Introduction to the USRSB Sustainability Framework

Purpose of This Document

The U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) was formed in 2015 with a vision to have the U.S. beef value-chain be the trusted global leader in environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable beef. USRSB does this through its Mission to advance, support and communicate continuous improvement in the sustainability of U.S. beef production by educating and engaging the beef value-chain through a collaborative multi-stakeholder effort. The USRSB utilizes an open and transparent process for multi-stakeholder driven creation of beef sustainability indicators, metrics and sustainability assessment guides. The USRSB explores the challenges and opportunities for continuous improvement across all aspects of the beef value chain but will not mandate standards nor verify individual stakeholder performance. USRSB believes that to improve the U.S. beef industry as a whole, collaboration and communication throughout the supply chain is paramount. Beginning with the six high priority indicators identified by USRSB members (Table 1-1), the USRSB has committed to identifying activities across the U.S. beef value chain that will improve each indicator. Sustainability Assessment Guides (SAGs) provide each supply chain sector (Table 1-2) within the U.S. beef value-chain with guidelines on the purpose, approach, and methods for meeting the metrics, and ultimately improving the six High Priority Indicators developed by the USRSB. These SAGs are living documents; they are revised over time to reflect new knowledge, experiences, and solutions to sustainability challenges within the beef value-chain. This document provides the SAGs for each High Priority Indicator and Metric for each sector of the U.S. beef supply chain.

The USRSB’s approach is for each sector of the beef supply chain, summarized in Table 1-2, to develop SAGs for their sectors. The value chain establishes sustainability indicators and associated metrics, benchmarks the performance of those metrics at the enterprise, sector, and value chain levels, sets goals for improvement of the metrics, and assesses performance against those goals over time. This process has the advantage of being fully responsive to changing conditions, priorities, and technologies

Driving Continuous Improvements in Sustainability Outcomes

Sustainability outcomes are the characteristics of a system we are trying to improve and are the result of the cumulative activities and decisions made by people in the beef supply chain. Driving continuous improvement in outcomes requires making more sustainable decisions about processes and practices over time. The USRSB members understand that without changes in practices there can be no changes in outcomes, however, rarely will a single change in practices drive improvements in outcomes for all participants in large, complex systems. Identifying the appropriate changes in decisions within each production context for each indicator is not trivial. Each change to improve one indicator could have negative impacts on another. Practices that drive positive changes in one production system or region could have no impact to negative impacts in another system or region. The relationship between changes in practices and changes in outcomes may be directly measurable for some indicators. Other indicators will have to rely on science-based process simulation models, Life Cycle Assessment models, or others, to associate changes in practices with changes in outcomes.

The members of the USRSB have developed Sustainability Assessment Guides (SAGs) to provide support for the implementation of each Metric for each sector of the U.S. beef life cycle. SAGs are guiding documents intended to assist sustainability efforts by providing site-level assessment tools, decision support systems, resources and materials. Members of the USRSB will demonstrate the effectiveness of this process to “move the curve” through member-led pilot projects. Additional information about the formation of the USRSB, selection of the indicators and metrics can be found at the USRSB web site:

Additional Resources

U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef High Priority Indicators

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Animal Health & Well-being: The cumulative effects of cattle health, nutrition, care and comfort.

Efficiency & Yield: Efficiency is the unit of input required to produce a unit of output and yield is the total product generated per unit of time or space. Both concepts address waste as a negative characteristic and drive toward improved profitability.

Water Resources: The volume of water consumed by a sector for each process and any impacts on water quality by a sector for each process.

Land Resources: The stewardship of terrestrial and aquatic habitat in relation to water, soil and biodiversity in an area. Impacts of land use and land use conversion, both caused by and prevented by ranching and farming activities and other supply chain land use decisions.

Air & Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The cumulative emissions of pollutants, including particulate matter, greenhouse gases and other gaseous emissions from a sector for each process.

Employee Safety & Well-being: The implementation of safety programs and training to provide a safe workplace and help to prevent workplace accidents and injuries associated with production, processing, and distribution of beef and the relative prosperity of workers employed in those activities.

Glossary of Terms

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Accreditation: Formal recognition that a certification body is competent to carry out certification.

Aspirational Goal: Broad and directionally specific goal (increase or decrease, for example), but without a specific end point or timeline.

Search Attributes: Characteristics consumers can examine before purchasing the product (price, size and color).

Audit: A systematic, independent and documented process for obtaining records, statements of fact or other relevant information and evaluating it objectively to determine the extent to which specific requirements are filled. (ISO 14001:2015)

Benchmark: Level or state of a metric representing performance of an indicator at a specific place or point in time, usually for comparative purposes.

