Industry Moving Forward with Sustainability Standard Effort

December 7, 2007 - 15:48

For those who think "sustainability" is just a buzzword, the teleconference meeting that took place last Monday, Dec. 3, on the issue is the latest sign that recent discussions about the establishment of a national sustainable agriculture standard are more than just talk. Action is taking place.

The conference, which was open to any interested parties, was organized by Leonardo Academy, a nonprofit organization and standard developer accredited by the American National Standard Institute (ANSI). The academy is leading the initiative to develop a national agricultural standard and has already developed a draft standard for trial use, which it plans to fine-tune into a final standard with input from stakeholders and the public.

The standard, titled Sustainable Agriculture Practice Standard for Food, Fiber and Biofuel Crop Producers and Agricultural Product Handlers and Processors, was published April 13, 2007, by the Scientific Certification Systems (SCS).

"The purpose of our call today is to continue outreach and education regarding the formal process that has been initiated to develop a national sustainable agriculture standard and to invite stakeholders to participate in this process," says Johna Roth, project manager with Leonardo Academy.

The teleconference, which lasted a little over an hour, included three introductory presentations on the ANSI process, roles of participants and an overview of the current draft standard. Because more than 80 people registered to participate in the teleconference, participant lines were muted and they were asked to submit questions via e-mail.

The Leonardo Academy will comply with ANSI requirements as they move forward with the standardization process, Roth said during the teleconference. "The function of ANSI is to bring involved stakeholders to the table in a manner that brings agreement."

With this goal in mind, the academy is organizing a standards committee that will be in charge of moving the draft standard into a final version, subject to ANSI approval. The committee will consist of a diverse group of members (9-40 total) representing the following four interest groups: producers, users, environmentalists and general interest, which could include university or government members. "One of our main goals is to find a balance among these four groups," Roth says.

The applications, which can be found on the Leonardo Academy website, are due by Monday, April 7, 2008. They plan to select committee members by the end of that week.

Linda Brown of SCS gave a summary of the scope of the draft, highlighting the development, purpose and structure of the draft standard. Brown stresses that the draft was submitted as a "placeholder document": It will be up to the committee to review and write the final standard so that it best meets the needs of the industry.

"It is not written in stone. The provisions are a starting point for the discussion," she says. "In developing the draft standard, our objective was to coalesce existing standards. To take a look at what was out there and try to find the common basis as much as possible, based on the goal of attaining significant environmental and social benefits."

Some of the goals of the standard are to provide a clear benchmark of performance, meet public and community expectations, ensure that the requirements are auditable and set the stage for continuous improvement, Brown says. "There is no set place where sustainability resides. It's a concept that embraces continuing innovation."

The four intended uses are:

  1. To guide internal benchmarking and improvement.
  2. Support supply chain management and score card.
  3. Support public claims through certification.
  4. Establish a reference benchmark for further public claims through certification.

As currently written, the standard is intended for food, fiber, floral and fuel crops, but it does not address the issues of lifestyle, dairy or wild crops. One of the decisions the standard committee and subcommittees will have to tackle is whether to expand the standard to address these areas.

The core body of the standard document addresses the prerequisites, and environmental, social and production requirements for crops across the board. But the standard recognizes that there are differences sector by sector; therefore, there are different annexes pertaining to the specific requirements for each sector. Another key feature of the draft is its two-tiered approach to providing incentives for improvement. Tier 1 represents the minimum sustainability performance level while Tier 2 represents best practices, providing a pathway for improvement, Brown says. At the end of the draft, there's a certification appendix.

"One of the beauties of a national standard established under the ANSI process is that it's open, nonproprietary and any certification body can be a participant and use the standard for certification," Brown emphasizes.

"The goals of this standard are ambitious," Brown says. And it's up to every industry member to make sure they stay informed and have a voice in an effort that stands to have an enormous impact on the future of horticulture.

The next informational conferences are scheduled for 10 to 11 a.m. PST Monday, Jan. 7, 2008, and 10 to 11 a.m. PST Monday, Feb. 4. For more information or to view the current draft, please visit www.leonardoacademy.org/Projects/ansi.htm.

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