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A framework of sustainable supply chain management: moving toward new theory

360 Received November 2007 Revised April 2008 Accepted April 2008

Craig R. Carter and Dale S. Rogers University of Nevada, College of Business Administration, Reno, Nevada, USA Abstract Purpose – The authors perform a large-scale literature review and use conceptual theory building to introduce the concept of sustainability to the field of supply chain management and demonstrate the relationships among environmental, social, and economic performance within a supply chain management context. Design/methodology/approach – Conceptual theory building is used to develop a framework and propositions representing a middle theory of sustainable supply chain management (SSCM). Findings – The authors introduce the concept of sustainability – the integration of environmental, social, and economic criteria that allow an organization to achieve long-term economic viability – to the logistics literature, and position sustainability within the broader rubric of SSCM. They then present a framework of SSCM and develop research propositions based on resource dependence theory, transaction cost economics, population ecology, and the resource-based view of the firm. The authors conclude by discussing managerial implications and future research directions, including the further development and testing of the framework’s propositions. Originality/value – This paper provides a comprehensive review of the sustainability literature, introduces sustainability to the field of supply chain management, and expands the conceptualization of sustainability beyond the triple bottom line to consider key supporting facets which are posited to be requisites to implementing SSCM practices. The use of conceptual theory building to develop theoretically based propositions moves the concept of sustainability from a relatively a-theoretical treatment toward new theory in supply chain management. Keywords Supply chain management, Social responsibility, Economic sustainability Paper type Conceptual paper

International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management Vol. 38 No. 5, 2008 pp. 360-387 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0960-0035 DOI 10.1108/09600030810882816

Introduction One need only contemplate the recent and rapid rise in oil prices, rising transparency and consumer awareness of where and under what types of working conditions products are manufactured, and financial reporting requirements such as Sarbanes-Oxley to understand how these factors might affect a firm’s supply chain and its economic bottom line. Until recently, most logistics and supply chain management research has examined issues such as the environment, safety, and human rights in a standalone fashion, without consideration of the potential interrelationships among these and other aspects of social responsibility (Carter and Jennings, 2002). The work of Carter and Jennings (2002, 2004) and Murphy and Poist (2002) begins to fill this void, by explicitly examining these standalone issues as a broader conceptualization and higher-order construct of The authors wish to thank Rob Klassen, Mark Pagell, and Mellie Pullman, who provided comments and feedback on earlier versions of this paper. This research was partially funded by a grant from Kenco Logistics.

logistics social responsibility (LSR) and purchasing social responsibility (PSR). Yet, this more recent social responsibility research contains an important omission – a failure to explicitly include what Carroll (1979) refers to as an organization’s economic responsibility. The term sustainability, which increasingly refers to an integration of social, environmental, and economic responsibilities, has begun to appear in the literature of business disciplines such as management and operations. In addition, companies are beginning to rapidly adopt the term sustainability. About 68 percent of the Global 250 firms generated a separate annual sustainability report in 2004 which considered environmental, social, and economic issues, in contrast to the primary emphasis on environmental reporting in 1999; in addition, 80 percent of these reports discuss supply chain-related issues (KPMG, 2005). Unfortunately, a review of the literature will show that the term sustainability has been inconsistently defined and applied in the extant research. This lack of an explicit consideration of economic criteria in current models and definitions of LSR and PSR, and the failure to consistently define sustainability and to apply the concepts of sustainability to the field of supply chain management, lead to the following research questions: RQ1. How can the term sustainability be defined and applied to supply chain management? RQ2. Is there a relationship between the integration of the concepts of sustainability and supply chain management, and long-term economic success? More specifically, do firms which engage in sustainable supply chain management (SSCM) practices attain higher economic performance than firms which concentrate solely on economic performance? The answers to these research questions will help to clarify and begin to defuse the debate surrounding the relationship between environmental and social performance on one hand, and economic performance on the other. As noted by Hoffman and Bazerman (2005, p. 16): The key to resolving this debate is the recognition that (social and environmental) behaviors are sometimes profit-compatible and sometimes not. When parties acknowledge this simple fact, it becomes easier to convince corporations to adopt (environmental and social initiatives) that are mutually beneficial. This thinking moves us beyond the simple question, “Does it pay to be green?”

