To facilitate sustainability across an entire landscape, standard systems must match the complexity of the environments that they are trying to shape. For example, the quality and condition of a specific farm’s soil impacts the river that runs through it, and the health of that waterway has implications for that farm, its neighbors, and the wildlife that live in or migrate through the area. However, when it comes to linking unit-based certification results to landscape-level impacts, many standard systems struggle. While they verify the practices of individual production units (such as farms), or groups of units scattered across a geographic area, they have not typically been designed to address the sustainability of an entire landscape or to measure the gradual improvement of that landscape over time.
While certified farms do often end up having positive spillover effects on the areas that surround them, standards will continue to fall short of the larger goal if they fail to consider the landscape of which these farms are part—its range of land uses, ecosystems, and local stakeholders—and work to strengthen the entire tapestry of a region. Sustainability standards need to examine and address the ways that these various elements affect each other, leveraging them to achieve positive outcomes while diminishing the negative ones.