Academic writing

Peer-reviewed publications

Dietz T., Estrella A., Font Gilabert P., Grabs J. (2017) Women’s empowerment in rural Honduran coffee communities and its determinants. Development in Practice (in press). (equal authors)

Grabs J., Kilian B., Calderón Hernández, D., Dietz, T. (2016) Understanding coffee certification dynamics: A spatial analysis of Voluntary Sustainability Standard proliferation. International Food and Agribusiness Management Review (Volume 19 Issue 3): 31-56.

Abstract: Third-party Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) have emerged as an increasingly popular strategy to guarantee sustainability in the coffee value chain. Yet, knowledge of the population characteristics of certified farmers, and of the influence of transnational and local supply chain actors on the uptake of VSS at the producer level, is still scarce. Using expert interviews, a comprehensive database of certificate holders and spatial mapping analyses, this paper adds to present knowledge concerning the effectiveness of VSS in the coffee sector in three ways. First, it showcases the structural, geographical and socio-economic tendencies toward VSS adoption in Guatemala, Colombia and Costa Rica, and allows first insights in the additionality and effectiveness of certification schemes derived from these indicators. Second, it contributes to an up-to-date understanding of the coffee supply chain, a sector of great economic importance both to producing and consuming countries that is in constant flux and reorganization, and it explains how current VSS interact with this type of global supply chain. Finally, through the construction of a comprehensive population of certified farmers, it enables better evaluation of existing case studies, generalizability, possible biases and provides valuable information for the preparation of future impact evaluation projects.

Grabs J., Langen N., Maschkowski G., Schäpke N. (2016) Understanding role models for change: A multilevel analysis of success factors of grassroots initiatives for sustainable consumption. Journal of Cleaner Production 134(A): 98-111.

Abstract: In order to achieve sustainable societies, we need models of behavior that go beyond individuals equating wellbeing and material consumption levels. Lowering individual footprints might be more acceptable once we include social relations, adopting responsibilities for other human and non-human life as well as civic engagement as complementary sources of wellbeing. Grassroots initiatives that stimulate collective action and social learning contribute to these diverse sources of wellbeing when striving to facilitate sustainable consumption. Thus, they can become role models for societal change. This review sets out to investigate why grassroots initiatives are created and developed successfully by focusing on the processes of founding, engaging in, developing and maintaining grassroots initiatives. We look at insights from different disciplines that address behavioral change and social learning to develop an overview of factors that are from an interdisciplinary perspective highly relevant to understand societal change processes. By means of organizing the analysis along three levels of human behavior – the individual level, the group level, and the societal level – we capture the multifaceted relationships influencing the success of grassroots initiatives. We present theoretical and empirical evidence connecting a broad spectrum of concepts that can subsequently be used as testable factors in fieldwork for in-depth investigations of grassroots success.

Maschkowski G., Schäpke N., Grabs J., Langen N. (2016) Learning from co-founders of grassroots initiatives: personal resilience, transition, and behavioral change – a salutogenic approach. Henfrey T., Maschkowski G. (eds.) Resilience, Community Action and Societal Transformation 2016. East Meon: Permanent Publications and Bristol: Good Works.

Grabs J. (2015) The rebound effects of switching to vegetarianism. A microeconomic analysis of Swedish consumption behavior. Ecological Economics (116): 270–279.

Abstract: Sustainable diets, in particular vegetarianism, are often promoted as effective measures to reduce our environmental footprint. Yet, few conclusions take full-scale behavioral changes into consideration. This can be achieved by calculating the indirect environmental rebound effect related to the re-spending of expenditure saved during the initial behavioral shift. This study aims to quantify the potential energy use and greenhouse gas emission savings, and most likely rebound effects, related to an average Swedish consumer’s shift to vegetarianism. Using household budget survey data, it estimates Engel curves of 117 consumption goods, derives marginal expenditure shares, and links these values to environmental intensity indicators. Results indicate that switching to vegetarianism could save consumers 16% of the energy use and 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions related to their dietary consumption. However, if they re-spend the saved income according to their current preferences, they would forego 96% of potential energy savings and 49% of greenhouse gas emission savings. These rebound effects are even higher for lower-income consumers who tend to re-spend on more environmentally intensive goods. Yet, the adverse effect could be tempered by purchasing organic goods or re-spending the money on services. In order to reduce the environmental impact of consumption, it could thus be recommended to not only focus on dietary shifts, but rather on the full range of consumer expenditure.

ICPC (2010) Crime Prevention and Community Safety: Trends and Perspectives (contributing researcher)

Working papers

Grabs, J. (2017) The Rise of Buyer-Driven Sustainability Governance: Emerging Trends in the Global Coffee Sector. ZenTra Working Paper in Transnational Studies No. 73 / 2017.

Abstract: The coffee industry connects millions of smallholder farmers with global markets and has historically been a frontrunner in sustainability efforts. Yet, the governance of this value chain and its sustainability depends on the distribution of power between market actors. This paper applies a Global Value Chain approach (Gereffi, 1999) to characterize the current distribution of power and opportunities in the coffee sector, and examines how this characterization has influenced the sector’s non-state market-driven (NSMD) sustainability governance structure (Bernstein and Cashore, 2007). The study finds that in a strongly buyer-driven chain, the reinterpretation of sustainability as supply chain management has led to the emergence of more company-owned standards and direct-impact projects as alternatives to third-party certification schemes, as well as their coordination in pre-competitive sectoral platforms. The simultaneous rise of producing-country definitions of sustainability points to a continued fragmentation of sustainability governance and a loss of authority of traditional NSMD channels.

Non-academic writing


Food Policy for Thought (since 2013)

Magazine articles

Fleischproduktion. Der vergessene Sektor in der Klimadebatte. Adhoc International. Issue 14: Klima und Mensch im Wandel. Wege in eine klimafreundliche Zukunft. December 2015

Zukunft für den Acker? Die Lösungen der Kleinbauern. Adhoc International. Issue 14: Klima und Mensch im Wandel. Wege in eine klimafreundliche Zukunft. December 2015 (co-authored by Julia Harrer and Loredana Sorg)

Home-Grown Hunger. The Struggle for Food Sovereignty in Canada’s North. GUTS Canadian Feminist Magazine. Food/Land Issue. November 2015

Can the Sharing Economy Revolutionize Consumption Patterns? Emanate Magazine. Issue 11: Innovating Against Crisis. February 2014

Sustainability Starts on Your Plate. Emanate Magazine. Issue 10: Sustainability. June 2013


Editor and Photo Editor: Adhoc International. Issue 14-16.

Editor-in-Chief: Samizdat. The McGill Russian Undergraduate Journal. Volume 1. 2012-2013

Co-Editor-in-Chief: McGill Journal of Political Studies. Volume 3. Winter 2012

Guest posts and contributions

How Kenneth Lander and THRIVE Farmers Are Revolutionizing the Coffee Supply Chain. Food Tank, June 2015

Las Lajas: The Micro-Coffee Mill Proving that Small Is Beautiful. Food Tank, June 2015

Costa Rica’s Pineapple Monopoly Not So Sweet. Food Tank, May 2015

Klimafreundlicher Kaffee aus Costa Rica: Ein Beitrag zu emissionsarmer Wirtschaftsentwicklung. Newsletter der deutschen Botschaft Costa Rica, June 2015 (co-authored by Andreas Nieters)

High Food Prices and Obesity in Costa Rica. Food Tank, April 2015

Organic Farming and Climate-Smart Agriculture – A Complicated Relationship. Nefia, November 2014

UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food consults with Québec civil society. Food Secure Canada, May 2012