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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Sustainable Agriculture Standard Refined from Outside Input, Seeks Testers

July 20, 2015 |

These solar panels in an Oregon vineyard are just one example of many aspects of sustainability. The Leonardo Academy is working hard on a National Sustainable Agriculture Standard, meant to serve as a reliable measuring stick for sustainability. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

These solar panels in an Oregon vineyard are just one example of many aspects of sustainability. The Leonardo Academy is working hard on a National Sustainable Agriculture Standard, meant to serve as a reliable measuring stick for sustainability. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

More and more companies are proclaiming sustainability, which is becoming all the rage. But how is sustainability defined and measured? How to differentiate between organizations practicing sustainability or just giving it lip service?

Meeting this need is Leonardo Academy’s Sustainable Standards Program.

Leonardo Academy, a Madison, Wisconsin-based nonprofit that develops and maintains a variety of sustainability standards, is close to unveiling an updated National Sustainable Agriculture Standard, dubbed LEO-4000.

A second public comment period for the Standard concluded on May 18. Significant changes were made to the Standard after the first public comment period ended in 2014, including ways to address the needs of small farms.

“The committee felt that a second round of comments was needed, because significant upgrades were made to the draft Standard,” says Michael Arny, president of Leonardo Academy.

Arny says that a new draft of resolutions, based on comments and input, should be completed by September.

LEO-4000 provides a comprehensive sustainability standard that offers a way for producers to communicate their sustainability practices and show compliance with other sustainability thresholds. It also assists consumers in knowing the legitimacy of sustainable practices.

The standards outlined in LEO-4000 are established through adherence to a strict set of guidelines put forth by the American National Standards Institute, a prestigious nonprofit accrediting organization that is almost 100 years old.

The self-described purpose of LEO-4000 is “to encourage agricultural production and handling practices that are ecologically responsible, equitable, and economically viable; that meet current global demand for a full range of agricultural products; and that ensure that future generations are able to meet their own needs.”

And its self-described functions are three-fold: the standard “delineates outcome-oriented environmental, social, and economic criteria and indicators for assessing the sustainability of an agricultural enterprise; provides a framework for fulfilling sustainability goals appropriate to the specific enterprise; identifies multiple tiers of achievement that producers can use to assess progress internally and to communicate progress to business customers and stakeholders.”

The Standard covers a broad spectrum, including environmental, social and economic principles; recordkeeping, legal compliance and transparency; soil, water and energy; and more. Other topics include waste management, contracts, wages, benefits, human resources, safety, risk management, community relations and food safety.

More than anything, Arny sees the National Sustainable Agriculture Standard as a communication tool, providing information to processors, retailers and manufacturers. The currency of standards is trust, and it takes communication from a trustworthy source to convey and build that trust.

“LEO-4000 is an important communication tool for both suppliers and consumers,” Arny says. “It makes it easier for producers to communicate with consumers.”

But because sustainable agriculture keeps evolving, sustainable agriculture standards must also evolve—they cannot stay static, or they become irrelevant.

To that end, Leonardo Academy is looking for producers and retailers to test the new Sustainable Agriculture Standard. Those who are interested in doing this may contact Arny at email hidden; JavaScript is required.

“This is not the end; it requires continuous maintenance,” says Arny. “While writing standards for the first time is the most challenging, it’s a never-ending process.”

By way of donations and grants, Leonardo Academy helps companies and organizations of all types implement sustainability programs through setting standards. The organization has extensive experience working with developers in getting buildings to meet sustainability standards.

Leonardo Academy also offers sustainable land management plans, in which the organization helps a landowner formulate sustainable plans for forest management, planting and seeding and invasive species control.

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