The price we pay at the grocery store for what we eat does not always reflect the actual cost of producing and consuming that food. This disconnect can make it difficult to create a more sustainable, more just, and more nutritious food system.
To truly improve the food system and account for both its cost and benefits, it is necessary to look at a range of social, human, and environmental factors. This approach is called True Cost Accounting (TCA).
TCA looks at all impacts from farm to fork to gut and landfill, including effects on livelihoods, the environment, and health. This can help farmers, decision makers, and businesses in making better-informed decisions—decisions that will improve public health, regenerate soils, and nurture people and the planet. The goal of TCA is to improve the transparency of the true cost of producing food to increase fairness to farmers, make food more affordable for consumers, and decrease environmental and public health impacts.
“The current economic systems do not include or reward the value of social, human, and natural capital in agriculture and food systems. This often leads to the promotion of practices that are harmful to farming, the environment, and people,” says agricultural scientist Dr. Harpinder Sandhu to Food Tank.
The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Agriculture & Food (TEEBAgriFood) recently published a report about the hidden costs and various externalities of food and agriculture chains. The report also provides recommendations for ensuring a better food system. It states, “Investments in sustainable food systems have to go far beyond increasing productivity only; they have to take the eco-agri-food system as a whole into account.”
“We must link the health of people with the health of the planet, and we can only ensure long-term food security if our food systems don’t destroy the basis of food production,” says Alexander Müller, study leader for TEEBAgriFood.
To tackle the issues of climate change, global health, and food security, every eater—from policymakers, academics, and scientists to consumers—needs to recognize the interconnected nature of these systems. Changemakers across the globe are rising to this challenge and are bringing sustainable and regenerative practices into the farming of the future. Here are 12 organizations working to highlight true cost accounting in the food system!
The business leaders of the B Team are moving on from Plan A, business as usual, to Plan B, a series of action plans that will eventually transform all businesses into driving forces of social, environmental, and economic benefit. One of their 10 key challenges is to bring true cost accounting to a global scale so all businesses can measure their impact on social and environmental externalities.
Led by the United Nations Environment Programme, TEEBAgriFood brings together scientists, economists, policymakers, business leaders, and farmer organizations to examine the food system and the role of positive and negative externalities. The study provides a comprehensive evaluation of eco-agri-food systems and the natural, human, and social capital that is often overlooked in the economics of food production.
The Global Alliance for the Future of Food (GAFF) is a team of private foundations who combine their resources to tackle key issues in agroecology, health and well-being, and true cost accounting. GAFF devotes research to true cost accounting methods so that TCA will ultimately be accepted as a validated approach to inform government food policies and investments in rural communities. GAFF has invested in the TEEBAgriFood Evaluation Framework to study true cost economies of farming systems in the United States and the United Kingdom.
IFOAM Organics International recently released the Organic 3.0 initiative, which includes reports on True Cost Accounting, Organic Food System Program, and Asian Local Governments for Organic Agriculture (ALGOA). The Sustainable Organic Agriculture Action Network (SOANN) worked on the True Cost Accounting project to create a best practices framework for the organic agriculture industry. IFOAM believes that a better agricultural system can be created through TCA and organic farming.
The Natural Capital Coalition is a group of nearly 300 organizations united under the same ideology that renewable and non-renewable resources from the earth should be conserved and enhanced. An offshoot of TEEB for Business, The coalition’s main focus is on the true cost of business models and their impact on the natural world. The coalition’s end goal is to create relationships between businesses and nature that benefit both people and the environment.
A collaboration of multiple universities around the globe, the Natural Capital Project (NatCap) aims to improve the well-being of people and nature by prioritizing investment in natural capital. Some NatCap projects include quantifying the value and benefits that nature can add to businesses or city plans. With this understanding, NatCap provides tools so corporations and governments can work with nature instead of against it.
Soil & More Impacts believes that the current food system is creating a net negative impact on the world. Current agricultural, food distribution, and consumption systems are causing damage to the health of people and the environment. Through TCA, proper finance, and capital management, Soil & More Impacts aims to create a net positive food system that benefits the ecological, social, and economic world.
Founded in 2011, the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) works with organizations around the world to enhance and support sustainable food and farming initiatives. SFT believes that understanding the true cost of food is imperative to building a food system that can nourish the planet. Through research, visual infographics and films, and conferences that include influential leaders in the food and farming industry, SFT aims to inform the public about the true costs of food.
Since 2000, TruCost has provided tools to big businesses to help them transform into low carbon companies. Since its founding, TruCost has performed multiple carbon audits on large corporations and banks and has contributed to reports on better environmental practices for businesses. In 2013, commissioned by TEEB for Business, TruCost led a study to identify the top 100 natural externalities at risk in businesses, investors and governments.
True Price is a social enterprise committed to evaluating the economic, environmental, and social impacts of businesses by measuring biodiversity loss, pollution, water use, child labor, and health risks. True Price uses this information to assist governments, corporations, NGOs, and other organizations make business decisions that have little to no negative impact on the larger global economy.
Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES) works with banks and ministries of planning around the world to ensure that natural capital accounting (NCA) is a part of business decisions and developments. Natural capital accounting assesses the use of natural resources in an ecosystem to provide a broader understanding of stocks and flows in a large economic system. The goal of WAVES is to create a global platform for training and knowledge sharing around NCA.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) leads a number of initiatives to support their goal of Vision 2050: a plan to have the projected 9 billion people on the planet living well and within the boundaries of the earth by 2050. In 2018, WBCSD published a report with Food Reform for Sustainability and Health (FReSH) about the true cost of food. The paper highlighted the gaps in today’s true cost accounting methods and what is needed to work efficiently with NGOs and policy experts to execute true cost accounting for long-term planning.