Measuring what matters

This post also features on the 2degrees network here. 2degrees is the world’s leading community for sustainable business.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure” goes the old management adage. Over the 21 years of LEAF’s existence we’ve gathered a lot of data on farming practices. We’re now taking the next step towards effective measuring of sustainable farming, with our initial results in our new report ‘LEAF – Driving Sustainability’ (launched 19th March 2013).

Sustainability report front coverMuch of the data in the report was from the LEAF Audit. This is one of the tools we offer our farming members. It is a self-assessment farm management tool, which helps farmers take a look at their farm and guides them towards more sustainable practices. The flip side of this is that we can then use this information to monitor trends and assess the progress of our members towards delivering more sustainable agriculture.

We developed 24 objectives for sustainable farming and scored progress towards the objectives using data submitted by LEAF Audit users. Doing this has allowed us to spot trends over time and to assess performance under each of the three pillars of sustainability – economic performance, environmental quality and social health.

We found that farmers who complete the LEAF Audit have an impressive average sustainability index rating of 2.50 out of 3, indicating that the majority of LEAF Audit users’ businesses are economically, environmentally and socially robust. LEAF farmers are strongest when it comes to Environmental Quality with an average score of 2.57, followed closely by Economic Performance at 2.53 and Social Health at 2.13. Although Social Health, which includes engagement with the community, has a lower rating, it is in this area that the greatest gains have been made over the last three years.

Sustainability dashboard

We’ve presented this information in much more detail in our report ‘LEAF – Driving Sustainability’. We set out to do this as transparently as possible; the source of much of the data in the report comes from LEAF Audit responses over the last three years. We also ran two surveys, one with a group of LEAF farmers and another targeted at the food industry to gather views on sustainable food and farming. Richard Perkins, Food, Agriculture and Land Use Specialist at WWF UK, spoke at our seminar at the International Food and Drink Event when we launched the report. He shared his views and advice on developing sustainable farming indicators, “Sustainable farming indicators need to be simple and few. LEAF needs to develop robust and innovative ways of measuring how farmers are progressing towards sustainability targets. They have made a brave start. Moving forward, it is critical that they engage with the wider food and farming sector to ensure that measurement systems are applicable to all farms, not just LEAF farms.”

We wanted to have a few simple indicators and we’ve ended with 24 objectives, which could be simplified. I think this is quite indicative of a first attempt but we’re not hiding from that, we’ve put it out there for the industry and we want your views.

The report is available to download here. Please feel free to share your views with us as comments here, on twitter or via email.


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