Measuring the effectiveness of corporate zero deforestation commitments in South East Asia

PhD fellow: Floris Leijten

Unilever U.K.

About me

I am Dutch and I hold a MSc degree in Environmental Economics from the London School of Economics. Previously based in Amsterdam, I have worked for PwC on several sustainability issues, and I have worked as a market researcher for a Dutch company in both Indonesia and Myanmar. I have always been intrigued by questions such as how the environment and mankind interact, whether green growth is possible and to what extent corporate social responsibility may contribute to sustainable development. Being part of the COUPLED project is a great way to think about some of these issues and the fact that I am based at Unilever provides a great opportunity to combine scientific knowledge and skills to identify and solve sustainability issues.

My research is concerned with the effectiveness of corporate zero-deforestation commitments (i.e. pledges made by companies such as Unilever to delink deforestation from their supply chains) using state of the art econometric techniques and an integrated land-use modelling approach. One of the major challenges is to identify new methods to disentangle the various spillover effects from each other that result from leakage and other displacement effects in the face of limited data availability. The telecoupling framework may provide a useful tool to face this challenge and to shed some new light on the increasing global connectivity.

My research will provide new insights on how effective companies have been in reducing deforestation from their supply chains and how the future of our tropical rainforests may unfold, depending on different policy scenarios and different efforts made by the corporate world. 


Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change and loss of biodiversity. In response, many companies have committed to zero deforestation policies in their supply chains in order to mitigate the impacts of land use change that result from the production of commodities. Taking SE Asia and Indonesia as a focus, this research will: (1) analyse and model deforestation patterns and their relationship to commodity trade, local policy and corporate zero deforestation commitments (2) identify approaches to ascribe causality and the impact of zero deforestation commitments using an integrated land-use modelling framework, (3) develop the analytical tools to understand supply chain interactions and to consider future scenarios to optimise landscape planning and to minimise impacts.

In carrying out this work, this PhD research will:

  • develop new tools for linking sourcing commitments to local landscape level impacts,
  • help to quantify the benefits and effectiveness of supply chain zero deforestation commitments, and
  • develop management tools to predict and optimise sustainable land development while meeting future demand for commodities such as palm oil.

The work will be conducted within Unilever’s corporate sustainability science team in collaboration with VU University Amsterdam.

Principal Supervisors: Sarah Sim (Unilever U.K.) and Peter Verburg (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)


Floris Leijten

Unilever Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre, Unilever
Colworth Science Park, Sharnbrook, Bedfordshire MK44 1LQ, UK