The idea that our ever-increasing consumption of goods and services comes with large and geographically dispersed socio-environmental costs is far from new. Trade and globalization have helped to create a vast web of teleconnnections that can transmit both benefits and impacts of production between networks of actors spread around the globe. Despite this, efforts to understand and improve sustainability in production, consumption and trade are still in their infancy.

How do you construct an holistic picture of something as vast, sprawling and complex as global production to consumption systems? And more importantly, how do you address their many social and environmental ramifications in a way that promotes sustainability throughout the system?

These are central questions for the P2CS Initiative. A multi-stakeholder dialogue meeting, held to coincide with the initiative’s official launch in Stockholm last month, started the search for some answers.

“There is a lot of good work being done in the area of trade sustainability, but most of it is strongly focused on either production – e.g. reducing deforestation, protecting the rights of smallholders, making production cleaner and more efficient – or on consumption – quantifying ecological footprints, reducing waste, encouraging more sustainable lifestyles and so on. At the same time, trade researchers rarely meet civil society and public- and private-society sector actors engaged in enhancing sustainability in the production, trade and consumption of particular commodities. Our aim was to bring together this diverse range of actors in one place, to share insights around what they do and what they’ve learned, and look together for opportunities to overcome barriers and deliver more effective action. We heard again and again how much participants appreciated this,” said Ellie Dawkins, P2CS initiative co-leader.

Launch keynote speakers

The meeting brought together more than 60 researchers working on different dimensions of production to consumption systems, policy-makers, business representatives, consumer and producer organizations, activists and sustainability thinkers from around the world.

The official launch took place at the Museum of Swedish History, Stockholm, on the morning of 20 May. This included six keynote speakers from diverse sectors talking about their motivations for action, and a panel discussion on barriers and breakthroughs in delivering more sustainable production to consumption systems (see right).

Launch panelists

Participants moved to the SEI offices for additional dialogue sessions, using diverse interaction spaces and formats to assess challenges and opportunities for attempts to foster more sustainable supply chains, focusing on four areas:

1. defining and measuring progress in producer to consumer sustainability

2. improving supply-chain transparency

3. enhancing accountability of supply chain actors

4. strengthening the governance of international trade for sustainability

Speed talk presentations throughout the event gave participants opportunities to learn about the latest breakthroughs and insights in work going on in other parts of producer to consumer sustainability research and practice.

A final session discussed how to take the collaboration forward. “There was a clear appetite for continuing to build a community of practice connecting science, policy and practice around producer to consumer sustainability, ideally with an even broader membership, and for holding more of this kind of meeting in the future,” said Toby Gardner. “We couldn’t have hoped for a better meeting. This gives us a great boost of momentum to carry forward into the ongoing work of many of the organizations that participated in the dialogue, as well as our own initiative at SEI, and we’ll be doing all we can to keep this conversation going.”

The P2CS Initiative will run from 2015 to 2017, with core funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). Read more.