Environmental sustainability and supply chain trade-offs in the international trade of agro-based products

14 June 2018

In recent years, sustainable supply chain management has become a key topic of interest for supply chain experts. Traditionally, supply chain management is the management of physical, logistical, and financial inter-organisational flows in order to add value and achieve customer satisfaction. While sustainable supply chain management (SSCM) focuses on the integration of environmental and social objectives that extend the economic dimension to the triple bottom line and beyond.

Environmental aspects of the sustainable supply chain include input-oriented factors, such as renewable energy sources, natural resources, water and energy consumption or water quality, while output-oriented factors concentrate on waste and pollution. In New Zealand, the natural environment provides various benefits such as high quality of life, tourism and a basis for the country’s large exports of agriculture. Water pollution and climate change are key concerns for the country as New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions per capita and per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) are among the top five of countries in the OECD. New Zealand’s unconditional target under the UNFCCC is to reduce the amount of emissions to five percent lower than the level for 1990 by 2020.

Exporting agricultural products is one of the main pillars of New Zealand’s economic growth. However, due to New Zealand’s  geographical location relative to its main export destinations has attracted a lot of attention in the "food miles" debate. This attention poses a risk to New Zealand’s food exports, although long supply chains might have some advantages such as lower prices or year-round availability of food products.  

In regards to severe water scarcity in many countries around the world and trade-offs in environmental factors, we cannot clearly state that local production and consumption of agricultural products will decrease the environmental impacts of food supply chain.  There is a need to consider all arguments around the sustainability of food systems and examine trade-offs before deciding which system would increase the overall environmental benefits.

On the other hand, in today’s global food market customer expectations of "quality" have been shifting to more sustainable products. Thus, there is a need to understand the environmental impacts of value-adding processes (i.e. packaging, heating, drying, cooling, etc.) on New Zealand’s agricultural products.

There is a lack of high-level overview on the environmental impacts of food processing. Regarding this matter, we will be investigating the environmental measures for the global trade of value-added agro-based products versus fresh agricultural goods to provide more sustainable global food supply chains. 


Masha Boroushaki
ISOM PhD student