Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity Assessment


Environmental indicators for sustainable agriculture

This project formed part of the Commission's effort to implement EU policies for sustainable agriculture - the Amsterdam Treaty, the 5th Environmental Action Programme and Agenda 2000 - and realized the goals for sectoral integration set out in the Pan-European Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy (PEBLDS) and the EC Biodiversity Srategy.


The central purpose of Environmental Indicators for Sustainable Agriculture (ELISA) was to provide institutions, in particular the European Commission and the European Environment Agency (EEA), with adequate tools for:

  • understanding, monitoring and evaluating the beneficial and harmful effects of agricultural practices on the environment;
  • determining the site-specific dimension of Community programmes with regard to sustainable agriculture;
  • identifying the actual and potential resources for a diverse and sustainable agriculture in the European Union.

ELISA coincided with, and was inspired by, the Commission's launch of Agenda 2000, the OECD's progressive agri-environmental policy initiatives and a European workshop held under the PEBLDS Action Plan 4 on 'Landscape Assessment and Sustainability' and organized by ECNC and the Countryside Agency (UK). Parallel events included the publication of the report 'Environment in the European Union at the Turn of the Century' by the EEA and 'Facts & Figures on Europe's Biodiversity' by ECNC. A common theme of most of these documents and debates is the role of (agri-)environmental indicators as a tool for putting policies into practice. As agriculture is the dominant land use in Europe, the European Commission is faced with the challenge of making agriculture not only more sustainable but also more accountable to both the European public and the EU's trading partners.


The ELISA project was designed to meet the following objectives:

  • Identify the key agri-environmental issues of policy concern with regard to sustainable agriculture, taking into account state-of-the-art environmental reporting, the public debate and the latest scientific research.
  • Select core sets of agri-environmental indicators of environmental media and systems that allow the policy-relevant issues to be addressed and that qualify as accurate measurement tools for sustainable agriculture.
  • Develop a conceptual framework for agri-environmental indicators that encompasses the state of the environment, the driving forces behind agricultural practices and the functional interrelationships between the different components within a rational system.
  • Make practical proposals on methodological questions related to innovative and integrated ways (operational framework) to gather, manage, aggregate and interpret data, and to the scales and geographic reference areas used for these purposes.

Time frame

The ELISA project ran from April 1998 to July 1999.


  • ECNC-European Centre for Nature Conservation (coordination)
  • University of Agriculture (BOKU), Vienna, Austria
  • Agricultural Economics Research Institute (LEI-DLO), The Hague, the Netherlands
  • Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA-SCRIBE), Rennes, France
  • Federal Biological Agency for Agriculture and Forestry (BBA), Kleinmachnow, Germany 
  • Centro de Investigación Ambientales de la Communidad de Madrid, Fernando Gonzales Bernaldez (CIAM), Madrid, Spain 
  • Kossuth Lajos University (KLTH), Debrecen, Hungary 
  • Institute for Landscape Ecology and Planning (ILEP), Aachen, Germany
  • National Environmental Research Insitute (NERI), Roskilde, Denmark
  • ProRural (PR), Hamburg, Germany
  • Rettore University Toscany (RUT), Viterbo, Italy
  • Centre for Agricultural Landscape & Land Use Research (ZALF), Müncheberg, Germany
  • Ecoscope - Applied Ecologists (EAE), Cambridge, United Kingdom


The ELISA project was funded by the European Commission.


The ELISA project included the compilation of papers, the organization of two international workshops (Tilburg, April 1998; Budapest, May 1999) and an Internet Conference (July/August 1998). The project results were published in the ECNC publication 'Agri-Environmental Indicators for Sustainable Agriculture in Europe'.