Sustainability Forecasting Fellow


University of Minnesota


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Start Date

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Natural Capital Project and the University of Minnesota’s Department of Applied Economics seeks a research fellow to work with an interdisciplinary collaborative research team to assess the degree to which current and future sustainability standards can lead to improved environmental, economic and social outcomes and to identify how these standards can be better designed to help society meet future demand while sustaining ecosystem services and biodiversity.

The project is an innovative, forward-looking academic-NGO-private sector collaboration between eight partners, including the University of Minnesota, the global membership association for credible sustainability standards, ISEAL, three global standard setting organizations and three corporate buyers of sugarcane, rubber and oil palm. The effort represents the first steps to connect commodity standards, reduce commodity impacts on the environment, and help governments and brands target sustainability investments. Sustainability forecasting methods will leverage predictive models that translate producer-level actions into predictions of landscape-scale environmental and social impacts that will be used to evaluate the outcomes of alternative scenarios of land use policy and climate change. Results of these analyses will be used to assess the ‘business case’ of partner strategies and to inform future standard design and procurement decisions. Additionally, data and models will be integrated into a ‘real-time’ decision support tool based on GeoDesign principles and then applied with stakeholders to design future standards and corporate sourcing strategies and assess the impacts of implementation.

The fellow will collaborate with a diverse team of academic, NGO and private sector professionals to investigate 1) how Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) can help society achieve conservation and Sustainable Development Goals, 2) how VSS could be made even more impactful by building adaptability into standard design and criteria, and 3) where future VSS adoption efforts should be prioritized and targeted. The developed scientific methodology will be transferable to a wide range of commodities and regions and allow for any number of alternative policy scenarios.

This is a 24-month position that can begin as early as August 15, 2020 and is based in St. Paul, Minnesota with mentors Dr. Derric PenningtonDr. Tim SmithLen KneDr. Justin Johnson and Dr. Steve Polasky

Major Duties & Responsibilities:

Research Activities (75%):

  • Co-develop impact criteria and metrics aligned with SDGs
  • Co-develop and apply an integrated biophysical (e.g., agriculture yields, water use and quality, carbon emissions, habitat for biodiversity) and economic modeling approach that includes identifying and linking sustainability commodity standards to measurable indicators
  • Co-develop alternative land use/land cover scenarios of land-use change under different climate and demand projections
  • Assess each VSS globally to fully understand regional “hotspots” in terms of environmental and economic opportunities and challenges
  • Summarize results at the regional and country-level and evaluate VSS performance against the national-level SDGs for South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, China, and India and identify opportunities and challenges given local landscape context
  • Integrate predictive models and output into a beta decision support tool in collaboration with the University’s USpatial computer scientists
  • Conduct post hoc empirical analyses to inform model assumptions given available data and research needs 

Project Administration (25%):

  •  Co-coordinate research team activities
  • Manage research intern to collect necessary data

Required Qualifications

  • PhD in ecology, geography, economics, conservation science, ecosystem science or related field

Preferred Qualifications

  • Strong skills in decision science, socioecological systems, quantitative modeling, statistics, economic valuation, systems thinking, geographic information systems, computer programing (preferred)
  • Demonstrated experience with agriculture and environmental issues, project management, statistical software programs (e.g., Python, R)
  • Strong research and writing skills, excellent command of English, other languages an asset
  • Strong interest in applied, real-world conservation problem-solving
  • Ability to work both independently and cooperatively in a team.

This fellow opportunity is open to candidates of all nationalities, gender and age.  Regardless of background, we are looking for highly skilled, interdisciplinary, action-oriented candidates. 

APPLICATION DEADLINE:  Preference will be given to complete applications submitted by August 30, 2020.

TO APPLY:  Applications must be submitted online at jobs (search for job opening 336739). Include a cover letter, curriculum vitae, names, addresses and email contact information for two professional references. Incomplete applications will not be considered. If you have questions, please contact Dr. Derric Pennington at

Contact Name

Dr. Derric Pennington

Contact Email