Design and development of a measuring method for environmental sustainability in food production systems

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113 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

These days, sustainability is a key issue for many private companies that address their sustainable corporate performance (SCP). The perspective is essential for their license to operate and forms the basis for business principles and practices. The lack of internationally accepted reporting standards on what, when and where to report makes it difficult to assess sustainability, however. Moreover, measuring tools providing information on SCP are only the first step towards sustainability. To prevent negative effects of operations being transferred from one company to another, the second step is the development of a system-based approach for all companies that contribute to an end product. This paper presents the findings of a study about the use of environmental indicators for food production and proposes a measuring method for environmental sustainability in food production systems. The study shows that environmental SCP often focuses on events at a local level. The enormous number of indicators found in the literature generates too much data that often provide no additional knowledge on the environmental sustainability of a system. Moreover, although environmental research has addressed many aspects of sustainability, it has often ignored interactions. Overall environmental implications of food production are therefore poorly understood. The proposed measuring method uses three indicators that address global environmental issues: the use of energy (from both fossil and renewable sources), land and water. The systemic approach can calculate trade-offs along supply chains that make up a production system. The use of the method implies an extension of environmental SCP towards the overall performance of a production system. The final outcome is expressed in three performance indicators: the total land, energy and water requirement per kilogram of available food. For companies, the data generated can be used to compare trends over time, to compare results with targets and to benchmark a company against others. For consumers, data can be used to compare the environmental effects of various foods. The method is also applicable to other business sectors. The study is part of a multidisciplinary project on the scientific modeling and measuring of SCP involving economic, social and environmental dimensions. Acceptance of the measuring methods developed may be a powerful contribution towards creating sustainable business practices. (C) 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-248
Number of pages18
JournalEcological Economics
Volume46
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep-2003

Keywords

  • corporate responsibility
  • corporate performance
  • environment
  • food
  • indicators for sustainable development
  • production systems
  • sustainability
  • AGRICULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY
  • CONSUMPTION PATTERNS
  • IMPACT
  • INDICATORS

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