Dr. Walter Vermeulen

Vening Meineszgebouw A
Princetonlaan 8a
Kamer 7.34
3584 CB Utrecht

Dr. Walter Vermeulen

Associate Professor
Environmental Governance
+31 30 253 2989

Research on governance systems for sustainability in business and in global supply chains.
Teaching on Business, Sustainability and Innovation; and innovative approaches in governance for Sustainable Development.

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). 

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 late 2012). In collaboration with these and other international partners in India, South Africa, Paraguay various studies have been conducted on the implementation of sustainable product certification in developing countries, also resulting in various articles in international journals. 

Recently for the Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) studies were done on the roles of governments in this emerging self-regulation (2011, 2013). With TERI University in India the impacts of sustainability certification of tea was analysed (2013). For the Economic Board Utrecht a advice was given on circular economy and purchasing. For the International Social Science Council (UNESCO) a plan was developed for scientific knowldege sharing on the transformation to sustainable global markets (2014-2015).

Vermeulen chairs since 2008 a special track on this subject in the annual International Sustainable Development Research Society conferences, convening scholars from all continents. 


Completed Projects
The heart and soul of Corporate Sustainability Strategies 01.01.2013 to 31.12.2016
General project description


Definition of a model of sociological evolution as a motor for sustainability strategy


Key problem addressed:

  • In practice management system structures freeze a company in time and seem like a corset for the development of the people and the organization. Besides retrospective analysis of strategic decisions and their implementation in relation to sustainability performance and future sustainable vision are rarely seen as the basis for a sustainability strategy.
  • In literature sustainable strategy is mostly described as linear or circular models, while in practice organic development/evolution is observed. Besides, literature show short term data collection and primarily quantitative instead of collection qualitative data over a longer time period. Multiple company and/or culture studies on sustainability strategy are often proposed as object of further research but not found.


Main research question:

How does social evolution influence the process of the development of the strategy for sustainability.

Utrecht University
Project members UU