Governing sustainable agricultural land use in a telecoupled world – the case of Voluntary Sustainability Standards

University of Bern (Switzerland)


In a globalized world, flows of materials, goods, people and services between nearby and distant land systems are the norm and not the exception. Scientists and policymakers increasingly call for the explicit consideration of such telecoupled dynamics (incl. potential feedbacks and spillovers) for defining and promoting sustainable agricultural land use. In-depth knowledge thereof is essential, as such processes may lead to critical environmental and social impacts at multiple geographical scales. Yet, there is little understanding of how existing sustainability governance schemes take account of telecoupling dynamics and how related practices can be improved.

Against this background, this PhD research will address the following objectives:

  • First, we aim to contribute to a better understanding of the governance of sustainable agricultural land use in a telecoupled world. We thereby focus on the example of voluntary sustainability standards and their potential to address spillovers of agricultural production.
  • Secondly, we aim to contribute to a better understanding on how knowledge communication may contribute to transforming existing governance schemes. We thereby place a focus on visualizations as powerful tools to communicate knowledge about telecoupling phenomena.

Cover image: Kenny Eliason / Unsplash


Gabi Sonderegger
Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern
Mittelstrasse 43, 3012 Bern, Switzerland

“I collaborate with key experts and practitioners from the field of voluntary sustainability standards to improve our understanding of how telecoupled dynamics could be better taken up in existing sustainability governance tools.”

Gabi Sonderegger

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Publications …

Boillat, S., A. Martin, T. Adams, D. Daniel, J. Llopis, E. Zepharovich, C. Oberlack, Sonderegger, P. Bottazzi, E. Corbera, C.I. Speranza & U. Pascual (2020) Why telecoupling research needs to account for environmental justice. Journal of Land Use Science, 15:1, 1-10.

Sonderegger, G., C. Oberlack, J.C. Llopis, H. Verburg & A. Heinimann. 2020. Telecoupling visualizations through a network lens: a systematic review. Ecology and Society 25(4):47.

Kolhoff, A. J., H.A.C. Runhaar, T. Gugushvili, G. Sonderegger, B. Van der Leest,  & P.P.J. Driessen. 2016. The influence of actor capacities on EIA system performance in low and middle income countries – Cases from Georgia and Ghana. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 57.