ESR 14:
Telecouplings, supply chain analysis and transparency

Home Institution: The Forest Trust, TFT (thematic lead and guidance), CDE, University of Bern, Switzerland (academic for PHD degree)
Principal Supervisor: PD Dr. Andreas Heinimann, University of Bern
Co-Supervisor: Boris Saraber, The Forest Trust TFT
Application date: 16/10/2017-24/11/2017
Starting date: 01/07/2018 or earlier
Duration: 3 years


Commodity supply chains have a profound impact on both the environment and the people in and around operation but also in distant places. Harnessing the power of these business networks to create positive change is important – but it has not always been clear how best to do so. Certification and other voluntary mechanisms were initially tried, but fell short of transformative change. More recently, achieving transparency and traceability via pro-active engagement with industry players, and through that working towards continuous improvement in supply chain management, is seen as particularly promising. However, in a telecoupled world, limited approaches and evidence exist to capture the actual local as well as distant impacts, feedbacks and spill-overs of e.g. a zero deforestation commitment.

Against this background, this ESR position will, using the case of specific investments/purchasing in Oil palm in Asia Pacific with a focus on Indonesia and Malaysia:

  • Collate and analyze the available rich secondary data of TFT on the local impacts of palm oil production and other significant commodities i.e. Pulp and Paper on the local socio-ecological system (e.g. deforestation) and collect primary data on land use displacement effect in the surrounding areas.
  • Develop methodologies, data collection protocols and concrete tools to measure key distant impacts, feedbacks, and spill-over effects of the respective activities of oil palm companies throughout the entire oil palm supply chain. Use these to assess social and environmental impacts.
  • Through the full transparency of actors and impacts along the supply chain work towards the co-design of transformation to more sustainable outcomes in the specific landscape.
  • Use the outcomes of this assessment to create practical guidance for responsible development work along oil palm supply chains.

In doing so, the ESR position will create approaches how to integrate local as well as distance impacts in oil palm production and other significant commodities in a transparent and traceable supply chain, enabling the initiation of actual sustainability transformations across the supply chain. The ESR will be jointly supervised by Boris Saraber (TFT) and PD Dr. Andreas Heinimann (CDE, University of Bern, Switzerland). As TFT does not have an academic PhD program the PhD will officially be associate to the University of Bern Switzerland.


The Forest Trust, TFT in Nyon Switzerland is an innovative membership-based organization working in 16 countries with 240 employees and leveraging through membership some of the world’s largest corporations and companies. TFT’s supply chain, social and environmental experts have worked between the boardroom and the field, between the worlds of people and nature, NGOs and companies, helping to bring transformation in commodity supply chains. Postings are planned at the Centre for development and Environment (CDE) of the University of Bern, Switzerland as well Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany.

We seek

A candidate with MSc in Geography, Sustainability Science, Development Studies, Environmental Science or related disciplines. A successful candidate should have a strong intrinsic motivation for sustainable development and interest in engaging with non-academic actors, specifically private sector and local communities, towards actual transformation towards a more sustainable future. We expect a strong interest in land use changes and human environment interactions and supply chains. A proven record of fieldwork experience from rural areas in the global south is an important asset, and experience with both qualitative and quantitative methods is required as is excellent written and spoken English skills.


PD Dr Andreas Heinimann

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.