Below are some frequently asked questions about sustainability. These include questions about sustainability programs, the whole-farm approach, compliance monitoring and verification. Scroll through the questions and responses and if your question is not answered below, please feel free to contact us directly.
What is sustainability?
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Brundtland Commission, 1987
In line with this early definition of sustainability, there is increasing pressure for businesses, including farms and food and beverage producers, to perform against a “triple bottom line.” This concept is based on the three pillars of sustainability – social, environmental and economic.
Also referred to as “people, planet and profit,” farmers and food companies can measure their level of sustainability based on their commitment to people in areas such as, food safety, labour practices, animal welfare, employee engagement and community support. Impact on the planet can be measured in terms of adopting farm environmental programs and practices; waste energy and water management; and sustainable purchasing and supply chain management. Sustainability is also reflected in economic performance and profit. It can be measured in terms of financial planning, environmental accounting, business development and customer satisfaction.
What are some current sustainability programs?
From a global perspective, two of the leading sustainability programs include The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) and the Sustainable Agricultural Initiative (SAI) Platform. TSC is a global organization dedicated to improving the sustainability of consumer products.
Using a science-based approach, it works with manufacturers, retailers, suppliers, service providers, NGOs, civil society organizations, governmental agencies and academics to identify hotspots, improvement opportunities, and develop key performance indicators for different types of consumer products.
SAI Platform is the primary global food and drink value chain initiative for sustainable agriculture. Its goal is to facilitate sharing, at precompetitive level, of knowledge and best practices to support the development and implementation of sustainable agriculture practices involving stakeholders throughout the food value chain.
What is a ‘Whole Farm Approach’ to sustainability?
A ‘Whole Farm Approach’ to sustainability refers to the practice of managing all aspects of the farm – social, environmental and economic – to ensure that the farm is not only successful from a financial perspective but also contributing to improving local and global sustainability outcomes. These include people practices such as high quality labour standards, community engagement, and the health and well being of livestock. Environmental outcomes, or planet related practices include the efficient management of soil, water, and air quality on the farm that takes into consideration the role of the farm within the broader watershed region. These practices are well known to farmers through the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP). This initiative aims to develop a system that facilitates recognition of the strong practices already in place on many Canadian farms.
When it comes to economics, or profit, farms need to be profitable to stay in business. This requires effective management of the economic aspects of the farm including building marketing plans, cost of production analysis, succession planning, increasing productivity and potentially diversification.
Through the efficient combination of all three pillars of sustainability, farmers in Ontario, and Canada, are poised to be leaders of sustainability within the global agri-food system.
What does 'equivalency of sustainability programs' mean?
As the demand for sustainability grows so does the number of sustainability programs and protocols farmers and food and beverage processors are required to meet. Many of these programs have similar measurement and performance criteria, which creates significant overlap and duplication effort. Stakeholders within the farm and food value chain are now working to develop a process of identifying standards from different programs that are equivalent and looking for ways to eliminate duplication. This is the objective of the Canadian Agri-Food Sustainability Initiative.
How is sustainability compliance monitored or verified?
Sustainability programs often require that participants follow or meet specific criteria that contribute to social, environmental and economic requirements. In many cases, verification is the responsibility of the program administrators. Third-party verification is also an increasing trend. Part of a sustainability program’s strength is confidence in the accuracy of data and reporting. As the amount of sustainability reporting grows, many companies are having their reporting verified by third parties to provide more credibility, transparency and build trust in the information. The approach is very similar to a company having it financial statements audited and approved by a third party.
Part of the original Sustainable Farm and Food Initiative consultation process explored the different models for verification that exist in the marketplace today and what would make the most sense from a whole farm approach. Currently there have been no decisions made around verification and we look forward to developing a shared understanding about this aspect of sustainability in the agri-food value chain.