Sustainable Sourcing of Agricultural Raw Materials Project (2012-2016)

(Also see our overview pamphlet)

The Agricultural Sustainability Institute and the Information Center for the Environment at UC Davis undertook an initiative to enhance the sustainability of agricultural raw materials sourcing across the supply chain. This goal was to assist food companies and other food system stakeholders by creating publicly-available and scientifically-validated information and tools to advance sustainability in agricultural sourcing decisions. The project involved a critical review of sustainability issues, best practices and indicators of key dimensions of food system sustainability at various scales.

The project was designed to:

  • Develop comprehensive conceptual frameworks to guide agricultural raw materials sourcing
  • Identify core sustainability issues in agricultural raw materials sourcing
  • Assess indicators for a comprehensive set of sustainability issues
  • Link core issues with new strategies that accelerate progress toward sustainability in supply chains
  • Develop a public, web-based, networked database that will allow users to find information on specific issues, indicators, and strategies
  • Create a permanent scientific platform that allows for continuous development and adaptation of tools.

The following principles guide our work: 

The frameworks, indicators and other project outputs must be scientifically credible, appropriate for all the major categories of commodities in international agricultural trade, comprehensive in their conceptualization of sustainability, useful for the private sector, and legitimate in the eyes of civil society.

They must also be flexible enough to be adapted to lessons learned from operational experience and emerging scientific insights regarding global food system sustainability.

The project did an intensive assessment of:

  • The issues important to sustainability from multiple perspectives that relate directly to the sourcing of agricultural raw material through the use of controlled vocabularies to coordinate meaning
  • The indicators that can be used to measure these issues and how effective they are for different purposes. Our database currently includes more than 2000 sustainability indicators.

A prototype semantic web informatics structure manages the data and a querying tool has been developed to quickly winnow the expansive set of indicators to a manageable set (approximately 10-20 indicators).

By using consistent methodologies, this process enables multi-scale commodity- and region-specific indicator sets that define and measure the sustainability of global sourcing given current knowledge. Through the application of our tools to several case studies, we hypothesize that a subset of issues applicable for all contexts will emerge to elucidate a global definition of food system sustainability building from specific examples.