Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Methodologies for true cost accounting in the food sector


The recent development of true cost accounting (TCA) methodologies by various organizations has helped increase transparency in the food sector, but has also made it difficult to compare the results obtained through different methodologies. Here we review major TCA methodologies across five functional units that their assessment framework(s) apply to—namely product, organization, system, geography and investment. Our results show that the bulk of existing frameworks apply to products and/or organizations. According to publicly available documents and case studies published by the framework proponents, we found measurements of externality/dependency, the inclusion of economic, environmental and social effects, as well as the use of comparable metrics to be areas of general consensus; suggested indicators, monetization and aggregation emerged as areas of general divergence. The differences between TCA methodologies identified in this study indicate that collaboration between frameworks is key to their harmonization, ultimately making results more comparable and facilitating engagement in TCA.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Dimensions of different capital frameworks.
Fig. 2: Scope relationship between different functional units.


  1. 1.

    Uwizeye, A. et al. Nitrogen emissions along global livestock supply chains. Nat. Food 1, 437–446 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    de Buhr, E. & Gordon, E. Bitter Sweets: Prevalence of Forced Labour & Child Labour in the Cocoa Sectors of Côte d’Ivoire & Ghana (Tulane University & Walk Free Foundation, 2018);

  3. 3.

    Cawley, J. & Meyerhoefer, C. The medical care costs of obesity: an instrumental variables approach. J. Health Econ. 31, 219–230 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Baker, L. et al. Prospects for the true cost accounting of food systems. Nat. Food 1, 765–767 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    TCA Inventory (Global Alliance for the Future of Food, 2020);

  6. 6.

    True Cost Accounting for Food, Farming & Finance (TCA-FFF) (Eosta, Soil & More, EY, Triodos Bank, & Hivos, 2017);

  7. 7.

    A Roadmap for True Pricing (True Price, 2019;

  8. 8.

    Olam International Limited Annual Report 2019 (Olam Group, 2020);

  9. 9.

    Social Impact of Meat Extended Shelf Life Solutions: Corbion Learning Journey (Product Social Impact Assessment Partnership, 2019);

  10. 10.

    Fitzpatrick, I. et al. The Hidden Cost of UK Food (Sustainable Food Trust, 2019);

  11. 11.

    White, S. A TEEBAgriFood Analysis of the Malawi Maize Agri-food System (Future of Food, 2019);

  12. 12.

    Baltussen, W. et al. Valuation of Livestock Eco-Agri-Food Systems: Poultry, Beef and Dairy: Executive Summary (Wageningen University & Research, 2016);

  13. 13.

    Pharo, P. et al. Growing Better: Ten Critical Transitions to Transform Food and Land Use (Food and Land Use Coalition, 2019);

  14. 14.

    Ritchie, H. & Roser, M. Environmental Impacts of Food Production (OurWorldInData, 2020);

  15. 15.

    Notarnicola, B. et al. Environmental impacts of food consumption in Europe. J. Clean. Prod. 140, 753–765 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Dixon, J. & Gulliver, A. Farming Systems and Poverty: Improving Farmers’ Livelihoods in a Changing World (World Bank, 2001);

  17. 17.

    Draft TEEB for Agriculture and Food: Operational Guidelines for Business (Capitals Coalition, 2020);

  18. 18.

    Lord, S. Valuing the Impact of Food: Towards Practical and Comparable Monetary Valuation of Food System Impacts (FoodSIVI, 2020);

  19. 19.

    TEEB for Agriculture & Food: Scientific and Economic Foundations Report (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, 2018);

  20. 20.

    Connecting Finance and Natural Capital: a Supplement to the Natural Capital Protocol (Capitals Coalition, 2018);

  21. 21.

    Natural Capital Protocol – Apparel Sector Guide (Capitals Coalition, 2016);

  22. 22.

    Rusman, A. et al. Cocoa Farmer Income: the Household Income of Cocoa Farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Strategies for Improvement (Impact Institute, 2018);

  23. 23.

    Fobelets, V., Rusman, A. & de Groot Ruiz, A. Assessing Coffee Farmer Household Income (Impact Institute, 2017);

  24. 24.

    Pigou, A. The Economics of Welfare (Macmillan, 1924).

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Marshall, A. Principles Of Economics edn 8 (Macmillan, 1920).

  26. 26.

    Serafeim, G., Zochowski, T. R. & Downing, J. Impact-Weighted Financial Accounts: the Missing Piece for an Impact Economy (Harvard Business School, 2019);

  27. 27.

    Essential Guide to Natural and Social Capital Accounting (Accounting for Sustainability, 2016);

  28. 28.

    Stiglitz, J. E., Fitoussi, J. & Durand, M. Beyond GDP: Measuring What Counts for Economic and Social Performance (OECD, 2018);

  29. 29.

    B Impact Assessment (B Analytics, 2021);

  30. 30.

    Framework for Inclusive Capitalism (Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism, 2021);

  31. 31.

    The (Sustainable) Business Case for Natural Capital Valuation (Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, 2013);

  32. 32.

    Bass, R. et al. Methodology for Standardizing and Comparing Impact Performance (Global Impact Investing Network, 2020);

  33. 33.

    Impact Valuation (GIST Advisory, 2021);

  34. 34.

    How Investors Manage Impact (Impact Management Project, 2021);

  35. 35.

    Barbier, E. B. et al. Inclusive Wealth Report 2018 (UN Environment Programme, 2018);

  36. 36.

    Framework for Impact Statements (Impact Institute, 2019);

  37. 37.

    Integrated Reporting (International Integrated Reporting Council, 2021);

  38. 38.

    ISO 14040:2006: Environmental Management — Life Cycle Assessment — Principles and Framework (International Organization for Standardization, 2006);

  39. 39.

    Natural Capital Protocol (Natural Capital Coalition, 2016);

  40. 40.

    Net Positive Methodology (Net Positive Project, 2019);

  41. 41.

    Noble, J., O’Flynn, P. & Kazimirski, A. Understanding Impact: How to Use Your Theory of Change to Develop a Measurement and Evaluation Framework (New Philanthropy Capital, 2020);

  42. 42.

    Serafeim, G. & Trinh, K. A Framework for Product Impact-Weighted Accounts (Harvard Business School, 2020);

  43. 43.

    Measuring the Social Impact of Corporate Investments: Social Impact Measurement Model (Deloitte, 2021);

  44. 44.

    Social & Human Capital Protocol (Capitals Coalition; 2019);

  45. 45.

    Nicholls, J. et al. A Guide to Social Return on Investment (Social Value UK, 2012);

  46. 46.

    Ecosystem Accounting (System of Environmental Economic Accounting, 2021);

  47. 47.

    Assessing Your Total Impact (PwC, 2015);

  48. 48.

    Total Value: Impact Valuation to Support Decision-Making (EY, 2016);

  49. 49.

    TruCost’s Valuation Methodology (TruCost, 2015);

  50. 50.

    Principles for True Pricing (True Price, 2020);

  51. 51.

    A New Vision of Value: Connecting Corporate and Societal Value Creation (KPMG, 2014);

  52. 52.

    WICI Intangibles Reporting Framework (World Intellectual Capital/Assets Initiative, 2016);

  53. 53.

    Impact Statement General Paper (Value Balancing Alliance, 2021);

  54. 54.

    de Adelhart Toorop, R. & de Groot Ruiz, A. Integrated Profit & Loss Assessment Methodology (IAM) (Impact Institute, 2020);

  55. 55.

    Principles of Integrated Capitals Assessment (Capitals Coalition, 2021);

  56. 56.

    Impact Report 2020 (ABN AMRO, 2021);

  57. 57.

    Measuring and Managing Total Impact: a New Language for Business Decisions (PwC, 2013);

  58. 58.

    Rusman, A. et al. The True Cost of Cocoa: Tony’s Chocolonely 2018 Progress Report (True Price, 2018);

  59. 59.

    Social and Human Capital Accounting (Accounting for Sustainability, 2017);

  60. 60.

    Galgani, P. et al. Monetization Factors for True Pricing (True Price, 2020);

  61. 61.

    Serafeim, G. & Trinh, K. Accounting for Product Impact in the Airlines Industry (Harvard Business School, 2020);

  62. 62.

    ISO 14044:2006: Environmental Management — Life Cycle Assessment — Requirements and Guidelines (International Organization for Standardization, 2006);

  63. 63.

    Nakamura, S. & Nansai, K. in Special Types of Life Cycle Assessment (ed. Finkbeiner, M.) (Springer, 2016).

  64. 64.

