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Sustainability Performance Measurement in Voluntary Sustainability Standards

Aidenvironment has been advising two initiatives in taking an approach in measuring the sustainability performance in parallel with the introduction of a standard. The first is the Sustainable Fruit Initiative (SFI) in South Africa. The second initiative is the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP).

Among the preferred instruments for promoting sustainability in agricultural supply chains are voluntary sustainability standards and certification. Most standards consist of a normative description of a set of required practices relating to agricultural, social and environmental sustainability, such as avoiding child labor, the implementation of anti-erosion practices, and safe and efficient pesticide use. To ensure credibility, compliance with the standard is generally determined by a third party audit in which the auditor checks whether producers pass or fail on the required practices.

There is an increasing need to know not only whether these practices are applied, but also whether they generate the anticipated sustainability performance (outcomes and impacts). This is important for learning purposes as well as providing accountability to those investing in voluntary sustainability standards (donors, companies, consumers). Although passing the audit will give access to markets, and perhaps even a premium, it does not provide information on how changed practices result in improved sustainability performance. In other words, it does not show the producer or the supply chain actors the benefits and values of more sustainable practices, nor does it give information on the practices that make the highest (actual or potential) contribution.

One way to generate such insights is to start measuring the sustainability performance in parallel with the introduction of a standard. Aidenvironment has been advising two initiatives that take such an approach, each from a slightly different angle. The first is the Sustainable Fruit Initiative (SFI) in South Africa. Commissioned by WWF South Africa, Aidenvironment developed a monitoring framework which producers can use to measure sustainability performance and monitor progress on the environmental indicators defined by the SFI. For example, the-easy-to-measure indicators enable producers to monitor the extent to which erosion has been avoided or waste has been reduced.

The second initiative is the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP). In collaboration with UNEP, IRRI and UTZ Certified, Aidenvironment has developed a protocol which allows producers and extension workers to measure performance on 12 indicators. These include quantitative indicators (e.g. nutrient or water use efficiency) and semi-quantitative indicators based on business score cards (e.g. on health and safety). The indicators measure the outcomes of different interventions, including promoting compliance with the SRP Standard on Sustainable Rice Cultivation.

Both initiatives are promising examples of practical tools that promote learning and continuous improvement at producer level to optimize investments made in promoting sustainability.

If you are interested in exploring how producer-based performance measuring could strengthen your efforts to promote sustainability, please contact Jan Willem Molenaar.