Tipping points in the social dimension: global supply chain governance as example

Professor Walter Vermeulen


The research focus of Dr. Walter J.V. Vermeulen has originally been on implementation of environmental policies and application of sustainable innovations in production and consumption systems, both in the Netherlands and in developing countries (South Africa, Bhutan, China, India). He works from a broad social science approach, integrating theories from various fields of social sciences relevant for the study of societal responses to environmental issues, like policy sciences, business management, geography, sociology, innovation studies and social psychology.

These studies focus on in-firm decisions making processes in response to societal pressures on firms. These outside pressures vary from government policies to pressures by businesses in the supply chain (Vermeulen produced reports and studies in the field of environmental supply chain management starting since 1994); multi-party collaboration in the field of eco-industrial parks (publishing various reports and well cited journal articles in the early 2000's) and society pressures for application of energy related innovations in building and energy production (with various studies and articles in the early 2000's). This resulted in three PhD theses by van der Waals (2001), Agterbosch (2006) and Chappin (2008). Recently studies have been done in promoting the circular economy and public procurement and in strategies for strengthening corporate sustainability strategies and enhanced embedding inside firms and in their outside relations.

After 2002 the research has also shifted towards the international dimension of sustainable development (partly connected to the start of our international master program "Sustainable Development", of which Vermeulen is the program leader). With this his research has included analysing implementation of sustainable development policies in developing countries (Bhutan, China), amongst others products resulting in another PhD thesis by Rinzin (2006) and a master student winning the VVM-Rachel Carson Thesis Award: Drs. Linda Bakker with her thesis (2004) on the sustainability performance of Dutch multinationals in the Netherlands and in China.

First work in the field of international supply chains originates already from the mid-1990's, but was taken up after 2004 with the emergence of this subject in practice and in international and literature. In 2005 collaboration was started with Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria to analyse developments in improving sustainability in supply chains connecting the Dutch market with South African export products. In 2006 we started (financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Sanpad program)) a study including two South African PhD's, Ras, and Muller, analyzing the fresh fruits and wine supply chains, which offers first quantitative data on business and civil society efforts in this field, responding to European requirements (defending their theses in 2012). In collaboration with these and other international partners in India, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Burundi, Paraguay various studies have been conducted on the implementation of sustainable product certification in developing countries, also resulting in various articles in international journals.
For the Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) studies were done on the roles of governments in this emerging self-regulation (2011, 2013).

Vermeulen is current President of the International Sustainable Development Research Society. Since 2008 he chairs a special track on this subject in the annual International Sustainable Development Research Society conferences, convening scholars from all continents.
Vermeulen has more than 40 articles published in international journals . He is member of the Editorial Board of four international journals in the field of Sustainable Development and Corporate Social Responsibility.
Vermeulen was Program Leader of the Utrecht University International Master in Sustainable Development (2006-2014).


Tipping points are mostly seen in a negative context and applied in the fields of natural sciences. The conference intends to strengthen the attention for positive tipping points in the social context. Do scholars in (social)... [ view full abstract ]


KN-1 » Keynote (09:30 - Friday, 10th July, Percy Baxter Lecture Theatre D2.193)