procedure, principles and minimum requirements for a SAFA. They are goal-oriented and serve as a benchmark stating what sustainable agriculture entails. The guiding vision of SAFA is a globally sustainable food and agriculture sector, characterised by environmental integrity, economic resilience, social well-being and good governance* throughout the sector. The SAFA Guidelines are meant to support a sustainability management that facilitates progress towards this vision all over the sector, from production to processing and distribution of food and agricultural products.

The target audience of the SAFA Guidelines are agricultural producers, food manufacturers and retailers who wish to substantiate sustainability claims, as well as entities doing sustainability analyses on behalf of these stakeholders. The Guidelines are a globally applicable template for assessments of the sustainability of food and agriculture systems, providing guidance on the procedure of developing and applying a sustainability assessment system, and including a generic* set of core sustainability categories, possible indicators for performance assessment, and minimum criteria for sustainability. They set a frame to which existing systems can be related and on which new assessment methods can be based. Furthermore, companies, organisations and other stakeholders who want to improve the sustainability performance of their supply chains are encouraged to take up the SAFA Guidelines as a framework for developing their own product* category rules for supply chains. This will enable others to benchmark their activities and eventually allow a dynamic improvement of food chains. The methodological principles of this frame are relevance, simplicity, goal-orientation and performance-orientation. At the instutional level, the Guidelines build on and acknowledge existing standards, attempt to add value rather than duplicate, and represent an open and learning system.

Sustainability assessments based on the SAFA Guidelines shall primarily serve purposes of internal management and business-to-business communication. For internal sustainability management as well as for a start, assessments based on the Guidelines can take the form of a self-evaluation. Where sustainability performance is to be reported to business partners, consumers or authorities, independent third-party measurement, reporting and verification will be necessary.

List of abbreviations

B2B business-to-business

B2C business-to-consumer

BLIHR Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights

BSCI Business Social Compliance Initiative

CBD Convention on Biological Diversity

COSA Committee on Sustainability Assessment

ECOSOC United Nations Economic and Social Council

FAO Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

FLO Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International

FSC Forest Stewardship Council

GHG greenhouse gas

GRI Global Reporting Initiative

IISD International Institute for Sustainable Development

ILO International Labour Organization

ISEAL Alliance International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labeling Alliance

ISO International Organization for Standardization

ITC International Trade Centre

LCA Life-Cycle Assessment

MSC Marine Stewardship Council

NGO non-government organisation

OECD Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development

PCR Product category rules

RISE Response-Inducing Sustainability Evaluation

SAFA Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture systems

SAI Platform Sustainable Agriculture Initiative

UNCSD United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development

UNEP United Nations Environment Programme

UNESCO United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

UNGC United Nations Global Compact

WBCSD World Business Council for Sustainable Development

WHO World Health Organization

WWF World Wide Fund for Nature


Summary 2

List of abbreviations 3

Contents 4

1. Introduction to the SAFA Guidelines 6

1.1 Rationale 6

1.2 How the SAFA Guidelines were developed 7

3. The SAFA Guidelines 10

3.1 Aims, audience and principles of SAFA 12

3.1.1 Vision and goals 12

3.1.2 Roles and responsibilities 12

3.1.3 Subject and scope 12

3.1.4 Principles of SAFA 14

3.1.5 Sustainability dimensions and categories 15

3.2 How to implement a SAFA 20

3.2.1 Step 1: Goal and scope definition 20

3.2.2 Step 2: Data collection 24

3.2.3 Step 3: Data analysis and calculation 24

3.2.4 Step 4: Interpretation 24

3.2.5 Step 5: Reporting 24

4. Sustainability category protocols 27

4.1 Energy (E1) 28

4.2 Climate (E2) 31

4.3 Air (E3) 33

4.4 Water (E4) 35

4.5 Soil (E5) 39

4.6 Material cycles (E6) 42

4.7 Waste (E7) 45

4.8 Biodiversity (E8) 48

4.9 Animals (E9) 51

4.10 Strategic management (C1) 54

4.11 Operating profit (C2) 55

4.12 Vulnerability (C3) 57

4.13 Local economy (C4) 59

4.14 Decent livelihood (C5) 61

4.15 Human rights (S1) 63

4.16 Equity (S2) 66

4.17 Occupational health and safety (S3) 69

4.18 Capacity building (S4) 72

4.19 Food and nutrition security (S5) 74

4.20 Product quality (S6) 76

4.21 Participation (G1) 78

4.22 Accountability (G2) 80

4.23 Rule of law (G3) 82

4.24 Fairness (G4) 84

4.25 Evaluation (G5) 86

Glossary of terms and definitions 88

References 90

Annex A 94

Draft Form for a SAFA description (see section 3.6.8) 94

Annex B 98

The structure of these guidelines draws upon ISO2 14040:2006 (ISO, 2009), the ISEAL3 Code of Good Practice (version 1.0; ISEAL Alliance, 2010) and the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines and the Food Sector Supplement of the Global Reporting Initiative4 (version 3.1; GRI, 2011a; 2001b). Taking these widely acknowledged guidelines as a basis, those parts which are relevant for the food and agriculture sectors were chosen and selected, along the whole supply chain from farm to retailer. The structure of the category protocols in chapter 4 is based upon GRI (2011), the RISE5 method (Grenz et al., 2011) and the description of the German KSNL6 method (Breitschuh et al., 2008).

Paragraphs, in which principles of SAFA development and implementation are conveyed, are highlighted in blue.

Paragraphs, which refer to a need for transparent documentation during the SAFA process, are highlighted in green.

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