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
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Joe Arvai
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Emily Doyle
  • Zach Friedman
  • Monika Johnson
Project Status: 
Past Project