UMN project helps global agriculture supply chains and sustainability schemes improve environmental performance

July 20, 2022

A team of University of Minnesota researchers are developing an innovative geodesign tool called SCOPE (Sustainable Commodity Optimization and Performance Evaluation) that will help commodity producers, certification organizations, and customers plan and evaluate environmental performance.

Screenshot of SCOPE data.

The tool will allow users to focus on specific regions in countries around the world and understand the potential benefits of meeting a variety of performance-based environmental standards. Benefits considered include climate change mitigation and adaptation, reducing water use in water-stressed regions, improving water quality downstream of farms, improving habitat for biodiversity, and improving yields and farmer profitability.

“There is strong support to improve the sustainability of global commodity production,” said Derric Pennington, sustainability scholar in the Department of Applied Economics at UMN’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS). “For example, our project will help global value chains — and the certification and other sustainability organizations they support — understand potential reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from improved commodity production.”

Pennington and the team of UMN researchers — including Justin Johnson, assistant professor in the Department of Applied Economics; Len Kne, director of U-Spatial; Tim Smith, professor in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering; Deepak Ray, senior scientist, Institute on the Environment; and Peter Hawthorne of Hawthorne Spatial — are collaborating on this project, called “Modelling a Path to More Sustainable Landscapes.”

The project is a three-year effort to evaluate the state of global standards and certification schemes for commodity production and to develop an interactive digital tool that can spatially display the outcomes of compliance with those standards in local, regional and global contexts. Outcomes from compliance include yield, water use, nutrient loading, greenhouse gas emissions, land use change, habitat loss and economic costs. 

"The test version of the SCOPE geodesign tool looks very promising. It has clear potential to enable analysis and planning of more sustainable land use in a broad community of users that includes certification bodies, corporations, NGOs and legislators,” said Project Advisor Julian Fox, director of nature programmes at Tetra Pak, a global leader in food processing and packaging solutions.

The tool is still being developed and refined by the project team. The third virtual workshop for the project was held in mid-June with project advisors attending from around the globe, including Singapore, India, Sweden, the U.K. and the U.S. Through expert facilitation provided by Brian Stenquist, a project consultant, workshop participants explored and discussed the emerging frameworks for voluntary sustainability standards within certification schemes and participated in a demonstration of the SCOPE tool.

“We got very helpful feedback on SCOPE from workshop participants,” said lead developer of the software interface, Peter Wiringa, geospatial developer with U-Spatial and Research Computing at UMN. "There was a lot of enthusiasm from participants about the value the tool provides in quantifying the impacts of applying sustainability standards across regions."

The development of SCOPE is supported and advised by international agricultural standard setting organizations including Bonsucro, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, and the Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber. Global commodity buyers, such as PepsiCo, Tetra Pak, and Diageo, are also project advisors and are piloting SCOPE in their supply chains. This project is possible thanks to a grant from the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labeling (ISEAL) Innovation Fund which is supported by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO.

For more information on this project, please contact Derric Pennington at