Sustainable Agriculture Workshop NPPC Logo

A Life Cycle Approach to Sustainable Agriculture Indicators

A Workshop sponsored by
Region V of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and
the University of Michigan's National Pollution Prevention Center

Date: 26-27 February, 1999
Venue: University of Michigan

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Hard copies of the proceedings can be ordered by contacting the Center for Sustainable Systems (former NPPC). E-mail

This event was affiliated with the National Town Meeting for a Sustainable America being held in Detroit, Michigan from May 2nd through the 5th, 1999. The National Town Meeting, together with its Affiliated Events, including a series of Journey to Detroit events that have been held over the last year, is drawing together thousands of people from across the country to recognize and focus attention on a national movement towards a Sustainable America, focusing on sustainable solutions that are available today and ways to take advantage of them. The National Town Meeting will mainstream sustainability and communicate a message that we can meet our environmental and social goals while achieving economic vitality. Hosted by City of Detroit, the National Town Meeting is being co-sponsored by the President's Council on Sustainable Development and the Global Environment & Technology Foundation.


Project Description

The National Pollution Prevention Center for Higher Education (NPPC), established by the US EPA in 1991, works towards educating students, faculty, and professionals about pollution prevention in order to integrate the ideas of sustainable development into all branches of higher education. One of NPPC's main activities has been the development of pollution prevention educational resource materials in a variety of disciplines. Since the fall of 1994, NPPC has published 14 Pollution Prevention Educational Resource Compendia in diverse fields. The compendium on Sustainable Agriculture, developed under the leadership of Dr. David Pimentel at Cornell University, was published in December 1997.

NPPC is beginning the next phase of its pollution prevention education program in 1999 by initiating a series of workshops based on the completed compendia. The Sustainability in Agriculture Workshop to take place in February is the first in this series. The NPPC workshops will bring together key stakeholders to discuss the critical issues facing pollution prevention in each field. Each workshop will be a forum to begin developing life cycle indicators to measure progress towards sustainability in each field.

The Sustainable Agriculture workshop aims to:

1. Introduce the concept of life cycle assessment as it applies to agriculture and enhance the use of NPPC's "Pollution Prevention Educational Resource Compendium: Sustainable Agriculture" as a tool for incorporating the principles of sustainable development into US agricultural programs;

2. Initiate a dialog among resource professionals, active farmers and faculty members in the Great Lakes/ North Central Region to begin to form a comprehensive, interdisciplinary understanding of sustainable agriculture;

3.Develop an initial set of indicators to gauge the environmental, economic, and social impacts of all stages of the agricultural life cycle.

Participants from the Great Lakes and North Central Region will include:

  • scholars of sustainable agriculture and agroecology from US colleges and universities
  • family farms (organic and conventional)
  • agri-business representatives
  • state and national level governmental agencies involved in agricultural policy-making
  • non-governmental organizations and independent research organizations

    Framework for Indicator Development
    Production of food, fiber, and other agricultural products are activities essential for meeting human needs. Agricultural activities affect natural ecosystems in various ways, and many processes interact to produce a combined impact on the ecosystem. For this reason, measuring only one aspect of environmental impact (i.e. chemical inputs) is not sufficient to gauge the overall well-being of the surrounding ecosystem and society. In order to encourage a holistic approach to sustainable agriculture, NPPC's workshop participants will work together to develop a set of environmental, economic, and social performance indicators that measure the sustainability of agricultural activities throughout the life cycle.

    The framework to be used for indicator development divides the agricultural life cycle into five general stages (plus transportation) and identifies five impact categories. Workshop participants will break into working groups according to agricultural production and adapt this overarching indicator matrix (below) to specific agricultural processes. Each group will work with the framework to define specific sustainability goals relevant to each life cycle stage and impact category. In addition, each group will generate a list of concrete actions to meet the goal of reducing negative impacts both on a local and a regional level.

    Proposed Working Groups:

  • fruit production
  • grain production
  • dairy farming
  • hog farming

    The completed indicator list, which will be compiled and distributed to participants after the workshop, will serve as an initial standard against which farms and agricultural institutions throughout the country can begin to evaluate their overall progress towards sustainability. In addition, the indicators will help faculty members and academics develop educational programs that will promote sustainability in agriculture.

