ESR 03:
How can private companies promote sustainable land use through their supply chains

Home Institution: University of Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
Principal Supervisor: Prof. Eric Lambin
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Thilde Bruun
Application date: 16/10/2017-24/11/2017
Starting date: 01/07/2018 or earlier
Duration: 3 years


Large private companies whose brand has a high level of recognition by consumers have been put under pressure by civil society to contribute to sustainability. As a result, many multinational companies have adopted sustainable sourcing practices, which are defined as voluntary practices companies pursue to improve the social and/or environmental management of their suppliers’ activities. This includes, for example, commitments to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains – which link producers to final consumers,– or to achieve broader social and environmental improvements. Companies implement these pledges by committing to certify the raw materials they purchase from suppliers, to audit these suppliers, engage in local and direct sourcing, invest in smallholder farms, etc. There are great variations in the nature, stringency, level of transparency, and effectiveness of these commitments depending on the companies, commodities and regions.

The objective of this PhD is to analyse the impacts of recent supply-chain initiatives for selected commodities and geographies (e.g., cocoa in West Africa and Ecuador). The research will address the following questions:

  • Are recent sustainability supply-chain initiatives effective at promoting sustainable land use and local livelihoods?
  • What is the relative effectiveness of narrow (e.g., zero deforestation) vs. broad (e.g., sustainability) standards?
  • How can public policies support and reinforce the private environmental governance by companies?

The successful PhD student will conduct rigorous research based on data analyses, interviews of key actors and field investigations to understand challenges and opportunities at different levels of supply chains in implementing sustainability commitments. This research will lead to recommendations to increase the effectiveness of supply-chain initiatives in promoting more sustainable land use practices.


Université catholique de Louvain (UCL) is one of Belgium’s leading universities, and a pioneer in land system science. The Earth and Life Institute (ELI) is the university’s flagship research institute on sustainability and environmental sciences, with research foci on land-use change, climate change, soil sciences, and biodiversity conservation. We offer an international research environment at the heart of Europe, with a long tradition in land use research using rigorous geospatial, statistical and mixed methods.

We seek

A candidate with a MSc in Geography, Environmental Science, or related fields. We expect someone who has demonstrated excellence throughout his/her studies and a capacity to conduct independent research. The successful candidate will have a strong interest in land use and the role of the private sector in sustainability. Good data analysis skills and an interest in complex human-environment systems are required.


Prof. Eric Lambin

Do you consider applying?

In any case please check the eligibility criteria in the first place.

To submit your application, please fill in the requested data in the online application form, upload your application file and submit your application.

Download and carefully read the Guide for Applicants and the ITN Programme’s information note for all specific information on the application and selection procedure.