Although a few studies consider the sustainability of animal farming systems along the three classical main pillars (economy, environment and society), most studies on pig farming systems address only one of these pillars. The present paper is the introduction to a series of companion papers presenting the results of a study undertaken within the EU-supported project Q-PorkChains, aiming at building a comprehensive tool for the evaluation of pig farming systems, which is robust to accommodate the large variability of systems existing in Europe. The tool is mostly based on questions to farmers and comprises a total of 37 dimensions distributed along eight themes: Animal Welfare, Animal Health, Breeding Programmes, Environmental Sustainability, Meat Safety, Market Conformity, Economy and Working Conditions. The paper describes the procedure that was used for building the tool, using it on 15 contrasted pig farming systems and analysing the results. The evaluated systems are briefly described and a short overview of the dimensions is provided. Detailed descriptions of the theme-wise tools and results, as well as the results of an integrated evaluation, are available in the companion papers.