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Multi-year assessment of Unilever's progress towards agricultural sustainability I: indicators, methodology and pilot farm results

Pretty, J and Smith, G and Goulding, KWT and Groves, SJ and Henderson, I and Hine, RE and King, V and van Oostrum, J and Pendlington, DJ and Vis, JK and Walter, C (2008) 'Multi-year assessment of Unilever's progress towards agricultural sustainability I: indicators, methodology and pilot farm results.' International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 6 (1). pp. 37-62. ISSN 1473-5903

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This review describes the establishment in 1997 of an agricultural sustainability initiative by the foods, home and personal care company, Unilever. It analyses the development and testing of a system of indicators used over several years on the company's model research farm at Colworth in the UK. The approach taken was first to develop a sustainability audit, based around a common set of indicators, and then to support pilot projects for a select number of crops, with the aim of adapting parameters for each crop, establishing baselines, developing recommendations to increase agricultural sustainability, and holding field trials to test these new practices and technologies. The purpose of the initiative was the development of a system of agricultural assessment that would be practical and effective over short time scales so that changes in company policies and practice could be made. The indicator structure developed uses 10 clusters of indicators (later revised to 11). These had to be easily measurable, and so not costly; relatively non-contestable, and so convincing to internal and external stakeholders; responsive to management action; and lead to value creation for farmers, rural communities and businesses. It was found by Unilever that the main advantage of the audit was not in the emergence of a sustainability index (which was rejected), but in the development of increased knowledge and understanding of agricultural and environmental interactions that emerged during the discussion and assessment of the indicators. The process of its use was more important than any scores that emerged. This paper summarizes the changes in selected indicators for each of five novel management practices tested on the pilot farm (spring versus winter cropping; reduced nitrogen fertilizers; reduced pesticide applications; mixed rotation and cover crops; and field margin management). A brief analysis of the agronomic conclusions is given for each. The overall conclusion for farm practices from this research is that an optimal rotation has both spring and winter crops, as this spreads labour costs on farm and environmental costs. The results of the Colworth project suggest that key components of successful sustainable farming projects include management to create a more diverse landscape, and close attention to the timing and frequency of agrochemical applications. © 2008 Earthscan.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: agricultural sustainability; indicators; private sector; policy; UK
Subjects: S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Science and Health
Faculty of Science and Health > Life Sciences, School of
SWORD Depositor: Elements
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 07 Oct 2011 10:34
Last Modified: 15 Jan 2022 00:51

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