Need for sustainability assessments

As social values increasingly affect consumer confidence in the agriculture and food sector, sustainable agriculture production and transparent sustainability assessments are becoming important. Sustainably sourced goods and services are gaining popularity in the marketplace. In order to achieve more sustainable production, members of the entire supply chain are looking for ways to increase efficiencies and decrease their environmental footprint. Retailers are helping drive this search by requiring documentation from their suppliers with regards to their sustainability, and adopting sustainability strategies within their companies.

Socio-economic impact

While the environmental aspect of sustainability in agriculture production has been a major focus in this shift, more and more attention is turning to the socio-economic impacts of production. Although the standard footprinting methodologies are still evolving in these areas, retailers and other organizations are starting to use socio-economic indicators in footprinting and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) research. As the field advances, opportunities for comprehensive, sustainability assessments that consider the environmental, economic and social consequences of production are increasing.

Industry initiatives

Many retailers are establishing sustainability initiatives or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs within their organizations. Companies, including food processors and retailers, are assessing their businesses and determining where they can have the greatest impact on improving their sustainability in order to capture more of the eco-conscious consumer market and the economic benefits associated with sustainable production. In the agri-food industry, producers and suppliers are being asked by retailers to provide information on their management practices in order to assess and report sustainability on all aspects of the supply chain for agri-food products.

Environmental Footprinting (EF) is a method used by industries and countries to determine the impacts of a product or process. It can assist with decision-making and enable effective environmental management for direct market and economic benefits. As well, EF identifies ways primary producers can implement beneficial management practices and decrease their environmental impact, which often results in production efficiencies and cost savings.

Assessing impact

Along with retailer and producer initiatives, groups such as government, non-government organizations (NGOs) and other third-party organizations are working on common terminology, EF boundaries and methodologies. This movement is global in scale, and many of these initiatives aim to coordinate information from research that is happening around the world. The footprinting movement initially began with carbon assessment. Today however, a broad range of environmental metrics are used to determine a product’s total environmental impact.

To address this market trend, the Alberta government is working collaboratively with industry to better understand and quantify the environmental impacts of the Alberta agri-food industry. Using LCA as a tool, this effort will ultimately lead to cradle-to-farm-gate environmental footprints. To date there have been 5 major agri-food commodities EFs completed in Alberta: canola, chicken, egg, pea and potato.

Resources

Publications

Webinars

Hosted by the Environmental Stewardship Branch of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, the Sustainability Series of webinars addresses the agriculture industry’s approach and initiatives on sustainability.

We host about 4 to 6 webinars annually. These recorded webinars are available on the Sustainability Series YouTube playlist.

Contact

Please note: our phone lines are experiencing technical issues due to high traffic. If you are having problems getting through, contact us by email: aginfocentre@gov.ab.ca

Connect with the Ag-Info Centre:

Hours: 8 am to 5 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Toll free: 310-FARM (3276)
Phone: 403-742-7901 (outside Alberta)
Email: aginfocentre@gov.ab.ca