Overview of the SEI Initiative on Producer to Consumer Sustainability (P2CS)

The first decades of the 21st century have seen explosive growth in global trade – and in the use and extraction of natural and mineral resources. This has major implications for sustainable development.

Initiative banner image
Photos: Rainforest Action Network / Kenneth Lu / Yuek Hahn  / Flickr

Today’s supply chains are often long and complex, and the production-to-consumption systems (PCSs) in which they are embedded are influenced by a range of actors and processes both external and internal. Current tools and analytical methods fail to capture the many sustainability impacts and opportunities, the globally dispersed interdependencies and risks, and the roles, responsibilities and influence of the diversity of actors involved in global PCSs.

Download our brochure introducing P2CS.


The SEI Initiative on Producer to Consumer Sustainability (P2CS) aims to move beyond the limited and fragmented picture that current tools and methods give, and thus to reveal new opportunities for governments, businesses and other stakeholders to promote PCS sustainability.

P2CS takes a holistic and systems-based approach to further our understanding how PCSs work and identify opportunities for a more sustainable trade system. This approach links two key strands of work: innovative modeling to improve the transparency of supply chains, including how producers and consumers are linked and the participation of different actors in determining supply chain dynamics; and multidisciplinary analysis of the governance of production, trade and consumption processes, and potential opportunities to improve them, that places the roles and perspectives of different stakeholders at the centre.

This work represents a step-change in the analysis of trade, consumption and production sustainability, taking a whole-system approach that builds on tools and expertise developed by SEI and an array of partner organizations, and working closely with policy-makers, businesses and civil society to benefit from their unique insights and respond to their needs.

Activities

P2CS will draw on a broad spectrum of SEI competencies as well as working collaboratively with partners in research, civil society, the private sector, and government to:

  1. identify the diverse actors who benefit, to varying degrees, from their participation in a given PCS, along with their responsibilities, liabilities, and exposure to risk, and their capabilities to act to minimize negative social and environmental impacts and secure sustainability gains;
  2. develop a new generation of footprint accounting tools that can trace commodities from specific locations of production to specific groups of consumers, and shed light on the interdependencies, impacts, and benefits associated with different groups of actors within a given PCS;
  3. analyse the sustainability challenges and opportunities associated with a given PCS, taking into account the geopolitical dynamics and political economy of the global trade system, including interacting agendas of foreign investment, development cooperation, and climate change adaptation and mitigation; and
  4. identify new opportunities to leverage improvements in sustainability in a given PCS.

Read more about our innovative PCS modelling work.

Read more about seeking new opportunities to improve supply chain governance.

Firm foundations

The SEI team implementing P2CS includes researchers and communicators from the SEI centres in Stockholm, York, Bangkok, Nairobi, Oxford and Tallinn. The initiative will also benefit from a range of SEI assets, including, but not limited to:

  • cutting-edge global trade analysis tools developed within SEI: SEI-PCS (for Spatially Explicit Information on Production to Consumption Systems), the IOTA (Input-Output Trade Analysis) model, and REAP (Resources and Energy Analysis Programme);
  • expertise in the use and development of supply chain analysis and business-support tools such as NETPositive and corporate environmental management systems more generally;
  • expertise, field experience, and established networks associated with major commodity supply chains and the impacts of agricultural expansion on patterns of land and resource use, including by local communities, in the developing world;
  • established engagement with public-sector authorities and leading private-sector and civil society stakeholders involved in international trade and sustainability, both in Sweden and internationally.

Partnerships

P2CS aspires to be much more than just another research programme. It seeks to provide a broad platform for knowledge exchange, as well as an intellectual and applied research framework to catalyse and stimulate ideas for new work with a wide variety of potential partners.

P2CS aims to open and maintain a dialogue with key actors who can make a positive difference in producer-to-consumer sustainability. Active engagement with partners and stakeholders involved in every stage of complex global PCSs will include a series of workshops and ongoing dialogue through the establishment of a broad community of practice.

Funding

The first two years of the P2CS Initiative, during which the work outlined above will be carried out, has core funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). SEI and its partners are actively seeking external funding for activities during and beyond this period.

