Responsible Sourcing of Sugar Cane

Client Organization: 
Kellogg Company
Project Location : 
Battle Creek, Michigan
Summary of Project Idea: 

The goal of this project is to create and pilot a continuous improvement methodology for responsible sourcing that U.S. food companies can implement in their sugar cane supply chains. Specific objectives for this project include:

  • Research to benchmark the U.S. sugar industry against international regulations and standards for the responsible production and sourcing of sugar cane.
  • Development of framework, implementation tools, and feasibility assessment to implement sustainable and responsible sugar can sourcing standards within a new or existing sugar supply chain.
  • Execution of pilot program for sustainable and responsible sourcing standards with supplier, including performance evaluation and program assessment.

Record high levels of sugar cane consumption places increasing demand on the global industry. Meanwhile, sugar cane production is often associated with negative environmental and social impacts for surrounding ecosystems and communities.

This research will provide Kellogg, and their partner companies such as Unilever and Cargill, with a framework to both meet consumer demand, and to ensure environmental and social responsibility throughout the sugar cane supply chain – particularly with farms and refineries in Florida and the United States. Environmentally, this includes the management of risks such as pollution, industrial waste and habitat loss. Issues in the realm of social responsibility may include verification of labor conditions and the social impact that suppliers have on local communities. Improved sourcing and farming of sugar cane may benefit smallholder farms and communities through economic development and improved agricultural performance. In Florida alone, the sugar industry provides 12,500 jobs and more than $3.2 billion a year in economic activity.

Sustainable sourcing standards for other agricultural commodities, such as palm oil and coffee, have emerged in recent years to improve environmental and social impacts. Likewise, in the sugar cane industry, a myriad of standards and audit guidelines, such as Unilever’s Sustainable Agriculture Code and Bonsucro, could serve as powerful benchmarks for Kellogg. Our project seeks to create a proposal for the company and industry on how to best engage suppliers on sugar cane issues in the United States and Mexico, specifically.

The tentative timeline and research methodologies for the project’s components are as follows:

Benchmarking of U.S. sugar cane industry:

  • Duration: 3 months
  • Travel: Team members will conduct in-person interviews and site visits to suppliers and partners in Kellogg’s supply chain (possible locations: US Gulf Region, Mexico)
  • Methodologies: Analysis of U.S. regulations, international certifications and standards (e.g., Unilever’s Sustainable Agriculture Code, Bonsucro Standard, Proterra, SAI Self Farmer Assessment) and academic research; Student-conducted interviews with researchers, internal client stakeholders, industry experts and policy analysts

Development of methodology framework, implementation tools and feasibility assessment:

  • Duration: 3 months
  • Methodologies: Student-conducted interviews with appropriate stakeholder groups (e.g., CPGs, refineries, farming organizations); analysis of case studies for global supply chains of other commodity crop

Pilot program and evaluation:

  • Duration: 6 months
  • Methodologies: Collaboration with project partners; use of verification tools and metrics to be determined in previous project phases

The proposed project aims to address a complex set of environmental, social and operations issues that requires an interdisciplinary approach from students with skills/experience in environmental justice, stakeholder engagement, environmental policy, sustainable energy and agriculture systems.

More information at:

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Environmental Justice
Sustainable Systems
Role for each program area: 
  • Environmental Justice: This background is required for the management of environmental and social risks inherent in the production, harvest and refinement of sugar cane. This team member will provide expertise necessary to develop a strong environmental justice framework for the pilot program. Agriculture value chain and human rights issues experience is desired.
  • Behavior, Education, and Communication: Experience in stakeholder engagement and coalition building will be crucial to the second and third phases of the project. This team member will be responsible for outreach to stakeholders and building the necessary relationships for successful implementation of the pilot program.
  • Conservation Ecology: This background will play an essential role surrounding the ecological viability of the pilot program. The function will contribute expertise to ensure that the sugar cane production operations of suppliers are ecologically sustainable and do not contribute to the perpetuation of existing environmental risks. Experience in farming or agriculture is ideal.
  • Sustainable Systems: This role will be responsible for maintaining all components of the program within a comprehensive framework that will contribute to an overall increase in the sustainability of the supply chain. This includes a life cycle assessment of sugar cane throughout the supply chain.
  • Other Skills Required: Supply chain experience (perhaps a student in the Master of Supply Chain Management program)
Professional Career Development Benefits: 

Students can expect to gain valuable skills and professional experience around how to affect change within complex business environments, manage a multitude of stakeholders to rally around common goals and develop intricate action plans that are environmentally and socially sound. Students can also expect to gain greater exposure to life cycle analyses, international agriculture policies and regulations, global agribusiness and supply chain operations.

This project provides the opportunities for students to develop an industry-wide sustainability framework to be adopted by Kellogg Company and other partner companies, representing a large-scale potential for impact. The recommendations will be presented to Kellogg’s sustainability and procurement departments, in addition to the company’s partners (Cargill and Unilever) pending interest. Findings may also be presented at future sustainability conferences or published as industry resources. 

Identify expected products/deliverables: 

Students can expect to gain valuable skills and professional experience around how to affect change within complex business environments, manage a multitude of stakeholders to rally around common goals and develop intricate action plans that are environmentally and socially sound. Students can also expect to gain greater exposure to life cycle analyses, international agriculture policies and regulations, global agribusiness and supply chain operations.

This project provides the opportunities for students to develop an industry-wide sustainability framework to be adopted by Kellogg Company and other partner companies, representing a large-scale potential for impact. The recommendations will be presented to Kellogg’s sustainability and procurement departments, in addition to the company’s partners (Cargill and Unilever) pending interest. Findings may also be presented at future sustainability conferences or published as industry resources. 

Identify expected products/deliverables

The project team will submit the following:

  1. Detailed research including:
    • Stakeholder map
    • Benchmarking standards
    • Regulatory and landscape analysis
    • Literature review
  2. Proposal for tool to implement plan and measure success
  3. Surveys/questionnaires for stakeholder engagement
  4. Implementation of plan through stakeholder engagement
  5. Analysis of pilot program and guidance for future implementations of plan

Kellogg’s has identified a goal of sourcing its main ingredients—including sugar cane—responsibly by 2020[1]. This project will contribute to its targets regarding sustainable agriculture, responsible sourcing, and smallholder farms. The outputs will be implemented by the project team through a pilot with a supplier in the second half of the project timeline. Depending on the results, the findings may be shared with Kellogg’s partners in the industry.


Contact full name: 
Amy Braun
Job title: 
Sustainability Director
City: 
Battle Creek
State or Country: 
Michigan
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Joe Arvai
Contact Phone: 
(269) 213-9591
Advisor Confirmed: 
to be determined (not confirmed)
Contact e-mail: 
Contact information: 
SNRE student
Staff member of a potential client organization
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Emily Doyle
  • Zach Friedman
  • Monika Johnson
Project Status: 
In Progress