Environmental Trade-offs in Commodity Production (2014)

Client Organization: 
The World Wildlife Fund, Transforming Markets Initiative
Project Location : 
Washington, D.C./ Ann Arbor, MI
Summary of Project Idea: 

Global production of food, feed, fiber, and bio-based fuel commodities is essential to economic development and human well-being. In the face of increasing uncertainty in soft commodity markets, businesses have a strong incentive to enhance the sustainability of their supply chains.  Building off of The 2050 Criteria: Guide to Responsible Investment in Agricultural, Forest, and Seafood Commodities from World Wildlife Fund's Market Transformation Initiative, this project explored five soft commodity groups through the lens of six environmental indicators: acidification, eutrophication, greenhouse gas emissions, water use, land-use change, and biodiversity impacts. Whereas The 2050 Criteria sheds light on using investments as a means to transform markets, this work explores the opportunity to promote market transformation by encouraging businesses to change their existing sourcing practices, product formulations, and product designs. The objective of this work being to translate the scientific research and analysis of environmental tradeoffs into information and guidance for business decision-makers, primarily those in product design, product formulation, and procurement, who are seeking ways to reduce the environmental impacts of their soft commodity supply chains.

The research methodology for this project followed three threads: 1) researching commodities within five overarching commodity groups along six indicators to identify tradeoffs along four dimensions (one commodity over an alternative commodity, geography of production, production method, and environmental indicator) primarily using a review of life cycle analysis data 2) conducting research on what businesses are already doing with regard to environmental tradeoffs in their commodity supply chains, and 3) exploring the potential method of input/output analysis to model the impact of tradeoffs across environmental indicators.

Ultimately, the work is designed to provoke decision makers at all levels to consider the complex environmental implications of their supply chains and to take action to address these implications in a meaningful way. It is imperative that businesses address the inherent risk in soft commodity supply chains if they are to prepare for an increasingly constrained resource future and accompanying supply chain variability and volatility.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Environmental Policy and Planning
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Sustainable Systems
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Ming Zu
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Jen Bowe, MS Behavior, Education and Communication
  • Kenny Fahey, MBA/MS Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Mallory McLaughlin, MBA/MS Sustainable Systems
  • Julia Ruedig, MBA/MS Sustainable Systems
  • Sheena VanLeuven, MBA/MS Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Jay Wolfgram, MBA/MS Sustainable Systems
Project Status: 
Past Project