BASF has forged new frontiers with its progress in developing some of these metric tools, so much so that organizations like the beef association have asked for its help to develop their own life cycle analysis tools.
Reagan, with the beef association, said beef cow population has declined significantly since the 1980s and a majority of cattle operations have fewer than 50 beef cows, that make for some tough challenges the industry is dealing with, which prompted its foray into sustainability analysis, with the goal of improving efficiency.
"To address the challenge, we must improve sustainability through out the beef industry. We plan to conduct a comprehensive cow/calf-to-plate sustainability assessment of the U.S beef industry -- quantify all system inputs and outputs and identify areas for improvement. This is the first time this has ever been done," Reagan said.
The beef association has completed its initial survey and modeling this spring, has begun the life cycle analysis work and will roll it out to the industry in January 2013.
Asked what he expects will be the outcome of the analysis, he said they won't know until the see the results.
Barcan qualified this by explaining that people expect certain outcomes when they begin such projects but that is wrong, since the very reason you undertake such analysis is to quantify what you don't know and look for holes and opportunities.
The association is measuring factors such as feed, manure and fertilizer usage on the pre-harvest side with cows; and on the post-harvest side is looking at energy, water usage and packing materials used in packaging and processing.
Reagan said the association looked at different companies to help with the project and found BASF to be the best fit. "They've made so much progress in sustainability, we consider them a leader -- no one else we found had done the same work or had as much progress."
BASF is a contracted consultant for the association.
The panel wrapped with a workshop that divided the audience into groups to look at what should be the key factors to be measured in developing sustainability metrics for different products like milk, apparel and eye glasses - an exercise that drove home the fact that even before developing metrics, deciding on what to measure is in itself a challenging task.
Photo courtesy of Sustainable Brands.