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Report2023Open access

A framework for measuring sustainability in the Swedish food system : indicator selection and justification

Hansson, Helena; Säll, Sarah; Abouhatab, Assem; Röös, Elin; Tidåker, Pernilla; Berggren, Åsa; Lundqvist, Peter; Magnusson, Ulf; Rydhmer, Lotta; Zhu, Li-Hua; Ahlgren, Serina; Hallström, Ellinor; Persson, U. Martin; Winkvist, Anna


Being able to assess the sustainability of food systems is central to evaluate policy 
implemented to remedy their sustainability problems, to monitor performance over time 
and to function as input to policy makers’ decisions. This report introduces a catalogue of 
suggested themes, sub-themes and indicators for assessing food system sustainability in 
Sweden. The themes, sub-themes and indicators builds on previous work that developed 
food system sustainability frameworks, mainly Hebinck et al. (2021) who suggests an 
integrated framework for food system sustainability assessment building on a 
comprehensive review of the literature.

From a conceptual perspective, the report builds on a model developed by Mistra Food 
Futures researchers in 2022 - 23 (Hansson et al., 2023), where a food system sustainability 
framework for Sweden is suggested to take the form of a Food System Sustainability House
(Fig 1). The Food System Sustainability House is developed around the following key 
assumptions about a sustainable food system:

  • The overall aim of a national food system (following Hebinck et al. (2021)) is to 

provide healthy, safe and adequate diets for all. In addition, the food system 
should be just, ethical and equitable. These two aspects form the ceiling of the 
food system.

  • The environmental foundations for the food system activities are viewed as afloor, or as a foundation for the system, representing restrictions on human 

actions and behaviors within the system. The environmental foundations are 
central for future continuous food security, and the food system has to rest upon a 
functioning ecosystem foundation. 

  • The economic system takes the role of an enabler, which makes the system work. 

To this end, we need companies that can produce raw material and food, and 
policy that can ensure, that external effects by the food system actors are taken 
into considerations by actors in their decision-making. This implies that the 
external effects are internalized. The economic indicators developed for the Food 
System Sustainability House for Sweden are designed to measure performance in 
relation to this overall function of the system. The economic system, separated 
between enablers for producers and consumers on the one hand side and 
governance on the other hand side, functions as ‘walls’ in the system, connecting 
the floor with the ceiling.

The report now continues by introducing and motivating themes and indicators to assess 
food system sustainability based on the Food System Sustainability House. The themes and 
indicators are adapted for the Swedish food system.
For each indicator, we give suggestions for official and what we call science-based 
targets. Official targets are targets currently reflected in official policy documents. Such 
are currently lacking for most of the indicators. 
Each indicator are also classified using the Driver (D)-Pressure (P)-State (S)-Impact (I)-
Response (R) framework (Kristensen, 2004). This framework illustrate where along the 
cause-effect chain indicators are located. Drivers include the human activities that drive
pressures (e.g. natural resource use, emissions) that lead to a change in the socioeconomic 
and ecological state and impacts on these systems that eventually lead to societal responses 
(e.g. policy responses).

Published in

Mistra Food Futures Report
2023, number: 14ISBN: 978-91-8046-840-4, eISBN: 978-91-8046-841-1Publisher: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences