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Supply Chain Sustainability Research Fund

Hundreds of companies have made commitments to supply chain sustainability—but are they effective? Multidisciplinary teams of researchers explore if, and how, these commitments achieve environmental goals.

2020 was the implementation deadline for many major supply chain sustainability initiatives. Meridian’s Supply Chain Sustainability Research Fund is tackling some key questions: Have supply chain sustainability initiatives (SSIs) actually changed company behavior? Do they achieve environmental sustainability outcomes? Meridian established the Research Fund to support objective, accessible research that expands collective understanding of how SSIs impact the forest, agriculture, and seafood sectors.

We began by assembling experts from a variety of disciplines to develop a theory of change as to how companies can achieve conservation outcomes through their practices. We guided three parallel work groups to identify key assumptions, knowledge gaps, and future research priorities. We then selected a first round of six teams of researchers and practitioners to test the theory of change on the impacts of finance sector strategies, corporate sustainability commitments, and certification and standards. In a second round of research in 2019 and 2020, we selected four new teams to study the factors or conditions that influence the effectiveness of SSIs.

As the teams conducted their research, we offered guidance and facilitated cross-project information-sharing. When each research phase concluded, we organized symposia for sharing the research findings with decision-makers and thought leaders—including private sector leaders, NGOs, academic researchers, and policy makers. Insights from this collaborative research will help improve future corporate sustainability efforts and accountability mechanisms.

What makes a corporate sustainability commitment successful?

A variety of factors influence whether a corporate sustainability commitment works—in other words, whether it successfully achieves its intended outcomes across targeted geographies and supply chain actors.

Through the Supply Chain Sustainability Research Fund, Meridian convened a small workshop of expert advisors and guided two lead authors as they developed a framework explaining how, where, and why commitments are effective (or not). With a better understanding of how these conditions influence effectiveness, companies, investors, and civil society can more strategically develop and improve corporate sustainability commitments—and strengthen their impacts.

The framework also played an important role in guiding a second phase of study that Meridian coordinated through the Research Fund. Researchers applied the framework to their research on cocoa in West Africa, cotton in the United States, beef and soy in Latin America, and palm oil in Indonesia. The framework provided a degree of comparability across these commodity-geography pairings; it also offered a more nuanced understanding about which sustainability initiatives are effective, where they work, and why they succeed.