    ISO 14008:2019: Monetary Valuation of Environmental Impacts and Related Environmental Aspects (International Organization for Standardization, 2019);

  65. 65.

    Sticky Money: Recognising the Total Value Created by Australian Co-operatives and Mutuals (EY, 2014);

  66. 66.

    Valuing Our Total Impact - Our Results in Detail (PwC, 2017);

  67. 67.

    Eigenraam, M. et al. Applying the TEEBAGRIFOOD Evaluation Framework - Overarching Implementation Guidance (Global Alliance for the Future of Food, 2020);

  68. 68.

    NPC Case Studies: Impact Management Practice in Youth Employment (Impact Management Project, 2017);

  69. 69.

    Loughman. E. B Impact Assessment (B Analytics, 2012);

  70. 70.

    Schaafsma, M. & Cranston, G. E.Valu.A.Te Practical Guide (Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, 2013);

  71. 71.

    Impact Statement Focus: Environment (Value Balancing Alliance, 2021);

  72. 72.

    Value-to-Society: Measurement and Monetary Valuation of BASF’s Impacts in Society (BASF, 2018);

  73. 73.

    KPMG True Value Case Study: Volvo Group (KPMG, 2015);

  74. 74.

    Gundimeda, H. Application of the TEEBAgriFood Evaluation Framework to the Wheat Value Chain in Northern India (TEEB, 2019);

  75. 75.

    Kurth, T. et al. The True Cost of Food (BCG, 2020);

  76. 76.

    Brander, L. & Schuyt, K. Benefits Transfer: the Economic Value of World’s Wetlands (TEEB, 2010);

  77. 77.

    La Notte, A. et al. Physical and Monetary Ecosystem Service Accounts for Europe: a Case Study for In-Stream Nitrogen Retention (SEEA, 2017);

  78. 78.

    Hoekstra, R. Replacing GDP by 2030: Towards a Common Language for the Well-Being and Sustainability Community (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2019).

  79. 79.

    Measuring and Managing Total Impact: Strengthening Business Decisions for Business Leaders - Food & Beverage Scenario (PwC, 2017);

  80. 80.

    MN: GIIN Initiative for Institutional Impact Investment (Global Impact Investing Network, 2018);

  81. 81.

    Social Impact Measurement Model (SIMM) Case Study: Predicting Changes in Social Metrics in Huntsville, Alabama (Deloitte, 2019);

  82. 82.

    Varoucha, E. et al. Guide for Funders to Assess and Value Impact (Impact Institute, 2020);

  83. 83.

    Natural Capital Protocol - Food and Beverage Sector Guide (Natural Capital Coalition, 2016);

  84. 84.

    Wang, P. et al. Estimates of the social cost of carbon: a review based on meta-analysis. J. Clean. Prod. 209, 1494–1507 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  85. 85.

    Freiberg, D. et al. Accounting for Organizational Employment Impact (Harvard Business School, 2020);

  86. 86.

    IFRS Foundation Trustees Announce Next Steps in Response to Broad Demand for Global Sustainability Standards (IFRS, 2021);

  87. 87.

    El-Hage Scialabba, N. & Obst, C. in True Cost Accounting for Food: Balancing the Scale (eds Gemmill-Herren, B. et al.) (Routledge, 2021).

  88. 88.

    Watson, B. The troubling evolution of corporate greenwashing. The Guardian (20 August 2016);

  89. 89.

    Baldock, C. et al. Yarra Valley Water Integrated Profit and Loss (IP&L) Report (Yarra Valley Water, 2016);

  90. 90.

    The Natural Capital Coalition and the Social & Human Capital Coalition Unite as the Capitals Coalition (Capitals Coalition, 2020);

Download references


This research was made possible through the support of the True Cost Accounting Accelerator, a project of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Reinier de Adelhart Toorop.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

R.d.A.T., J.B. and A.d.G.R. are currently employed by the Impact Institute, which developed the IP&L methodology mentioned in this work. They are also involved in the development of the True Price methodology. Additionally, A.d.G.R. worked on case studies for TEEBAgriFood, also cited in this work. J.Y. and M.W. declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Food thanks Isabel Hoffmann and Carl Obst for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Table 1.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

de Adelhart Toorop, R., Yates, J., Watkins, M. et al. Methodologies for true cost accounting in the food sector. Nat Food 2, 655–663 (2021).

Download citation


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing