KNOWLEDGE MAP Back to overview

An overview of insights on the (un)sustainability of the international food system.

Food & Sustainability

Why is it difficult to measure sustainability?

Measuring sustainability is difficult because the line between sustainable and unsustainable is hard to define and because sustainability at the product and process level is different than at the system level.

The line between sustainable and unsustainable

With most indicators (such as land use and GHG emission) it is hard to specify exactly where the line between sustainable and unsustainable lies. In society, diverse views exist about how serious or acceptable some effects on eutrophication or climate change are. In addition, it is often difficult to compare different indicators: a Dutch greenhouse tomato requires high-energy input, while on Spanish fields it consumes a lot of water.

PBL (2013), p. 15-16.

Sustainable products or systems

Sustainability of the food system as a whole is determined by an interplay of numerous product flows and processes, both within and outside the Netherlands. This makes it difficult to determine to what extent an individual product or process is sustainable. A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) measures the various indicators cumulatively across all links in the food chain, in order to measure sustainability of products, processes, or at the system level.

Heller, M. C., & Keoleian, G. A. (2003), p. 1009.

Jayal, A. D., Badurdeen, F., Dillon, O. W., & Jawahir, I. S. (2010), p. 144.