Benchmarking Canadian Agri-food Sustainability Standards

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘you can’t compare apples to oranges’?

Well, it turns out that is not completely true.

How so? Let’s talk about benchmarking to find out more.  

A common example of why benchmarking is needed is the numerical grading system vs. the grade point average (GPA) system.

If a university’s GPA requirement is 3.3, how do you know if your 75% average will help you make the cut?

Benchmarking allows us to compare different performance standards to each other in order to gain insights into how they stack up to one another. Benchmarking helps us to understand how standards might align on key content or performance measurements, as well as to identify gaps, and avoid duplication of efforts. In the business world, benchmarking is a widely used management tool that can identify and enhance marketing opportunities. Real world evidence shows that benchmarking has the potential to deliver a competitive advantage for firms (1).

In Canadian agriculture and agri-food, we can face similar challenges with a multitude of standards, certifications, and programs, especially around the topic of sustainability. If our agri-food products meet domestic or commodity-specific sustainable production standards, then how do they compare to their international counterparts? By benchmarking domestic standards to other widely recognized standards around the world, we can compare apples to oranges. We just need to first understand what similarities and differences they share.

Recently, we benchmarked two provincial Environmental Farm Plan programs against the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform (SAI Platform) Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) tool – with positive results. The FSA tool is used by stakeholders throughout the agricultural value chain, with food and drink companies using it for sustainable sourcing, and producers using it to assess their environmental and social sustainability (2). Both Ontario and Alberta scored a ‘Silver’ performance level*, meaning they technically meet the standard set by many leading international brands. Both the Ontario and Alberta EFP’s score particularly high in the categories of soil, nutrient, and water management. Two common gaps in the EFP benchmarking process are on the ‘social’ and ‘economic’ pillars of sustainability. This is not surprising as the EFP was designed to focus specifically on environmental topics. A whole-farm sustainability platform could help address these gaps.

Canada currently does not have a whole farm, whole value chain solution to align with international standards, despite great commodity-specific efforts.

The Canadian Agri-Food Sustainability Initiative (CASI) is a collaboration of farm organizations and food/beverage processors, manufacturers, and retailers working together to harmonize these efforts and create a full-scope, whole-farm and whole value-chain sustainability transparency system.

A note on the results
*Benchmarking scores are determined by the score of the standard (in this case the Environmental Farm Plan) and a combination of Provincial and Federal Legislation.


1. Vorhies, D. A., & Morgan, N. A. (2005). Benchmarking marketing capabilities for sustainable competitive advantage. Journal of Marketing, 69, 80-94.

2. Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA), 2017. Retrieved from