Evaluating Sustainability Tradeoffs

1Identify Any Uncompromisable Principles

Any consideration of tradeoffs must begin with identifying areas of uncompromising principles and acknowledging that decisions that would negatively affect these aspects are off-the-table. Food safety, worker safety, and endangered species habitat are a few examples of attributes that may be considered non-negotiable. These attributes should be clearly defined upfront to secure internal alignment on what won’t be compromised for another attribute of sustainability under any circumstances.

The challenge in evaluating tradeoffs is that the analysis is nearly always incomplete due to the complexity of food production systems. It is difficult and not generally cost- or resource-effective to identify and quantify all potential impacts, and definitive research or data may not be available. For these reasons, the goal in evaluating tradeoffs primarily is to provide strategic direction using qualitative and quantitative data. In many cases, you may be asked to assign a value to a specific sustainability attribute based on data and your priorities and current policy without complete information. While this process will not provide an “apples to apples” quantitative comparison, it does provide a framework that allows you to transparently evaluate sustainability tradeoffs.

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