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BASF - AgBalance – Measuring sustainability in agriculture

Added on 22-03-2013

Company

BASF

Year

2011

Business challenge

As a provider of agricultural solutions, BASF aims to increase knowledge about sustainable agriculture, as well as using these insights for developing innovative and sustainable solutions for our customers.

The public debate about sustainability improvements and productivity certifications has been increasing worldwide. In addition to this, discussions about secondary standards within the food chain put especially farmers progressively under high pressure.

Having a look at these developments and with its customers and partners in the food chain in mind, BASF started to think about how a more fact-based debate on what sustainability in agriculture exactly means and how to foster it could be started. Therefore – with an already existing comprehensive knowledge on measurement methodologies – BASF started the dialogue with farmers, scientists and other experts on how sustainability could be measured and become provable.

In AgBalance, a variety of indicators and weighting schemes enabling BASF to evaluate sustainable processes and practises along the entire food value chain. To achieve this, 69 indicators, each linked to one of the three pillars of sustainability (economy, environment and society) are calculated through an assessment of almost 200 evaluation factors.

The process of developing an AgBalance study is often iterative. As data are collected and more is learnt about the system, new data requirements or limitations may be identified that require a change to inputs/outputs. The AgBalance methodology calls for an ongoing consideration of the appropriateness, accuracy and preciseness of input data throughout the duration of the study.

Description

Objectives:

Based on its long experience with the well-established Eco-Efficiency Analysis and SEEBALANCE®, BASF has developed AgBalance, a method to measure and assess sustainability in agriculture in order to contribute to a fact-based and comprehensive approach to the measurement of sustainability in agriculture. BASF predicts that AgBalance will be used to assess and manage sustainable development in agriculture at several levels:

• Farmers: Assessing current practices and processes; identifying options for improvement.

• Agricultural value chain: Assessing the contribution of farming and downstream agricultural processes over the complete product life cycle; identifying options for improvement.

• Policy makers: Assessing impacts of regulations on products and farming practices.

• Public: Making the impacts of farming practices transparent at different levels; demonstrating their relationship to issues like biodiversity or resource consumption.

Implementation:

The presentation and implementation of AgBalance has started with a first case study that aimed to show the capacity and quality of the AgBalance-methodology. As a first study the Winter Oilseed rape production in Northern Germany was analyzed.

Internally, several workshops took place in order to inform colleagues about the new methodology and enable the regions, BASF is active in, to conduct own studies. For this purpose checklist on “How to conduct a study” as well as the prerequisites for a study have been worked out. Such studies will implement AgBalance on a local level with partner and customer supported by global steering and coordination.

Quality check:

BASF consulted a wide number of stakeholders with a farming and agro-science backgrounds to ensure the incorporation of a profound and global understanding of sustainable farming in the AgBalance method.

To ascertain the methodology of AgBalance with regard to coherence and transparency BASF submitted it to global expert agencies such as TÜV SÜD, DNV and the NSF International and has received their independent assurance.

Critical review:

Each study has to be verified by a critical review with external experts. This commitment is the key for the transparency and thoroughness of AgBalance.

Impact

AgBalance is a global methodology to assess sustainability and is aimed to be used in all regions where BASF is active. The understanding, approach as well as the attitude towards sustainability differs from country to country. Therefore, the internal presentation of the AgBalance-methodology as well as its implementation was and still is a challenge. As sustainability in a complex system like agriculture is a sensitive topic and depends on the support of the stakeholders within the value chain and beyond, the implementation and establishment of the methodology has to be carefully considered with specific adaptions to each country/region.

Challenges/Lessons learned:

AgBalance allows the comparison of different farming systems, agricultural enterprises, processes and products, by identifying weaknesses, their drivers and potential solutions. This supports decision-making of customers and further study partners.

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