Benchmarking the integral sustainability performance of milk supply chains

PhD project by Wenjuan Mu. This research project aims to develop a tool to benchmark triple-P performance of food production chains across the world, focussing on milk production chains. Milk production chains have evolved in different ways: to industrial confinement-based systems in North-western Europe, pasture-based systems in New Zealand, and smallholder systems in Africa.

This triple-P tool allows the assessment of the integral sustainability performance of current and improved production chains. We propose to use the concept of life cycle thinking combined with eco-efficient frontier analysis. Using a life cycle perspective, we will determine relevant performance indicators along a milk production chain, including environmental, social and economic aspects. Life cycle costing will be used to partly aggregate indicators along the chain. Eco-efficient frontier analysis will be used to select a set of superior alternatives (mitigation options) out of a large set of possible alternatives.

The challenges, therefore, are to i) identify relevant sustainability indicators along the milk production chain, (ii) to find a sound level of aggregation of sustainability indicators iii) to assess the improvement potential in a set of distinctive milk production chains in New Zealand, Kenya and the NL, considering primary production up to the farm gate as well as processes downward the chain such as processing, packaging, distribution up to retailing. The project will contribute to the development of innovative and consistent methods to quantify and explore integrated sustainability impact along milk production chains. It will contribute to the Benchmarking Atlas by (i) defining a minimum set of data necessary to do a triple-P impact assessment and (ii) developing quantitative scenario analysis of future milk supply chains across the world.


Our objective is twofold. First, we aim to develop a framework that can be used to benchmark food supply chains in terms of value added and impact on sustainability. This requires identification of a set of relevant sustainability indicators along the chain, and finding a sound way of aggregating these indicators (balance between applicability of frontier analysis and losing critical indictor information) (Heijman and van Ophem 2010a, 2010b; Van Calker et al., 2006; 2008). Second, we will use this framework to benchmark three different milk production chains in three diverse regions of the world on the combined effect of environmental, social and economic issues along the chain, and explore the integral improvement potential of food supply chains, in particular for the three case study supply chains, using eco-efficient frontier analysis.