ESR 07:
Environmental impact assessments in a telecoupled world

Home Institution: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands
Principal Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ir. Peter H. Verburg
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Peter Messerli
Application date: 16/10/2017-24/11/2017
Starting date: 01/07/2018 or earlier
Duration: 3 years (possibly extended by an earlier start)


Environmental impact assessments are an important means to assess the potential sustainability consequences of products, investments, spatial planning or policy decisions. Current methods for environmental impact assessments have limitations in accounting for distant and indirect impacts. Either a focus is on the local impacts only, or distant impacts are accounted for but not in a location specific manner. The inability to properly evaluate distant versus local impacts has given rise to a general tendency to believe that distant impacts are always a problem allegedly ‘local products’ are more sustainable than products sourced from distant places. Yet, it may rather be the lack of good assessment methods that prevent us from understanding the various distant impacts. For this reason, innovative assessment methods are needed to understand the environmental and social cost across increasingly globalised commodity networks and provide guidance to consumers, investors, and policy makers taking decisions in light of sustainable development.

This ESR will:

  • Evaluate how environmental impacts of products and services in globalized commodity networks affecting land use are accounted for in current environmental impact assessment methods and how tradeoffs between different sustainability indicators are made,
  • Develop novel approaches to evaluate the sustainability impacts of local versus distantly sourced products,
  • Test the newly developed assessment methods on specific products and services,
  • Apply the novel methods for evaluating the role of interventions such as certification and taxation, on the sustainability of telecoupled products.

It is envisioned that for the latter the countries of Laos and Vietnam will serve as a case-study region. The project is envisioned to result in methods and indicators that may be actively used to inform the business and policy sectors as well as the wider public.

The ESR will be based at VU Amsterdam and supervised by Prof. Peter Verburg (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) and Prof. Peter Messerli (University of Bern, Switzerland). Secondments will take place at the University of Bern and at European Landowners’ Organization.


VU Amsterdam is one of the leading institutions for higher education in Europe and aims to be inspiring, innovative, and committed to societal welfare. It comprises ten faculties and has teaching facilities for 23,000 students. The Environmental Geography group is part of the Institute for Environmental Studies. In an international evaluation in 2014 the group was rated as excellent both on scientific criteria as well as in making societal impact. Research foci are the analysis and modelling of land use change and the assessment of ecosystem services. The group has a leading role in international networks in these fields. The Environmental Geography group focusses on addressing multiple spatial and temporal scales in the analysis of global environmental change and in bridging science and policy dimensions.

We seek

A candidate with an above-average MSc (or equivalent degree) in environmental science or geography. Experience with quantitative assessment methods, modelling and/or spatial analysis is required. We expect a strong interest in land use science and sustainability issues.


Prof. Peter Verburg

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.