Rapidly increasing demand for food and agricultural non-food products to meet the demands of rising populations with new consumption patterns have worrying implications for sustainability of many ecosystems globally. Landscape approaches are often promoted as a win-win solution to reducing harmful impacts of development – a means to balance social needs and economic performance, while maintaining ecological function. In this respect, landscape approaches that address multiple sector needs, including agriculture, production forestry and conservation, are identified as a significant opportunity to contribute to the United Nations new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, assessing and verifying sustainability outcomes across broad, diverse and dynamic landscapes is challenging, mainly because of the lack of pragmatic and standardized means of assessment and measurement in cost-effective ways. This paper aims to advance the concept of sustainable landscape development, including ways to assess sustainability performance and to leverage the scaling-up of investment in sustainable development, as a means of achieving SDGs and other goals.
Tools and indicators used to measure sustainability outcomes are reviewed in the context of landscape investments, to identify high performing and pragmatic parameters and associated measurable indicators. Considerations include seeking parameters that are applicable to any type or size of landscape, and standardized indicators that are measurable within short time-scale and resource constraints. Based on these requirements, we develop and present a framework associated with four universally important parameters: (i) livelihoods; (ii) ecosystem services; (iii) efficient resource use; and (iv) food and non-food products. This framework will be useful to assist in measuring sustainability outcomes in landscapes and is designed to be applicable to any landscape setting. We elaborate on readily measurable indicators for each parameter group. Linkages between sustainability outcomes in landscapes and SDGs are discussed.