Research projects

Further Development of Methodologies for Sustainability Assessment and Monitoring in Organic/Ecological Agriculture

Further Development of Methodologies for Sustainability Assessment and Monitoring in Organic/Ecological Agriculture

Code : 2012-66

Contract Period : 13/01/2013 -

Main Funder : Ekhaga Foundation, Sweden

ORC Staff Contact : Dr Bruce Pearce

Working with the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) we are pooling our expertise to further develop methods for sustainability assessment and monitoring for organic farms.

Project Aims:

The hypothesis of the project is that building sustainability impact assessments of organic/ecological farms, building on the FAO SAFA Guidelines (FAO, 2012) and other relevant approaches will lead to the most comprehensive and internationally recognised sustainability monitoring system of organic/ecological farms. Such a monitoring system will help i) improve the sustainability performance of organic/ ecological farms and ii) addresses many of the criticism of organic/ecological agriculture by demonstrating directly the actual sustainability performance of such farms.

The overall aim of the project is to transfer the FAO SAFA guidelines into a set of societal level indicators (i.e. water quality, soil health, biodiversity) which can be used in a sustainability monitoring system of organic/ecological farms. It is intended that the indicator sets will be appropriate for labelling, policy- monitoring and farmer-decision making approaches. To achieve this aim, the project will pursue the following sub-objectives.

  1. To analyse and evaluate existing sustainability assessment approaches of farms and identify suitable indicators or sets of indicators to assess the sustainability performance of ecological/organic farms by evaluating their environmental integrity (including animal health and welfare), economic resilience, social wellbeing and good governance.
  2. To identify interdependencies and correlations between the identified performance outcomes and indicators on the basis of scientific literature,
  3. To synthesise the results into draft guidelines for applications of the indicator sets to assess and monitor the sustainability performance of organic/ecological farms for farmer decision-making, policy monitoring and labelling/communication with consumers.

The work will be undertaken in four work packages (WP) related to the above sub-objectives. Both partners will be involved in all work packages.

ORC's Role:

Project leader.

Project leader and partners:

Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), CH.


Final report: Padel, Susanne; Gerrard, Catherine L; Smith, Laurence; Schader, Christian; Baumgart, Lukas; Stolze, Matthias and Pearce, Bruce (2015) Further Development of Methodologies for Sustainability Assessment and Monitoring in Organic/Ecological Agriculture. ORC reports, no. 2015/1. Organic Research Centre, Newbury.


Foresi, L (2013) Further Development of Methodologies for Sustainablity Assessment in Ecologial/Organic Agriculture. Unpublished Report on Internship at ORC. Organic Research Centre, Newbury.

Marchand, F., Debruyne, L., Triste, L., Gerrard, C., Padel, S. and Lauwers, L. (2014) Key characteristics for tool choice in indicator-based sustainability assessment at farm level. Ecology and Society, 19 (3)

Schader, C., L. Baumgart, J. Landert, A. Muller, S. Padel, C. Gerrard and M. Stolze (2015). ‘Assessing the sustainability performance at farm-level: Synergies and trade-offs between environmental, social and economic sustainability themes’. World Sustainability Forum. 7-9 September 2015, Basel, Switzerland, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI).

Schader, C., Grenz, J., Meier, M. S., & Stolze, M. (2014). Scope and precision of sustainability assessment approaches to food systems. Ecology and Society, 19(3): 42.

Schader C, Baumgart L, Landert J, Muller A, Ssebunya B, Blockeel J, Weisshaidinger R, Petrasek R, Mészáros D, Padel S, Gerrard CL, Smith L, Lindenthal T, Niggli U, Stolze M (2016) Using the Sustainability Monitoring and Assessment Routine (SMART) for the Systematic Analysis of Trade-Offs and Synergies between Sustainability Dimensions and Themes at Farm Level. Sustainability, 8 274.

Smith, L.G., Gerrard, C., Schader, C., Padel, S. (2015). Developing Sustainability Assessment Methods for Organic Agriculture. The Organic Research Centre Bulletin 119 (Autumn/Winter), p17.

All sources of funding: