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True Cost Accounting – Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Major credit and appreciation is given to Patrick Holden of the Sustainable Food Trust, based in the United Kingdom, and to Danielle Nierenburg of Food Tank, based in Washington DC.  They have initiated several conferences and meetings to share information and to increase opportunities to collaborate on and further this work.  I urge interested students and teachers to investigate these websites in depth and be inspired to further this exploration.


The Sustainable Food Trust

The SFT, led by Patrick Holden, has promoted this conversation in Britain and with many partners around the world, and provided the inspiration to launch this project webpage on the CSANR website. Their website provides many resources that will familiarize faculty and students with the global attention this topic has attracted.  This organization has been developing reports, organizing conferences and bringing scientists, agriculture businesses, and NGOs together to address the challenges we face with providing food around the planet.  The SFT offers a broad selection of podcasts and films from several True Cost of Food conferences held in Great Britain and the US. They host and share:  research reports and publications; sustainability metrics; and, conferences to bring experts and leaders together to discuss True Cost Food Systems.

The Hidden Cost of UK Food, Nov.2017 Full report-86 pg., exec summary; 20 pg

The True Cost of American Food Conference, April 2016, San Francisco.

This webpage features videos of every plenary and parallel sessions at this conference.  All presenters are identified and there is a 217-page report of the entire conference, which includes links to critical work going on around the world. The list of topics in development could provide hundreds of graduate research projects!


Food Tank

Food Tank, directed by Daniell Nierenberg and based in Washington DC, is dedicated to exploring our food and agriculture systems.  They publish academic reports, organize conferences and interviews, and collaborate with many businesses, foundations and NGOs working on these issues.  They will host a Food Tank Summit in Seattle on March 17, 2018 to explore policy ideas to guide the development of sustainable food systems.  Following is a sampling of their published reports.


The Real Cost of Food:  Examining the social, environment and health impacts of producing food


The True Cost of Cheap Coffee

This study is an assessment of the hidden environmental and societal costs of producing Brazilian coffee.  It follows all the identified impacts, including loss of rainforest, bio-diversity, and the social costs of large scale monocropping in fragile soils.  They have done similar studies to identify hidden costs in cocoa, banana, and shrimp farming.


Global profits don’t begin to cover environmental externalities

This analysis is based on several different reports that address hidden costs of production, ongoing work in the field, and reasons to support local/regional food systems.


Accounting for the Hidden Costs of Monoculture Crops

This report attempts to capture and monetize soil loss and degradation, fertilizer, and costs to society from the transformation and industrialization of mono cropping systems.


16 Campaigns that Reveal the REAL Cost of Food.

This report features 16 organizations and campaigns that are working to monetize external costs of food production.


True Cost Accounting: Deflation Dragging Down Global Food Prices.

Though it seems counter-intuitive that decreasing global food prices could negatively affect low income populations, when global prices for major food commodities are depressed, farmers dependent on producing those crops actually suffer from lower prices paid for their crops, and the cycle increases food insecurity by lowering profit margins.  It points to the importance of understanding production and hidden cost issues in our global food system.


The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)

The mission of this collaborative (based in Geneva, Switzerland and hosted by the United Nations Environment Program), is to identify accounting systems and economic tools that adequately value natural capital and ecosystem and biodiversity services that contribute to food production worldwide.  Their work provides a basis for policy decisions going forward and serves as a foundation for many new programs around the world.

Editor’s note:The leadership mission and scope of work of The TEEB collaboration are among the most advanced and thorough investigation efforts in operation today.


TEEBAgriFood Interim Report – The 132 pg Interim Report introduces the key questions, issues and arguments necessary to evaluate how economics affects agriculture production, food availability and human health impacts from diet.  Interim results are presented from five sector studies (on livestock, rice, agroforestry, inland fisheries and palm oil). The report includes an in-depth study of economic and policy drivers that influence the research, investment and implementation of production systems worldwide.


Biome Studies These studies focus on Ocean Health and Coastal Biodiversity, Water and Wetlands Systems, and Arctic Ecosystems to capture economic and environmental benefits offered by these unique ecosystems. The goal is to increase awareness and consideration of protecting these ecosystems via national policy and cultural awareness.


Foundation Earth: Policy Recommendations to the World Bank


Biosphere Smart Agriculture in a True Cost Economy, 2015 Randy Hayes and Dan Imhoff.

This 32 page report identifies a number of analyses and assessments of prior investments made by the World Bank and other similar institutions to address famine and poverty around the globe.  The report focus is to change historic norms that guide funding and development decisions.   Their findings describe the urgent need for multilateral development banks to identify and value ecological impacts and social displacement in the development and funding of programs.


Schumacher Center For New Economics

Based in Western Massachusetts, this center was formed to continue the work and legacy of E.F. Schumacher (author of Small is Beautiful and Economics as if People Mattered) and other leaders who envisioned healthy communities, protected natural resources and broad opportunities for local businesses to thrive.  They offer lectures, courses, seminars and a library with an extensive collection of books that investigate solutions.

Earth Economics

This Tacoma, WA based organization has published a broad series of reports that capture and value eco-system services around the US.  Their focus issues include: water (free flowing and mountain snowpack), fisheries, working lands in agriculture and forestry, and healthy communities.


Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVE)

This organization works to foster sustainable development with international partners through the United Nations, business and academics.  Their programs translate Natural Capital Accounting principles into business planning that features sustainability, and seek to implement Green Accounting into accepted business planning and evaluations.


The Natural Capital Coalition

This global multi-stakeholder collaboration brings together business leaders, scientists and organizations to develop new approaches that value Natural Capital, the wide range of benefits that we derive from nature.  They have developed The Natural Capital Protocol.   Business leaders recognize that their long-term sustainability depends on the long-term supply of those natural resources.  There is also increasing demand on the part of investors to ensure that their investments address climate change and declining natural resources and help to drive substantial changes to business models.


The New Economics Foundation

This British NGO works on a broad spectrum of issues to envision successful and sustainable communities and natural resource use. One of its’ papers, Urgent Recall, Our Food System Under Review  inquires into what makes a food system successful. They argue that current measuring criteria are inadequate to ensure successful food production systems in the future. They identified 8 critical criteria:

  1. have a neutral or positive environmental impact;
  2. be productive in its use of energy and other inputs;
  3. be diverse in species and genes;
  4. support good jobs;
  5. be dominated by short and simple supply chains;
  6. be composed of assets that are controlled by a wide and inclusive set of stakeholders;
  7. foster a positive and thriving food culture and the highest levels of public health;
  8. make food affordable to everyone.


The Lexicon of Sustainability

The Lexicon is a non-profit organization that uses a multi-stakeholder storytelling approach that blends data and insights from university scientists, lawyers with policymaking expertise, government agencies, businesses, television networks, publishers and foundations from around the world.  They deliver stories that provide a roadmap for how to shift our communities towards a more regenerative and responsible food production model, one that improves our health while safeguarding our land, water and air for generations to come.


True Price Organization

This Dutch social enterprise works with governments, multinational corporations, NGOs and others to make sustainable decisions about the way they do business.  True Price quantifies and valuates the economic, environmental and social impacts of groups through metrics such as biodiversity loss, pollution, water use, child labor, health risks.


Global Alliance on the Future of Food

This is a coalition of philanthropic organizations working to ensure sustainable food and agriculture systems. They support international collaborations that focus on six priority areas: TEEBAgriFood, Livestock Systems, Seeds, Health Externalities, Beacons of Hope, and Climate Change.  They have three working groups that plan and execute meetings, conferences and study groups:  Externalities; Advanced Well-Being; and, Agroecology. The goals of the Externalities Working Group, are to articulate the full costs of producing food by developing methods to identify, measure and value the positive and negative environmental, social and health externalities of food and agricultural systems.  Their mission is to develop and implement new policy tools to guide and make use of the market to create and support sustainable food systems.


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