Sustainable sourcing of global agricultural raw materials: Assessing gaps in key impact and vulnerability issues and indicators

Nathaniel P. Springer, Kelly Garbach, Kathleen Guillozet, Van R. Haden, Prashant Hedao, Allan D. Hollander, Patrick R. Huber, Christina Ingersoll, Megan Langner, Genevieve Lipari, Yaser Mohammadi, Ruthie Musker, Marina Piatto, Courtney Riggle, Melissa Schweisguth, Emily Sin, Sara Snider, Nataša Vidic, Aubrey White, Sonja BrodtJames F. Quinn, Thomas P. Tomich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Understanding how to source agricultural raw materials sustainably is challenging in today's globalized food system given the variety of issues to be considered and the multitude of suggested indicators for representing these issues. Furthermore, stakeholders in the global food system both impact these issues and are themselves vulnerable to these issues, an important duality that is often implied but not explicitly described. The attention given to these issues and conceptual frameworks varies greatly - depending largely on the stakeholder perspective - as does the set of indicators developed to measure them. To better structure these complex relationships and assess any gaps, we collate a comprehensive list of sustainability issues and a database of sustainability indicators to represent them. To assure a breadth of inclusion, the issues are pulled from the following three perspectives: major global sustainability assessments, sustainability communications from global food companies, and conceptual frameworks of sustainable livelihoods from academic publications. These terms are integrated across perspectives using a common vocabulary, classified by their relevance to impacts and vulnerabilities, and categorized into groups by economic, environmental, physical, human, social, and political characteristics. These issues are then associated with over 2,000 sustainability indicators gathered from existing sources. A gap analysis is then performed to determine if particular issues and issue groups are over or underrepresented. This process results in 44 "integrated" issues - 24 impact issues and 36 vulnerability issues -that are composed of 318 "component" issues. The gap analysis shows that although every integrated issue is mentioned at least 40% of the time across perspectives, no issue is mentioned more than 70% of the time. A few issues infrequently mentioned across perspectives also have relatively few indicators available to fully represent them. Issues in the impact framework generally have fewer gaps than those in the vulnerability framework.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0128752
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 11 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank our colleagues at Mars, Inc. for their support of this research, both financially and intellectually, as well as financial support from two USDA NIFA projects (CA-D*-XXX-7766-H and CA-D-ESP-2100-H). We also thank our group of stakeholders and our technical advisory committee who provided valuable feedback and validation of our process and integrated issues.

Funding Information:
Funding for this research was provided by Mars, Inc ( ). “Mars, Inc”. This does not alter the authors' adherence to PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Springer et al.


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