Act: Inspiration

5 things you need to know about measuring sustainability

April 27, 2021

For the last four years, The SFT has been working on the Global Farm Metric (GFM) – a harmonised measure of sustainability that has the potential to unite food system stakeholders, such as farmers, retailers and banks across the globe and re-situate agriculture as a solution to climate change, biodiversity loss and declining public health. But that’s an awful lot to digest. So, in the run up to our TEDx conference, here are 5 things you need to know now about measuring sustainability.

  1. It’s not about the measuring, it’s about the managing

Since we began developing the Global Farm Metric (GFM), our mantra has been: ‘You can’t manage what you can’t measure’. This simple truth has driven our work on measuring the environmental, social and economic impacts of agriculture, keeping sustainability at the core of everything we do. We believe it is this mantra that will help us make meaningful progress towards regenerative, circular and sustainable systems.

This is because using the GFM to measure sustainability can reveal the impact of specific agricultural practices on farms of all shapes and sizes, creating a pathway of incremental changes that can transform land into more sustainable ecosystems. With half of the planet’s surface now used for farming, it makes sense that agriculture should be one of the first sectors to collectively embody this mantra in order to tackle some of the biggest problems facing people and the planet.

This is critical for change on both a local and a global scale. Governments across the world are setting global sustainability targets, such as achieving net-zero carbon and preventing global temperatures from exceeding a 2 degree increase, with many more commitments anticipated following this year’s COP26 and the UN Food Systems Summit. However, a universal measure of on-farm sustainability connecting farmers and policymakers has yet to be implemented, meaning progress towards these goals are yet to be measured in a meaningful way and key players in those systems are unable to change their practices accordingly. This is why our harmonised measure of sustainability is going global – because we can’t manage what we can’t measure.

  1. It’s been done before – but never in this way

Our Global Farm Metric is not unique – it is actually the result of harmonising existing sustainability audits and finding out the gaps and overlaps. By doing so, we’ve reduced up to 60% of data inputs requested from farmers each year and created a solid foundation of sustainability that can be built upon by different sectors, including finance, retail and government. This approach is not unique either – the process of harmonisation was key to the development of Bluetooth, white goods and the current financial audit system.

However, at present, there is a lack of a common means for assessing the sustainability of food and farming systems across the world. So, as well as saving farmers’ time, uptake of our harmonised measure of sustainability can help global stakeholders in food and farming systems communicate by providing a common language – but without reinventing the wheel.

  1. It’s not just for farmers

This common measure of sustainability will not only benefit farmers, but will empower all land managers, consumers, governments and businesses to make the right choices. The framework, for example, could be used by governments to design future public support schemes, food companies to aid supply chain transparency, the finance community as a basis for sustainable investment, and consumers to better understand the relative sustainability of food products that they purchase. This way, we can reward those producers who are delivering genuine benefit to the environment and public health and shift the balance of financial advantage towards more sustainable production on a global scale.

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  1. It could change the way you eat

By measuring the impact of different farming practices, the GFM can record and reveal the hidden costs of extractive and unsustainable food systems. By doing so, the tool can be used to transform the current system – which rewards intensive and polluting practices – to one where governments can reward producers who are providing genuine public good. This means public procurement strategies can have sustainability at their core and food labels can provide accurate, nuanced information to consumers. Imagine having all the information you need to use your consumer power for planetary good!

5. You can get involved too

To help build cross-sector consensus and deliver the GFM globally, we’ve been working with key players from across the food system, including major retailers, banks and local farmers to develop the metric further and create a global alliance. Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Join our TEDx event this Thursday, 29th April, 2021 and find out why the likes of Prince Charles, Minette Batters, Henry Dimbleby and David Potts are all supporting our Global Farm Metric.
  • Try a taster of our sustainability measures here.
  • Sign up to our Sustainable Food Trust Newsletter and to the new Global Farm Metric Newsletter for all the latest updates, events and calls to action.

May Wheeler

May grew up on the Isle of Wight where she saw climate change significantly affect her local environment and community. She has since explored different paths to sustainable food production, working on farms in Thailand and Portugal and on resilience projects with environmental Think Tanks. Since graduating from her degree in Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Bristol, May has developed a keen interest in the relationship between social justice and the environment.

May joined the SFT in 2020, and has moved from Communications to Projects and Campaigns where she continues to support internal and external communications, as well as event planning and research.

Tags: Building resilient food and farming systems, Global Farm Metric