New Sustainability Metrics for the Organic Industry
By Nicole Bassett,
Today, more than ever before, big-picture issues such as climate change, popula- tion growth and the dwindling of our
natural resources—as well as regulatory pressure, consumer demands and stakeholder influence—are changing how company leaders
evaluate the performance of their business.
While many in the organic industry have always informally included environmental, social and economic factors, now all
industries—from food to automotive to apparel—are looking strategically at how these
indicators can have a direct impact on their
A key part of any company’s sustainability
strategy is establishing metrics. Without a
mechanism to set sustainability benchmarks,
it is incredibly difficult to evaluate and priori-tize decisions, pursue innovation and effectively respond to stakeholder requests and
expectations. In simple terms—when asked
“what makes a green company,” unless you
are comparing apples to apples, the comparison gets skewed and customers get confused.
Effective sustainability metrics can help determine areas that need attention. Sustainability
metrics also provide a framework to assess improvement and highlight successes.
The Sustainable Food Trade Association
(SFTA), a nonprofit business association and
the 50-plus diverse, mission-aligned organic
food companies that are members of the association, have collaboratively developed a set of
sustainability metrics designed specifically for
the organic food and agriculture industry.
These metrics were developed to drive continuous improvement in the organic industry
through peer collaboration, information sharing, education and communication.
In creating a standardized set of metrics,
SFTA sought to identify areas of focus for the
organic food industry and collectively con-
firmed 11 areas, termed the “Declarations of
Sustainability.” These 11 areas, which repre-
sent the backbone of the reporting structure,
are: organic, distribution, waste, water, energy,
climate change, packaging, animal care,
labor, education and governance.
How the SFTA Metrics Were Developed
SFTA’s founding mission was to help companies in the organic food trade transition to
business models that are sustainable on all levels. To do this, the group realized that they
needed to have metrics by which they could
establish a baseline and then track improvements. So in 2009, SFTA created the first set
of metrics, and over the last few years these
metrics have evolved based on extensive research, industry and expert stakeholder review and use and evaluation by SFTA
members. Widely accepted reporting frameworks such as the Global Reporting Initiative,
EPA, Greenhouse Gas Protocol and ISO standards helped inform which sustainability
In 2011, SFTA revised the metrics to provide greater detail and improve the reporting
process, based upon feedback from SFTA
members. The metrics to be released this
spring are the second version and will be used
by all SFTA members in 2012.