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LEAF Marque – pioneering beyond practices

There has been an exciting development in the world of sustainability standards. In this blog, we will share the recent experience of a leading, global assurance system recognising sustainably farmed products – where they pioneered the first transition from practices towards a more outcomes-based approach.

Standards are under scrutiny  

Standards are being recognised globally for catalysing improvements and operationalising sustainability. Recent trends indicate that standards are under an increasing amount of scrutiny, especially to create and demonstrate results closer to the desired impact.

ISEAL: Let’s tackle this

Standard systems are responding to these challenges with a range of innovations. One such innovation that is receiving attention is the so-called ‘outcome-based’ standard. In 2017, NewForesight was commissioned by ISEAL to compile a report exploring the implications – opportunities as well as challenges – of moving towards an outcome-based standard and to provide a practical framework to think about the transition from a practice-based to an outcome-based standard.

LEAF: We will pioneer

LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) has always been at the forefront of innovation. They saw the opportunity in moving towards an outcome-based standard – to communicate more closely on the impacts of implementing the LEAF Marque Standard, by measuring outcomes directly rather than proxying them with practices. In 2018, they embarked on the journey to include outcomes in the LEAF Marque Standard. The transition would be towards a hybrid approach, having outcomes included alongside the existing practice-based approach. For this, they used the roadmap as designed by NewForesight. Click here for the summary report.

By reading this blog, you will learn more about the transition towards an outcomes-based standard as inspired by the recent experience of LEAF Marque. We asked Jenny Clark, Assurance Manager at LEAF Marque who is driving this transition, to share with us the benefits of including outcomes in your standard, the challenges they faced, key lessons learned and the next steps for LEAF Marque in this exciting journey.

According to LEAF Marque, what are benefits of moving towards outcomes?

  • As a standard – enabling continuous improvement and communicating results: LEAF Marque wants to enable continuous improvement in sustainability performance, as well as communicate results closer to the desired impact. Both objectives are accounted for by including more outcomes in the standard.
  • As an organization – being pioneers:  LEAF Marque is the first standard organization in the UK moving towards outcomes. We are constantly innovating, being abreast of new developments and addressing the hot topics in the industry. The transition towards outcomes, especially kicking-it off in the area of biodiversity, has certainly been one of the most exciting changes at LEAF Marque. It has also been newsworthy for all stakeholders, as it relates to new and existing supply chains.

What are the challenges?

  • Applicability in diversity: It is challenging to ensure that the wording of the Control Points is applicable across the diverse set of users. To address this, we have included different types of growers in the consultation process.
  • Maintaining momentum and focus: The primary area of this transition was focused on biodiversity. Soon, we will also include outcomes in the areas of soil management and fertility, water management and energy efficiency. The challenge lies in keeping the momentum and focus of this transition – to clearly identify which Control Points should remain practices and where appropriate, include outcomes.

What other lessons would LEAF Marque like to share with standard organisations considering transitioning to outcomes?

  • Know your farmers/growers: We made sure LEAF Marque certified farmers were ready to innovate. We had growers involved from the start to ensure buy-in and readiness to transition towards outcomes.
  • A trusted partner: We needed help to develop the roadmap, and not to revise the Standard. We contacted NewForesight, who brought top-level, unbiased thinking and provided us with a framework and roadmap towards a successful transition.
  • Relevant guidance to your farmers/growers: It is important to provide sufficient guidance to your farmer/growers in the start of this process, especially to illustrate the relevance of the outcomes to their farm. In the process of developing this guidance, be flexible and have an open mind to make sure that you account for a diverse set of realities.
  • Build on the ISEAL Members week: This week is a good opportunity to make use of the community created by ISEAL – specially to learn from peers, gain internal perspective, and drive innovation to increase the impact of sustainability standards.

What are the next steps and timeline?

  • Control points (concluded): The outcome Control Points have been developed in consultation with LEAF Marque Technical Advisory Committee and stakeholder consultation, of which the feedback was very positive.
  • Example case studies (to be concluded early Sept): As another way to validate the Control Points, topic experts have been tasked to test the Control Points in the form of case studies.
  • Standard: The revised standard will be launched by the 1st of October 2019 and the audit process will start in January 2020.

A final word from NewForesight

Are you struggling to tell your story effectively and demonstrate the value of your standard? Do you want to ensure continual improvement and stimulate innovation and flexibility? Then it would be valuable to consider moving towards an outcomes-based standard. If you have any questions or need help in determining what this would mean for your organization, please contact Joost Gorter or Andrea Viviers at NewForesight.