Developing context-specific frameworks for integrated sustainability assessment of agricultural intensity change: An application for Europe

Diogo, Vasco; Helfenstein, Julian; Mohr, Franziska; Varghese, Vinisha; Debonne, Niels; Levers, Christian; Swart, Rebecca; Sonderegger, Gabi; Nemecek, Thomas; Schader, Christian; Walter, Achim; Ziv, Guy; Herzog, Felix; Verburg, Peter H.; Bürgi, Matthias (2022). Developing context-specific frameworks for integrated sustainability assessment of agricultural intensity change: An application for Europe. Environmental science & policy, 137, pp. 128-142. Elsevier 10.1016/j.envsci.2022.08.014

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Agriculture plays a central role in achieving most Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sustainable intensi- fication (SI) of agriculture has been proposed as a promising concept for safeguarding global food security, while simultaneously protecting the environment and promoting good quality of life. However, SI often leads to context-specific sustainability trade-offs. Operationalising SI thus needs to be supported by transparent sus- tainability assessments. In this article, we propose a general systematic approach to developing context-specific frameworks for integrated sustainability assessment of agricultural intensity change. Firstly, we specify a comprehensive system representation for analysing how changes in agricultural intensity lead to a multitude of sustainability outcomes affecting different societal groups across geographical scales. We then introduce a procedure for identifying the attributes that are relevant for assessment within particular contexts, and respective indicator metrics. Finally, we illustrate the proposed approach by developing an assessment framework for evaluating a wide range of intensification pathways in Europe. The application of the approach revealed pro- cesses and effects that are relevant for the European context but are rarely considered in SI assessments. These include farmers’ health, workers’ living conditions, cultural heritage and sense of place of rural communities, animal welfare, impacts on sectors not directly related to agriculture (e.g., tourism), shrinking and ageing of rural population and consumers’ health. The proposed approach addresses important gaps in SI assessments, and thus represents an important step forward in defining transparent procedures for sustainability assessments that can stimulate an informed debate about the operationalisation of SI and its contribution towards achieving SDGs.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
10 Strategic Research Centers > Centre for Development and Environment (CDE)

Graduate School:

International Graduate School North-South (IGS North-South)

UniBE Contributor:

Sonderegger, Gabi, Bürgi, Matthias


900 History > 910 Geography & travel
500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology
500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology






[1718] COUPLED – Operationalizing telecoupling to solve sustainability challenges related to land use
[805] Sustainability Governance




Gabi Sonderegger

Date Deposited:

14 Nov 2022 13:19

Last Modified:

25 Jan 2023 13:35

Publisher DOI:





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