Contact

If you want to know more about the work of the P2CS Initiative at SEI, or want to explore possible partnerships, please write to P2CS@sei.org. We would like to hear from other applied research efforts in this area, and from stakeholders working in any stage of a commodity supply chain who are interested in sharing experiences and working together to identify problems and co-design possible solutions for more sustainable trade.

Next-generation footprint accounting

Environmental footprint accounts attempt to quantify the environmental impacts associated with consumption. Traditional footprint accounts focus on attributing impacts of consumption by a given group of actors or in a given country. However, while they can act as rough guides for ethical consumption and procurement decisions, as well as highlighting the global pressures exerted by major importers, they have limited utility for decision-makers aiming to foster improvements in the sustainability of international trade.

One reason is that they are invariably very crude, depending largely on country-level production-consumption data and aggregated proxies of environmental and social impacts that are often impossible to link to observed changes in any specific area of production. For example, a traditional footprint account might quantify the water that went into producing a ton of imported beef, but this could have profoundly different consequences if the beef was produced in a region where water is scarce than in one where it is relatively abundant.

Another reason is that traditional footprint accounts attribute all impacts to the final consumer, while many actors are engaged in – and potentially benefit from – a supply chain, and might have as much or more capacity than consumers to influence activities that promote or jeopardize sustainability.

Furthermore, traditional footprint accounts focus on negative pressures or impacts, and do not capture the social and economic benefits a supply chain provides for diverse stakeholders along the supply chain. Balancing these pressures and benefits is essential for evaluating alternative approaches.

A central element of P2CS is developing the next generation of footprint accounting. This work aims to take footprints beyond awareness-raising to become practical guides for policy development. Next-generation footprints will incorporate four major advances:

  1. enhanced spatial resolution, linking given sets of consumers to the specific areas of production, accounting for sub-national heterogeneity in socio-environmental conditions, management practices, actors and governance;
  2. explicit accounting of socio-economic benefits associated with environmental impacts, allowing benchmarks to be set for evaluating alternative investments and decisions;
  3. improved attributional clarity, attributing responsibility for impacts among the various actors that obtain benefits along a supply chain, including final consumers, producers, processors and transporters;
  4. consideration of indirect impacts, such as those related to waste and leakage.

This work will be supported by the integration of two overlapping tools that have been developed at SEI: SEI-PCS, which can trace commodities from a specific production locality (e.g. a municipality) to the first consumer (the country of production or the first importing country); and IOTA, which can trace commodities from the producer country to the country of final consumption, even through several stages of processing.

Supply chain governance

Huge uncertainty remains over how the governance of production, trade and consumption processes can be enhanced to achieve the sustainability ambitions and commitments made of many public-sector, civil society, and private-sector actors. A core aim of the P2CS Initiative is to deepen understanding of current supply-chain governance arrangements and explore innovative opportunities for positive change.

First, we will appraise how adequate and appropriate the existing risk-management commitments and governance approaches — including, for example, legal compliance measures, voluntary standards, trade barriers, and consumer labeling — taken by different sectors and actors are for tackling sustainability challenges in production-to-consumption systems (PCSs) of some major internationally traded commodities. This will include studying how far existing systems can incorporate and act on information from impact assessments; mediate conflicts of interest and opportunities for concerted action, innovation, and hybrid governance arrangements among different actors; and take into account the varying levels of ownership and influence among the actors involved in a given PCS.

Second, we will use the results of our PCS modeling work as a point of departure to analyse how different levels of participation and engagement can be attributed among the multiple actors involved in a given PCS. This will build on a participatory process of co-inquiry to first identify and then map the actors in the supply chain with respect to (i) their exposure to different risks and liabilities from social and environmental impacts of export-led production and (ii) their rights, responsibilities, capacities, and motivations to influence the adoption of more sustainable production and consumption practices and supply chain management. This work will engage iteratively with our efforts to increase transparency over how commodity PCSs operate and help realign and improve the utility of trade-flow models.

Third, we will help identify and foster the development of new supply-chain governance mechanisms, building on these findings. Critical questions to be addressed include: how existing governance mechanisms may fall short of delivering the aspirational targets being set out; what mix of new and existing mechanisms could improve the chances of achieving those targets; which actors are most capable of making the needed changes, and what unintended consequences could ensue without appropriate safeguards in place.