AASF: Australian Agricultural Sustainability Framework

AASF: Australian Agricultural Sustainability Framework

Developing an Australian Agricultural Sustainability Framework (AASF)

The first iteration of the AASF has now been developed for stakeholder feedback (see link above – AASF 1st iteration). As the framework contains many levels of information, this interactive PowerPoint (PPT) presentation has been designed to allow users to ‘dive in’ to areas of interest and ‘zoom out’ to see the context of the suggested principles, criteria and indicators. Supporting information on the design and development process is provided below and is also available via the literature review download link. If you are unable to use the interactive PPT, please download this static PDF version (same information without the interactive functionality).

To use the interactive document most effectively:

  1. Open the PPT, enable editing and click on presentation mode’ or ‘slide show’.
  2. Navigate the document by clicking to ‘zoom in’ (preferred interactive method). When you click on the images or boxes relating to each principle, criteria or indicator, the PPT will ‘zoom’ to show more detail.
  3. Click the ‘home’ icon on the screen at any time to be taken back to section starts (pillars) or the beginning slides of the framework.
  4. You can also use the arrow keys to move through the PPT as you would for a regular slide show. Pres ‘Esc’ to exit the slide show.

AFI is seeking feedback on the language and intent of the principles (desired outcomes) and criteria (conditions to be met in order to comply with a principle) of this first iteration, which need to be relevant to both Australian agricultural industry sustainability frameworks and current / emerging global standards.

The AASF is intended to be a bridge between domestic and global systems by harmonising expectations and communication, so that industry collected data can be aggregated and used as the evidence base for Australian agriculture’s sustainability claims in the global market place and to meet supply chain requirements. Does this list of principles and criteria cover everything that is important? Are there principles and criteria which are irrelevant and could be excluded? NB – while the indicators (the measurable states which allow the assessment of whether or not a particular criterion has been met) presented herein are also important, our first focus is to ensure the principles and criteria are solid. Indicators and metrics will be the focus of further stages of development. A glossary of terms is also available.

Feedback can be submitted to the AFI via info@farminstitute.org.au


Interest in the sustainability of agricultural and food systems is continuously increasing in markets, social and regulatory environments. While farmers clearly want to invest in sustainability measures and build natural capital, these measures usually involve cost to the farming business. AFI’s 2020 report, Recognising On-farm Biodiversity Management, identified the complexity, cost and difficulty of assessing and participating in multiple programs as barriers to participating in current sustainability/stewardship programs, including market-based initiatives. To reward farmers for delivering biodiversity and sustainability outcomes, the best results are likely to come from an overarching framework that connects and verifies current and emerging programs. Verifying farm sustainability schemes under such a meta-standard can help to build an Australian sustainability ‘brand’, benchmark outcomes for natural capital reporting systems, and enable certification against consistent targets and schemes. Based on the outcomes of this research, the next step is the development of an Australian Agricultural Sustainability Framework (AASF).

Project process

  • Phase 1: DISCOVERY (2020) – Recognising On-farm Biodiversity Management
  • Phase 2: DEVELOPMENT (2021) – AASF
  • Phase 3: PILOT (2022)

AFI is undertaking Element 1 (Framework Development) of the second phase of this project in 2021, in parallel with Element 2 (Financial Systems & Accounting Systems) led by KPMG. Four further connected elements of this phase, including benchmarking industry programs, aligning measurement frameworks, engagement and legal analysis, are being coordinated by the NFF on behalf of the Federal Government (DAWE).

The process for developing the AASF involves intensive research and extensive consultation throughout the year. In the first quarter of 2021, AFI has reviewed existing schemes and worked with a specialist expert reference panel of subject matter experts to ensure a rigorous peer review process informs development. This group of academic, industry and NGO experts, representing a cross-section of the best experience and insight available on the topic of verifying farm sustainability and biodiversity (see Appendix in the literature review), has already provided invaluable feedback and advice to the research team on the relevance and suitability of existing systems, industry opportunities and gaps, as well as emerging global sustainability reporting trend and requirements (see examples below).

Findings so far


Findings to date suggest that an AASF could aim to achieve:

  • Reduction in the complexity of the SCA landscape for sustainability initiatives
  • Reducing duplication of scheme targets 
  • Management of market access risks 

And an AASF should seek to avoid:

  • Arbitrarily increasing the number of SCA sustainability schemes
  • Competing directly with the certification and accreditation industry
  • Seeking to set standards independently of international bodies 

The first iteration of the AASF has now been developed for stakeholder feedback (see links above). AFI will consult with a range of sector stakeholders (in parallel with KPMG market stakeholder interviews) to ensure that the framework development is tailored to meet industry needs and supply/demand drivers. Open feedback on the principles (desired outcomes) and criteria (conditions to be met in order to comply with a principle) of this first iteration as described above can be submitted to the AFI via info@farminstitute.org.au

Following the consultation process, this first iteration will be reviewed and refined, then presented again for further feedback in September 2021. The final version of the AASF is due for delivery in January 2022; however, it will not be a static document. The AASF will provide a regularly updated snapshot in time to enable harmonisation of Australian agricultural sustainability activity with evolving market and regulatory expectations. 

Ownership and governance of the AASF will be a crucial recommendation at completion of this project, to ensure the framework will be an independent, responsive tool to help ensure Australian farmers are recognised for their efforts in stewardship of our resources.

Global standards and frameworks:

To be successful, the AASF must be concordant with global standards to leverage stewardship efforts in the global marketplace and enable progress towards international sustainability reporting obligations. While an AASF should clearly not seek to match every existing global SCA framework or scheme, some directly relevant and related global programs have been considered in design and development of the first iteration, as noted below:

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