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.

As the world approaches 2020—the implementation deadline for many major supply chain sustainability initiatives—Meridian’s Supply Chain Sustainability Research Fund is tackling some key questions: Do supply chain sustainability initiatives actually change 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 six teams of researchers and practitioners to test the theory of change on the impacts of finance sector strategies, corporate sustainability commitments, certification, and standards.

As the teams conducted their research, we offered guidance and facilitated cross-project information-sharing. When the research phase concluded, we organized a symposium for sharing the research findings with decision-makers and thought leaders—including private sector leaders, NGOs, academic researchers, and policy makers.

Meridian continues to support a second phase of collaborative research focused on corporate sustainability commitments in 2019 and 2020. Insights from these studies will help improve future corporate efforts and accountability mechanisms, through 2020 and beyond.

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