back to all publications

Globalized Urban Commodity Teleconnections: Using Big Data to Track Corporate Actors across Time-Space

CSS Publication Number
Full Publication Date
July 9, 2015

Although it is through commodities that we are inextricably linked to distant places, most of us know little about where the products we consume come from, to say nothing of the conditions under which they were produced. Recently, scholars have pointed to the importance of developing new theories and  odels to better understand and mitigate the local-global scale impacts of these “teleconnections” (Hubacek, 2014), especially with respect to the resource consumption impacts of urban systems (Lenzen and Peters, 2010; Seto et al, 2012). This paper introduces a novel methodology to map these teleconnections by combining a Geographic Information System (GIS) and the data mining of production and trade datasets to identify and spatially map corporate actors in global supply chains. To illustrate this methodology, a case study of furniture and flooring supply chains is provided. Specifically, the paper brings the wilderness of Russia and factories of China into the home of the urban dweller by uncovering the hidden geographical lives of furniture and flooring sold by Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, The Home Depot, and other “Big Box” retailers. This re-linking, from the timber harvester in Russia to Chinese manufacturer to U. S. retailer, then provides the basis to evaluate governance and power nodes in these supply chains and prospects for forest management and chain-of-custody certification. More broadly, the ‘actor-tracking’ methodology developed through the case study offers a generalizable and replicable modeling approach for other scholars working to map and transform globalized production-consumption teleconnections for a wide-range of commodities and product processes.

References Hubacek, K., K. Feng, J. C. Minx, S. Pfister, and N. Zhou. 2014. Teleconnecting Consumption to Environmental Impacts at Multiple Spatial Scales. Journal of Industrial Ecology 18(1): 7-9.

Lenzen, M. and G. M. Peters. 2010. How city dwellers affect their resource hinterland: A spatial impact study of Australian households. Journal of Industrial Ecology 14(1): 73-90.

Seto, K. C., Reenberg, A., Boone, C. G., Fragkias, M., Haase, D., Langanke, T., Marcotullio, P., Munroe, D. K., Olah, B., and D. Simon. 2012. Urban land teleconnections and sustainability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(20), 7687-7692.

Research Areas
Consumer Products & Packaging
Food Systems and Consumer Products
Publication Type
Conference Proceeding
Full Citation
Newell, Joshua. (2015) “Globalized Urban Commodity Teleconnections: Using Big Data to Track Corporate Actors across Time-Space.” Proceedings of 8th International Society for Industrial Ecology Biennial Conference. University of Surrey, United Kingdom. Abstract 846: p.641.