Certification: procedure that gives written assurance that a product, process or service conforms to certain standards. Certification can be seen as a form of the assurance. The certification decision is the granting of a “certificate” and is based on an inspection and the inspection report.

Certification Bodies/Certifiers: The organization performing the certification is called a certification body or certifier. The certifier might do the actual inspection or contract this out.

Certification (Verification) Label: Label or symbol verifying compliance with a specific standard. Use of the label is controlled by the standard setting or certification body. Label is a communication between the seller/buyer and also with the end consumer. For the label to be effective, it must be backed up by a good certification, free of conflict of interest, transparent and have opportunities for public comment.

Continual improvement: Recurring activity to enhance performance.  (ISO 14001:2015)

Credence Attributes: Unable to evaluate in use (environmental impact and animal welfare).

Dimensions of Sustainability: The three primary categories or classes of impacts, processes, metrics and concerns regarding human endeavors, typically characterized as Community, Economics and Environment. Community includes social, political and cultural dimensions. Economics includes financial, commercial and transactional dimensions. Environment includes air, water, land, natural resources, flora, fauna, humans, and their interrelationships.  (ISO 14001:2015)

Efficiency: The amount of output produced for a unit of input (example: kilogram of beef per liter of water).

Efficiency Indicators: Efficiency indicators are measurements of the parameters of concern with respect to units of production (average daily gain, feed conversion, time).

Enterprise: Organization or affiliation for a common economic purpose, such as farm, ranch, stocker operation, feed yard, packer, processor, retail or foodservice company.

Experience Attributes: Evaluated after purchasing the product (taste).

Farming operation: Discrete enterprise that grows plants and/or animals for economic value for human utilization as food, feed, fuel, fiber or other social, cultural or economic purposes.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Release to the atmosphere of any gas that creates or contributes to creation of the greenhouse effect in Earth’s atmosphere, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).

Impact(s): Positive and negative outcome(s) wholly or partially resulting from an organization’s specific practice or production system. (ISO 14001:2015)

Impact Area: Broad category of social or environmental results to track.

Impact Indicators: Measurements of outcomes or impacts that result directly or indirectly from activities and processes.

Indicators: Quantitative or qualitative factor or variable that provides a measurable representation of outcomes of activities to reflect the changes connected to a standards system, or to help assess the performance of an organization.  (ISEAL 2015) Indicators should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Indicators should be outcomes-based, science-driven, technology-neutral and transparent. The relationship between the indicator and the outcome of concern should be described, and the metrics should represent the outcome as closely as possible.

Land Use Transformation: Converting land use (cover, topography) from a non-human dominated purpose (e.g., forest habitat, riparian buffer zone, prairie) to a human-dominated purpose (e.g., pasture, crop lands, urban development, transportation).

Metric: Means of measure; the specific quantification of an indicator; how indicators are defined.

Operational Goal: Results to be achieved defining rate and scope of implementation of practices and other activities to achieve tactical goals (“results to be achieved” from ISO 14001:2015).

Outcomes: Measurable impact or changes in indicators that occur as a result of an action, including a practice, strategy or policy.

Publicly Available Datasets: Data sets either collected, vetted or distributed by public agencies, available for nominal to no fee, for public use. Examples include data collected, vetted and distributed by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geologic Survey, U.S. Department of Agriculture (specifically the National Agricultural Statistics Service and Economic Research Service data) and others.

Stakeholders: Person or organization that can affect or be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision or activity.  (ISO 14001:2015)

Standards: As defined by ISO – documented agreements containing technical specifications or other precise criteria to be used consistently as rules, guidelines or definitions to ensure materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose.

Product Standards: Specifications and criteria for the characteristics of products.

Process Standards: Criteria for the way products are made.

Strategic Goal: Numerically specific result to be achieved regarding improvement of a specific outcome. Includes a timeline for achieving the numeric improvement.

Sustainability Strategy: Process for improved decision-making that considers multiple facets of risk and impact across economic, community and environmental dimensions.

Tactical Goal: Numerically specific result to be achieved within an enterprise for achieving strategic goals. Includes a timeline and range of options for achieving the desired numeric improvement.

Third Party Verification: Assurance activity that is performed by an independent person or body. (ISEAL 2015) Independence can be demonstrated by the freedom from responsibility for the activity being audited or freedom from bias and conflict of interest. (ISO 14001:2015)

Verification: A confirmation by examination and provision of objective evidence that the requirements have been met (Observation, Interviews, Documented Processes and Procedures, Records). The process by which an entity is evaluated or assessed against a standard or set of criteria. It is also used as a method to “step” systems into a certified method.


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