True Cost Accounting: Bringing practitioners together for networking, learning, and collective action


Back in September 2016, the Global Alliance co-hosted a discussion, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), that brought together global leaders from government, business, civil society, philanthropy, multi-laterals and other sectors to better understand how to accelerate transitions to sustainable food systems, and how sustainable food and agriculture can be a positive force in conservation efforts and other critical global issues.

One of the highest priorities identified by these thought-leaders? Assess costs and impacts – positive and negative – of key food systems with an aim to reforming public finance, including subsidies, taxes and incentives. In other words, true cost accounting (TCA), also known as full-cost accounting or total cost accounting. By any name you call it, there is a growing recognition that the economics of food systems is a major driver and powerful tool for systems change.

There are many groups and individuals engaged in work relating to true cost accounting in global food systems – TEEBAgriFood, IFOAM, FAO, Natural Capital Coalition, Earth Economics, True Price, Sustainable Food Trust, Soil and More, and a plethora of others at local and regional levels. Although there are informal connections between the actors involved, there are disparate key messages and few formalized mechanisms for collaboration, knowledge sharing, and support for the overarching shared goal of transitioning to more sustainable food systems.

Bringing collaboration to the movement for true cost accounting

The Global Alliance is piloting a Community of Practice (CoP) of practitioners working on TCA at local, regional, national, and international levels. It is our hope that by convening the many groups and individuals engaged in work-on-the-ground relating to true cost accounting, we can support and encourage: networking and the sharing of information about methodologies, approaches, and outcomes; learning and informing participants of good practices, improvements in design and implementation, and pathways for impact; and, collective action to leverage shared knowledge, networks, strategies, and key messages to amplify communications and advocacy.

The CoP is one component of the Global Alliance’s TCA strategy to make visible the full costs of producing food by investing in efforts to identify, measure and value the positive and negative environmental, social and health externalities of food and agricultural systems. And it’s an important one. As Global Alliance member Jane Maland Cady of the McKnight Foundation says, “Innovation requires diversity and connection. Communities of Practice are an amazingly effective way to collaborate with others to test and develop new ideas and pathways to address complex problems.”

“There is a growing recognition that the economics of food systems is a major driver and powerful tool for systems change.”

To date, the Global Alliance has hosted two meetings during which the CoP has developed a deeper understanding of true cost accounting related to food and agriculture and its multiple applications, methodologies, approaches, challenges, and opportunities. Over this short time, the group has made significant progress on identifying tools for implementation and developing strategies for elevating TCA and embedding it into decision-making.

Over the next two years, the CoP has plans for several shared projects, including publishing a book on TCA, undertaking a systematic literature review on TCA, and launching a knowledge hub. The goal is to build understanding across TCA frameworks, and further explore key metrics and performance indicators.

The CoP is committed to reaching out to others in this field to strengthen, enrich, and realize the power and potential of TCA. If you are interested in learning more or joining the CoP, please contact Lauren Baker at lauren@futureoffood.org.