Sustainability was originally synonymous with being “green.” Yet the environment is only one of three areas generally recognized as comprising a sustainable business enterprise. While sustainability still maintains a strong association with environmental attributes, today’s definition can also include health and wellness, animal welfare, treatment of workers, food waste, packaging, impact on local and indigenous communities, and a range of additional issues that impact people, animals and the planet.

For the purposes of this document, we will refer to Dimensions and Attributes of sustainability with the following definitions. In our research, we captured dozens of potential dimensions and 265 attributes in the growing realm of sustainability and CSR.


A category or broad area of sustainability, generally recognized as the Big Three of Environment, Social and Economic. Other organizations may use Categories or Indicator Categories interchangeably with Dimension. Environmental Protection, Social Development and Economic Prosperity are alternative descriptions. Some companies may elevate specific areas of focus to the level of dimension, for example Animal Welfare, to indicate its importance to the organization.


A variable within a dimension, i.e. attributes for the Social dimension of animal welfare might include shelter, food and water, mortality and morbidity, ability to express natural behavior, etc. Other organizations may use Aspects or Performance Indicators as synonyms for Attribute.

This graphic illustrates the scope and complexity of attributes that can be relevant to the food system.

Regardless of the terms you choose to use, what is most important is to be transparent about your priorities and how you are measuring them.

Setting Priorities