Recent foodborne illness outbreaks at Chipotle despite use of ingredients that are “organic, responsibly raised meats, pasture raised dairy,” and “non GMO” have left consumers looking for better and other standards for agricultural products. Almost on cue (despite being in the works for more than 4 years), Leonardo Academy has announced that its LEO 4000 National Sustainable Agriculture Standard is now available for use.

Leonardo Academy is well respected, including for its work on the LEED Existing Building standard, for its non-profit model of “leveraging the competitive market to advance sustainability.”

Because today there is no single widely used sustainable farm product standard, it is not possible to know if Chipotle’s safety record is better or worse than any other major chain restaurant. Just as it is not possible to characterize Whole Foods drop in store sales as because other grocers are offering natural and organic products. Balancing the obvious desire not to be sickened by an agricultural product against the negative externalities of the large industrial agricultural complex, Leonardo reports 76% of Millennials say it’s important that the food products they purchase and consume are produced in a sustainable way.

While Rainforest Alliance Certification, Fair Trade Certification, Certified Organic and many more are already in the market, there is little if any standardization as to what is a healthy and sustainable food. LEO 4000 responds by defining “what constitutes sustainable agriculture.”

After a more than 4 year ANSI development process, LEO 4000 provides sustainability guidance to agricultural product producers (now plants and in the future animal products) including metrics for levels of achievement and third party verification.

The goal is to strive for performance based methods rather than practice based metrics. For example, set a target by requiring that water use per acre be less than X gallons (or acre feet) per acre (i.e., a performance based metric) as opposed to requiring that only irrigation equipment from an approved list of low water use equipment can be used (i.e., which would be a practice based metric).

LEO 4000 has 4 levels of performance: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. The Standard has perquisites, general indicators (of which 80% must be achieved), and optional indicators (of which 20% must be earned), each of which are organized into categories: general, environmental, social and economic. Key is preparing a Producer Sustainability Plan that documents all of this.

Among the environmental issues addressed are agrochemicals, water resources, biotic resources, energy resources and use, and waste management. The social issues are likewise quite broad and include wages and benefits, work agreements, child labor, health and safety, worker housing, and the like.

One knock on the new standard is that a Leonardo Academy licensed third party verifier must be used except that for an initial year producers can self certify at the Bronze level.

While the obvious users of LEO 4000 are producers, from family farmers to corporate producers, the standard will also allow for simplified specification in procurement, including a streamlined system for maintaining traceability by food processors and suppliers, including retailers, food service suppliers and restaurants.

The public wants sustainably produced agriculture. The private sector can do more and better than the government has done or is capable of doing. So is it too farfetched to envision a shopper asking for sustainable carrots?