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    Agricultural Life Cycle Indicator Matrix

    Life Cycle Stages/

    Impact Categories

    Resource Origin (type of breeding/ genetic engineering of seeds and livestock) Agricultural Production and Growing (nutrient and chemical inputs, animal feed; tilling, harvesting) Agricultural Processing: (food and product processing, packaging) Use of Agricultural ProductEnd of Life: (waste production, utilization) Transportation: (at all stages)
    Environmental: Resource Use and Quality (energy, land, water, biota, minerals)        
    Environmental Impacts and Burdens (water, air, biota, soil contamination)        
    Economic: Productivity, Externalities, Profitability        
    Social: Employment and Quality of Life of Primary Stakeholders, Laborers        
    Social: Employment and Quality of Life of Broader Community        

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    Contact Information

    For additional information, please contact:

    Guntra Aistars
    Sustainable Agriculture Workshop Coordinator
    National Pollution Prevention Center
    School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan
    Dana Bldg. 430 E. University
    Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1115 U.S.A
    PHONE: 734-764-1412
    FAX: 734-647-5841

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    Draft Agenda


    8.00 Registration and breakfast

    Background: LCA and Agriculture

    9:00 Welcome and Introduction to the NPPC - Dr. Jonathan Bulkley, NPPC
    9.20 Overview of Life Cycle Assessment and Its Application to Sustainable Agriculture - Dr. Greg Keoleian, NPPC
    9.45 Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture Compendium; Overview of Problems of Sustainability - Dr. David Pimentel, Cornell University

    Future Vision: Dimensions of Agricultural Sustainability

    10.30 Economic - Dr. Mike Duffy, Iowa State University
    11.00 Social - Dr. Gerry Campbell, University of Wisconsin
    11.30 Environmental - Dr. Dennis Keeney, Iowa State University

    12.00 Lunch

    Sustainability Indicators: Economic and Social

    1.00 Presentation of indicator framework and working definition of sustainable agriculture. Outline process to be used in indicator development.

    1.30-5.00 Four parallel break out groups. Each group will conduct an analysis of one specific farm as a case study and develop indicators based on that farm as well as participants' knowledge of similar farms in the region.

    1.30 Introduction to case studies
    2.00 Discuss current trends and challenges to sustainability at similar farms
    3.00 Brainstorm and discuss Social Indicators:
    4.00 Brainstorm and discuss Economic Indicators

    5.00 Plenary: Reports from Groups
    6.00 Conclusion


    8.00 Continental Breakfast

    Sustainability Indicators: Environmental

    8.30 Panel Discussion: Environmental Sustainability
    Potential discussion topics:
    - methods of pest control (biotechnology, pesticides, organic)
    - soil erosion, depletion
    - nutrient balance in agricultural life cycle
    - non-point source water pollution

    10.00 Parallel Working Groups: Environmental Indicators
    11.30 Parallel Working Groups: Review and confirm all indicators

    12.00 Lunch

    1.00 Plenary: Reports form Groups. Discussion and questions on all indicators

    Next Steps: Actions Towards Sustainability

    2.30 Plenary Discussion: Actions Towards Sustainability
    Identify changes in practices/ technologies to be implemented by each stakeholder group in order to progress towards sustainability
    3.30 Feedback, Future Meetings
    4.00 Conclusion

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    Workshop Steering Committee

    Gerry Campbell, University of Wisconsin
    Mike Duffy, Iowa State University
    Crane Harris, Monsanto
    Dennis Keeney, Iowa State University
    Ron Meekhof, US Department of Agriculture
    Liz Nevers, Community Resource Development Agent, UW-Extension
    Terri Novak, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
    David Pimentel, Cornell University

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    Registration Form

    Title:_________________ Name:________________________________________






    Agricultural Area of Expertise:__________________________________________

    A limited number of hotel rooms have been reserved for participants for February 25th and 26th in the Michigan League and the Campus Inn. Participants will be asked to pay at the hotel upon arrival.

    The Inn at Michigan League (workshop venue)
    911 North University, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1265
    Tel: (734) 764-3177, Fax: (734) 763-6844
    Single: $99 plus tax; add $10 for each additional person

    Campus Inn
    615 E.Huron Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48104
    Tel: (734) 769-2200; (800) 666-8693, Fax: (734) 769-6222
    Single= $104 plus tax; double= $119 plus tax

    Hotel preference:________________ Dates:___________________

    Would you like to be paired with another participant?__________

    PLEASE NOTE: After January 29, 1999, please contact the hotels directly to make reservations. The above rates are not guaranteed after this date.

    Please return this form by mail or fax to:
    Ms. Guntra Aistars, Sustainable Agriculture Workshop Coordinator
    National Pollution Prevention Center, Dana Building
    430 E. University Ave.
    Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1115
    PHONE: (734) 764-1412
    FAX: (734) 647-5841

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    last revised: May 7, 1999.