The SEI Initiative on Producer to Consumer Sustainability ended in 2019. You can find a summary of the key results and achievements from the initiative here.
In its first phase, from 2015 to 2016, P2CS invested in two key strands of work, one focused on improved data and modelling of the environmental impacts of production-to-consumption systems and the other focused on how different actors determine supply chain dynamics, to better understand the governance of production, trade and consumption processes.
This led to a number of achievements:
In its second phase (2017–2018), P2CS aimed to further advance our whole-system understanding of production and consumption. This included further exploring the impacts of production at the local scale; modelling the environmental and economy-wide impacts of shifts in production or consumption patterns; strengthening SEI ́s capacity to model the sustainability of production-to-consumption systems; and extending trade-flow modelling applications into new sectors, including cargo shipping and the finance of global trade systems. In this phase, P2CS also had a strong focus on consumption impacts and consumer behaviour at subnational scales.
The team produced a number of research outputs, such as an analysis of the environmental and economic impacts of downshifting (Ghosh and Kemp-Benedict 2018) and a highly detailed calculation of international shipping emissions produced when linking major producing regions to consumers in Europe, North America and Asia (Schim van der Loeff et al. 2018).
Further outputs followed as the 13 seed projects funded by P2CS in its second phase (see box) produced their research insights and findings.
Follow the links below for more about the work of P2CS.
These briefs provide a snapshot of some of the main strands of work that has been done to date under the P2CS initiative. They have been prepared by the P2CS communications team.
Senior Research Fellow
SEI Affiliated Researcher
Deputy Centre Director (Research)
Senior Policy Fellow
Equitable Transitions Program Director
Senior Research Fellow
Senior Expert (Environmental Management Programme)
SEI Affiliated Researcher
A main focus of P2CS was supporting and developing a number of models and decision-support tools that map various aspects of the producer to consumer system.
Trase (for Transparency for Sustainable Economies) is an initiative co-led by SEI and Global Canopy. Trase seeks to transform understanding of agricultural commodity supply chains originating in tropical forest regions – and their sustainability implications. Its flagship product is the online platform trase.earth, launched at COP22 in Marrakech in 2016. Trase.earth allows users to explore unique data sets on the trade flows of key forest-risk commodities exported from South American countries, from the localities of production, via the companies that buy and trade them, to the countries that import them. Data also reflects both volumes and the risk of deforestation associated with each locality, trader and import market, as well as numerous other indicators. Users can also download a range of other forest-risk commodity flow data sets.
In a partnership with UCL, one P2CS seed project has demonstrated how the data innovations behind Trase can be combined with automatic ship-location (AIS) and other data to calculate greenhouse gas and air pollution emissions from maritime cargo shipping. This data-rich system provides the most accurate estimates of maritime shipping emissions yet available – per vessel, per journey and per kg of any globally traded commodity. It has the potential to fill one of the most important gaps in current international climate negotiations.
P2CS and the SEI Global Finance Initiative used the data transparency architecture developed by Trase to create a new public data visualization platform of flows of climate and development finance from OECD countries: Aid Atlas.
Current work under P2CS also includes new developments to SEI’s footprinting tool IOTA. IOTA models how more than 150 agricultural commodities flow through the global economy to the end-consumer. This model is used to calculate detailed emissions and natural resource footprints of consumption.
Another P2CS-linked project, IKnowFood, is helping the British government’s Global Food Security programme to assess the sustainability and resilience of British food supply chains. This will lay the groundwork for a decision-support system for British retailers and manufacturers. The project’s work package on supply chain resilience, led by SEI York, is integrating IOTA, Trase and other data.
While Trase provides detailed information on the production end of supply chains, IOTA shows how commodities flow through economies to the final consumer. Several projects besides IKnowFood are linking IOTA and Trase data for even fuller supply chain coverage. These include a chapter in the high-profile WWF Living Planet Report, and work led by the Luc Hoffman Institute to investigate biodiversity impacts of soy cropland expansion in the Brazilian cerrado, a global biodiversity hotspot.
At the level of household and individual consumption, SEI has supported the development of numerous footprint calculators. With the latest of these, the household carbon footprint calculator Klimatkalkylatorn, individuals can estimate their own carbon footprints and see their hotspots for different activities such as heating their home, travel or food. Klimatkalkylatorn is implemented with WWF.
