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

PhD fellow: Simon Bager

Université catholique de Louvain

About me

Until recently, I worked at COWI, a Scandinavian environment and engineering consultancy with offices in Copenhagen as well several places in Scandinavia, Europe, Eastern Africa, North America, the Middle East and East Asia. At COWI, I worked with national and international clients on matters related to agriculture, forestry, bioenergy, and land use, mainly concerning the use of land and resources, from a technical, policy, and economic perspective, including through fieldwork and fact-finding missions. During the three and half years that I spent at COWI, I had the opportunity to learn, work and research many topics related to land use science and policy, such as climate change mitigation, bioenergy, agriculture and anti-deforestation policies, REDD+ policy design and evaluation, private sector anti-deforestation initiatives, and intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs).

The interdisciplinary approach and the idea of working along with public and private institutions for addressing land use challenges seemed attractive to me. After a few years working as a consultant on matters within this sphere, I am motivated to dig deeper into the scientific knowledge surrounding land use challenges and related concepts, such as private sector deforestation initiatives and governance of telecoupled systems. Particularly, the issue of agricultural and forestry supply chains and how private companies can work with these to address deforestation and land use challenges is of particular interest to me.

My research in COUPLED will be focused on how can private companies can promote sustainable land use through their value chains, with the aim of understanding the challenges and opportunities that exist for various stakeholders at different levels of supply chains in implementing effective sustainability commitments. The objective of my research is to analyse the impact and effectiveness of recent supply chain initiatives for select food commodities within various geographies in addressing the drivers of land use change and forest loss and promoting sustainable production practices and improved value chain governance. My work focus on the commitments made by companies, the effectiveness of these, challenges, opportunities and technical means for achieving sustainable value chains, and supportive governance mechanisms for these.

Twitter: @simonbager

My research focuses on the sustainability commitments made by companies, the effectiveness of these, the challenges, opportunities and technical means for achieving these, and identification of supportive governance mechanisms for sustainable value chains.


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 project is to analyse the impacts of recent supply chain sustainability initiatives for selected commodities and geographies (e.g., coffee in East Africa and Central America). 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?

Simon Bager 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. The research will lead to recommendations to increase the effectiveness of supply-chain initiatives in promoting more sustainable land use practices.


Simon Bager

Earth and Life Institute, Georges Lemaître Centre for Earth and Climate Research (TECLIM), Université catholique de Louvain

Place Louis Pasteur 3, bte L4.03.08, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium