Development and application of a multi-attribute sustainability function for Dutch dairy farming systems

K.J. van Calker, P.B.M. Berentsen, C. Romero, G.W.J. Giesen, R.B.M. Huirne

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67 Citations (Scopus)


Sustainability in dairy farming is determined by using aspects (economic, social and ecological). Per aspect a number of measurable attributes is selected. Difficulty for determining the sustainability of farming systems is the combination of the different attribute measures into a sustainability function, which measures the overall sustainability. Furthermore, stakeholder groups often evaluate sustainability different and should be consulted to determine sustainability. In this research, the multi-attribute utility theory (MAUT) is used to develop an overall sustainability function for Dutch dairy farming systems. This approach consists of four steps: (1) determination of attribute utility functions, (2) assessing attribute weights to determine utility functions per aspect, (3) assessing aspect weights to determine the overall sustainability function per stakeholder group and (4) determination of the overall sustainability function for society by aggregating preferences of stakeholders and experts using a goal programming approach. Depending on the possibility for objective evaluation of each aspect, either experts or stakeholders were consulted to determine attribute utility functions and the utility functions of the particular aspect. In this study, experts determined (attribute) utility functions for economic and ecological sustainability. Stakeholders (producers, consumers, industrial producers and policy makers) determined their own utility function for external social sustainability and their own aspect weights. The developed overall sustainability function is applied to different Dutch dairy farming systems represented by four experimental farms. MAUT proves to be a suitable method to determine an overall sustainability function. Sustainability rankings for the dairy farming systems appear to be relatively insensitive to changes in attribute and aspect weights. Based on these results, it is concluded that the developed sustainability function based on stakeholder and expert perceptions can be used with reasonable confidence to determine the sustainability of different dairy farming systems
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)640-658
JournalEcological Economics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • goal programming approach
  • indicators
  • model
  • attributes
  • management
  • weights
  • index
  • marke

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