A network approach to identifying themes in sustainable sourcing of raw agricultural materials: Linking global, corporate, and livelihoods assessments
Sourcing practices for raw agricultural materials impact both social and ecological systems. Simultaneously, societal and ecological drivers can result in vulnerabilities in food supply chains. A number of global environmental assessments have identified issues in sustainability to help understand and mitigate potential impacts and vulnerabilities. Nevertheless, these assessments are often conducted independently; the lack of a unified theory of sustainability has resulted in confusion surrounding essential sustainability considerations. We address this critical knowledge gap by reviewing sustainability issues included in 15 global assessments and recording sustainability issues into a single database using the language presented in the assessments. We then re-coded issues into a standardized, controlled vocabulary using the United Nation’s AGROVOC thesaurus. We repeated this process with sustainability communications from global food companies and academic literature on sustainable livelihoods. Finally, we used network analysis to evaluate the importance of sustainability issues, measured as network centrality, within and across global, corporate, and livelihoods sectors.
Our review identified 44 major sustainability issues, representing 318 component issues, and measured by more than 2,000 indicators. We classified issues according to four types of capital, defined as endowments or assets available to a population, based on the indicators used for their measurement. These included human capital (8 issues), natural capital (10 issues), physical/financial capital (6 issues), and social/political capital (21 issues). Network analysis indicated that natural capital issues were most central to global assessments and were also represented across corporate and livelihood sectors. The four most central issues – Water, Air & Climate, Biodiversity, and Land & Soil – were in the natural capital classification. The other issues with highest representation across sectors were Markets (71% representation) in social/political capital, Income (66% representation) in human capital, and Inputs (62% representation) in physical/financial capital. Excepting Inputs, the most central issues could be both directly impacted by sourcing of agricultural raw materials and could directly influence vulnerability of sourcing agricultural materials. The next steps of this work include evaluating how relationships among central (and peripheral) issues and their associated indicators can be used to mitigate impacts in agricultural supply chains and build resilience through sourcing raw agricultural materials.