P2CS has supported work to investigate how SEI’s footprinting tools could be developed in the future. The focus is on scoping for a new tool that local governments to use in consumption-based environmental accounting, drawing on the latest data and methodologies developed under P2CS. Connected to this work, SEI is supporting Swedish municipalities in estimating the greenhouse gas emissions connected to household consumption with data gathering and tool development. At the same time, the team is researching related governance aspects in a three-year project, UNLOCK, on understanding local government drivers for sustainable consumption; along with a seed project investigating how consumption-based indicators are used for learning and policy-making.
PRINCE (for Policy Relevant Indicators for National Consumption and Environment) was a multi-partner project within the P2CS family that investigated new ways to calculate the environmental impacts of Sweden’s consumption – and in particular to determine where in the world those impacts fall. SEI helped PRINCE to link Swedish environmental-economic accounts with a multi-regional input-output model, and to develop indicators of the impacts of Swedish consumption for a range of environmental pressures globally. As part of this, SEI researchers helped to develop world-first indicators on aggregated use and emissions of hazardous substances, capture fisheries, deforestation impacts, water scarcity-weighted water footprint indicators and more.
Increasing sustainability in production-to-consumption systems raises many challenging, interdisciplinary questions. Data, indicators and models can provide estimates on the impacts associated with current production and consumption patterns. But it is the people in and around the supply chains who determine what those patterns are, and could potentially act on the findings to bring about change.
From its inception, P2CS has been exploring governance within producer-to-consumer systems: the actors involved; their perceptions, understanding, motivations and barriers; the institutions they operate within.
A major study in the first phase of P2CS looked at the producer-to-consumer system of Indonesian palm oil exports to Europe. This included interviews with actors throughout the system, from smallholder farmers to civil society actors, traders and European governments – revealing the need for more pluralistic and coordinated strategies to make the system more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.
A review of supply chain sustainability and transparency identifies some of the shortcomings and systematic biases of existing information systems, and proposed principles for a more positive, transformative transparency that embraces both supply-side and demand-side agendas.
Some exciting new projects funded by P2CS are looking at rubber production and sustainable certification in Thailand, and at governance and sustainability issues in the gold supply chain for electronic products.
Several P2CS-related activities zero in on the governance roles of particular actors in commodity supply chains. For example, one seed project is looking at the role of finance in governance of supply chains and what potential opportunities if offers to support sustainability efforts.
Another focuses on smallholders associated with forest-risk agricultural commodities. It investigates their perspectives on sustainability and climate risk – issues that directly affect them and yet are typically “owned” by other actors, who may impose measures with little regard for the smallholders themselves.
Several projects are focused on better understanding the drivers and governance of consumption. The UNLOCK project in Sweden is investigating opportunities and barriers for sustainable consumption by local governments, and the potential role of local governments in facilitating sustainable consumption by households. Two ongoing P2CS-funded seed projects are looking at how and how far footprint indicators foster learning among policy-makers, and at understanding consumption systems, both using Sweden as a case study.
P2CS is collaborating with the SEI Initiative on Behaviour and Choice on better understanding consumer attitudes. It has also established links with the Gender and Social Equity programme to strengthen the integration these perspectives across P2CS work.
Another project in Sweden, commissioned by WWF, analysed consumption impacts from Swedish households and local governments, and identified priority areas for mitigation. The study produced two reports (on household consumption and on public-sector consumption; both in Swedish) that propose a combination of policy measures, with emphasis on those that could bring about transformative change to behaviours, norms and habits.
One final seed project takes P2CS’s work even further towards an agenda for transformative change. Both consumers and producers have a role to play in a sustainability transition. But it is not always how the agendas fit together when designing either supply and demand-side policies.
To address this challenge, P2CS invested in a seed project to build a whole-economy systems model to assess the economic and environmental impacts of reductions in consumption achieved by measures such as “downshifting”. This work fills a unique gap in policy analysis, helping explore whether and how the often contrasting recommendations for producers and consumers can be reconciled.
A number of other economic research papers explore how different aspects of the economic system operate (e.g. Kemp-Benedict 2018), and how this can help us to understand questions like whether an absolute decoupling of economic output and total energy and material throughput is possible (e.g. Kemp-Benedict 2018).
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