Auditor Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Sustainable Food Group Sustainability StandardTM?

The Sustainable Food Group Sustainability Standard™ is a comprehensive sustainable agriculture certification prioritizing the needs of growers, food companies and the environment. For growers, it provides a meaningful tool to measure, communicate and improve the adoption of sustainability best practices. For buyers, The Sustainability Standard provides assurance that suppliers are adopting best practices related to sustainable agriculture and allows for tracking performance across the supply chain to pinpoint opportunities for improvement.

Who is involved in the Sustainability Standard?

Sustainable Food Group is the scheme owner. Sustainable Food Group is part of the IPM Institute of North America, a nonprofit with over 20 years of experience in implementing sustainability best practices in agriculture. As experts in supply chain sustainability, Sustainable Food Group develops high impact, science-based programs for food industry leaders like Walmart, Sysco, Frontier Co-op and more. Azzule and Primus Auditing Ops are our partners in the development of the Sustainability Standard. Azzule is an industry leader in data management that created the digital platform for auditing and assessing farms and facilities that participate in the program; Primus Auditing Ops is a leading third-party auditing company that is the first certification body to offer on-site audits for the Standard.

What sets the Sustainability Standard apart from other certifications?

The Sustainability Standard addresses environmental, social and quality best practices for agricultural producers, packers and processors, with a focus on Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Self-assessment and certification encourage continuous improvement of sustainability practices, and audits may be combined with food safety audits to streamline the audit process. Additionally, the Sustainability Standard uses a nuanced scoring mechanism in which auditors score each question on a 5-point scale rather than simply pass or fail. This enables more precise scoring and an improved ability to document improvement over time, a key aspect of sustainability.

What are the Sustainability Standard normative documents?
  1. Checklist: A list of questions that comprise the Standard, complete with a space to score each question and to write notes.
  2. Audit Guidelines: An explanation of the scoring system, glossary of terms, and a list of the question that comprise the Standard, including.
  3. General Regulations: Details of the Standard, auditor requirements, certification process, guidance for certification bodies, use of logo and trademark, and more.
  4. Internal Management System Checklist for Group Certification: A checklist against which a Group’s Internal Management System is scored.
How long is the audit cycle?

Audits occurs on a three-year cycle. The initial on-site audit occurs as scheduled by the client; 12 months after that, the first desk audit occurs; 24 months after, a second desk audit occurs; and, 36 months after, an on-site recertification audit occurs and the cycle restarts. See the audit process flowcharts in Program Documents for further details.

Do auditors calculate the points received for each question?

No, auditors award a score between 0 and 5 for each question. The Azzule system calculates the total points awarded for each question.

What are Minimum Requirements and how do they work?

Minimum Requirements are questions that an auditee must pass in order to achieve certification. They cover essential sustainable agriculture practices. A “passing” score for most Minimum Requirements is 5/5; for a few questions it is 4/5 (these cases are defined in the Audit Guidelines).

What is a Group?

In the context of the Sustainability Standard, a Group is a self-designated assemblage of farms or facilities and its suppliers whose products and conduct adhere to a set of standards as designated through an Internal Management System (IMS).

What is an Internal Management System?

An Internal Management System (IMS) is a formalized system of documents processes, procedures and responsibilities to achieve outcomes aligned with the Sustainability Standard. Determined by the IMS holder and adhered to by the Group. The IMS is reviewed annually by the Certification Body.

How does an operation achieve certification?

To achieve certification, an operation must comply with all Minimum Requirements and receive a minimum score of 70%.

What does a Group need to do to attain certification?

To attain certification, a Group must do three things: 1) all audited operations must meet all Minimum Requirements of the Sustainability Standard, including the questions specifically for Group Certification, 2) The average score of all operations in the Group, including farm and facility operations, must be 70% or higher and 3) the IMS for the Group must pass all Minimum Requirements of the IMS Checklist.

Can auditors award a score for a question that is different than the score options outlined in the Audit Guidelines?

For some questions, the Audit Guidelines define scoring options for 0, 1, 3 and 5 points (rather than every value 1 through 5). An auditor can award a score outside of these options; the guidelines are provided to assist in decision-making, and the auditor can use their best judgement based on experience and training to determine what score to award. Auditors are expected to provide their rationale for scores outside of the defined options.

What if an auditee has less than three months of documentation?

If an auditee has less than 3 total months of documentation for review, the auditor cannot award full credit for paperwork questions.

Who do I contact with further questions?