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Sustainability has been front of mind for policy makers and farmers for many years. Consumers, banks and insurers are increasingly conscious of their impacts and dependencies, and environmental, social and governance (ESG) risk measures are being embedded into operations. On the policy side, the use of market instruments has come and gone but they are coming back again and designs for offset markets and markets for ecosystem services are ready to be deployed at low cost. High quality research has been produced – we know more than we ever have before and we have an abundance of tools.

Despite having the knowledge and policy tools available, we have failed to truly embed sustainability into agriculture. There are many reasons for this – and anyone would be naive to tell you otherwise. Vested interests in the status quo, information asymmetries, and a lack of coordination among sustainability leaders to name a few. And don’t be mistaken, it is not farmers that are the blockage, they are the stewards of their land and respect its needs, however they are cornered as price takers in the market. To make matters worse for farmers, new sustainability ideas and tools are arriving on a weekly basis, none of which seem to last that long.

At IDEEA Group, we believe that the transformation of our Agrifood systems requires a shift in thinking, and that shift can be supported by a shift in the type of information we use to make decisions. We believe that information – not just more information, but targeted information – is needed to make transparent the connections between the environment, economy and society and embed these interrelationships into all decisions systematically, not in an ad hoc fashion.

We are supporting the information transformation in two ways. First, we co-authored the TEEB AgriFood Evaluation Framework and associated Guidelines which can be applied consistently in all agricultural contexts. This work champions the idea that practitioners from different disciplines need to have a common understanding of the agrifood system to provide decision and policy advice required for transformative action. Transformative change is not about throwing out current systems and approaches; it is about connecting them and adjusting our thinking.

Second, we are positioned to roll out the global standard for natural capital accounting – the United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA). This standard can be applied at any scale and is comprehensive across environmental stocks and flows – a necessary precursor for ecosystem service markets that are front of mind right now. The flow of information is a key element of healthy markets (read our article on Why Accountants Matter).

For assistance in market design and the role of information in markets, as well as the application of a collaborative approach to context-based sustainability, please contact IDEEA Group.