Ximena Rueda, Rachael D. Garrett, Eric F. Lambin · 2017
Journal of Cleaner Production

Corporate investments in supply chain sustainability: Selecting instruments in the agri-food industry

Private investments to address environmental issues are perceived as a powerful engine of sustainability. For the agri-food sector, multiple instruments have been developed to green supply chains. Yet little is known about the underlying process and conditions under which green sourcing concerns lead to the adoption of specific sustainability instruments among agri-food companies. This study: i) offers a synthesis of the most commonly used instruments agri-food companies adopt to promote sustainability in their supply chains; ii) proposes an analytical framework to elucidate how those decisions are made, based on the competitive environment in which firms operate—with respect to location of their raw materials, technologies available to their suppliers, leverage over upstream suppliers, and end-markets’ characteristics; and iii) presents seven case-studies illustrating the decision-making process leading to the adoption of a specific instrument by a particular company. Companies that do not have sustainable technologies available to improve their environmental practices but operate in highly sensitive places are better off taking their operation somewhere else. But companies with available cleaner technologies, effective law enforcement and control over the supply chains, as well as a brand to protect, can capitalize on their environmental efforts by introducing strict standards, such as third-party certifications. Enforcement of social and environmental regulations at countries of origin is a key factor that deters companies form adopting very strict standards, even if they have a brand value to enhance. The multiplication of private labels and initiatives are, in most cases, not driven by a desire to disorient the consumer, but rather by a careful consideration of the complex conditions under which agri-food supply chains operate. With minor adaptations, the framework could be applied to other economic sectors that have environmental impacts, from mining and energy-generating industries, to apparel, and electronics.

Full publication is available on: DOI 10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.11.026

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Rachael D. Garrett

Rachael D. Garrett
Environmental Policy Lab, Department of Humanities, Social and Political Sciences, ETH Zürich

Rachael Garrett is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Policy at ETH Zürich (Switzerland). Dr. Garrett's research examines interactions between land use, ecosystem services, and economic development at multiple spatial and temporal scales to better understand the drivers and impacts of land change and the effectiveness of existing conservation policies and practices. She is particularly interested in how commodity supply chains interact with environmental institutions to shape land use processes, resource distribution, and trade. Her research has largely focused on land change processes in agriculture-forest frontiers and sustainable intensification of pastures in the tropics. More recently she is leading a pan-tropical analysis of the effectiveness and equity of forest-focused supply chain policies with funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation and an ERC Starting Grant. This work involves coordinated research in Brazil, Ghana, Indonesia, and Ivory Coast on beef cattle, cocoa, oil palm, and soybean supply chains. Dr. Garrett received her doctorate at Stanford University and did her post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University. Prior to working at ETH Zürich she was an Assistant Professor at Boston University.

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