These research questions are also particularly relevant because supply chain professionals are in an outstanding position to impact sustainability practices. Activities such as reducing packaging, improving working conditions in warehouses, using more fuel efficient transportation, and requiring suppliers to undertake environmental and social programs, as just a few examples among many, can reduce costs while also improving corporate reputation. The authors answer the paper’s research questions by conducting a large-scale literature review and subsequently using conceptual theory building (Meredith, 1993; Weick, 1989) to develop a framework of SSCM, along with related research propositions. Specifically, the remainder of the paper is organized as follows. In the next section, the authors describe the paper’s conceptual theory building methodology.

A framework of SSCM




This is followed by a review of the literature and an introduction of a framework of SSCM which expands the concept of sustainability from the organization to the supply chain. Afterwards, propositions surrounding the framework are introduced, based on an integration of the sustainability literature, along with resource dependence theory, transaction cost economics, population ecology, and the resource-based view of the firm. The framework and resulting propositions begin to fill the void created by the lack of consistency in defining sustainability and the relatively a-theoretical conceptual and empirical research found in the extant sustainability literature. The research and managerial implications of this theory development are discussed in the paper’s final section. Methodology Despite numerous calls for more theory development in supply chain management research (Kent and Flint, 1997; Mentzer and Kahn, 1995; Meredith, 1993; Melynk and Handfield, 1998; Wacker, 1998), there has been, respectively, little theory-building research appearing within the broad field of supply chain management to date (Carter and Ellram, 2003). In addition, the relatively few existing studies appearing in the logistics literature that have rigorously employed inductive approaches have relied on grounded theory techniques or similar interpretive tradition (Flint et al., 2005; Svensson, 2000). Interpretive field research that employs interviews and observations is not the only way to develop theory however (Elsbach et al., 1999; DiMaggio, 1995; Weick, 1999), just as survey research is not the only way to deductively test theory (McGrath, 1982). Conceptual theory-building methods can create a balance between inductive and deductive reasoning and research and can help academics to lead and guide managerial practice (Meredith, 1993). In this paper, we develop what Meredith (1993, p. 7) refers to as a conceptual framework – “a collection of two or more interrelated propositions which explain an event, provide understanding, or suggest testable hypotheses” – of SSCM. The methodology to accomplish this theory building consists of an integration of “a number of different works . . . summariz(ing) the common elements, contrast(ing) the differences, and extend(ing) the work in some fashion,” (Meredith, 1993, p. 8) and also through the definition of variables and the development of “specific predictions” (Wacker, 1998, p. 368) based on this integration of existing theory along with “logical deduction” which bring about the conceptual framework’s propositions (Handfield and Melnyk, 1998, p. 323). The data collection to support this methodology occurred through a rigorous key-word search of the literaure using ABI/Inform and EBSCO. An extensive database of the relevant literature was developed through initial searches on specific terminology. As literature was discovered that contained information relevant to sustainability, the references were examined and added to the developing literature database. The conceptualization as described above was an iterative process involving many hundreds of hours of reading, additional collection of literature, synthesis, and refinement of our framework via discussions with colleagues over a period of 17 months. Finally, we presented the results of our conceptualization to 35 supply chain managers in 28 Fortune-1000 sized companies in the USA and Germany to help further ensure the validity of our framework (Yin, 1994).

Sustainability: a review of the literature Definitions from the sustainability literature The most well-adopted and most often quoted definition of sustainability is that of the Brundtland Commission (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987, p. 8): “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” Included within this broad rubric of sustainability are such issues as understanding the environmental impact of economic activity in both developing and industrialized economies (Erlich and Erlich, 1991); ensuring worldwide food security (Lal et al., 2002); ensuring that basic human needs are met (Savitz and Weber, 2006); and assuring the conservation of non-renewable resources (Whiteman and Cooper, 2000). Unfortunately, the macro-economic, societal definition of sustainability is difficult for organizations to apply and provides little guidance regarding how organizations might identify future versus present needs, determine the technologies and resources required to meet those needs, and understand how to effectively balance organizational responsibilities to multiple stakeholders such as shareholders, employees, other organizations in the supply chain, and broader stakeholders including society and the natural environment (Hart, 1995; Starik and Rands, 1995). In addition, because the Brundtland Commission’s definition is so far reaching, organizations often find it difficult to determine their individual roles within this broader, macro-economic perspective (Shrivastava, 1995a; Stead and Stead, 1996). More micro-economic applications of sustainability have been investigated in the fields of management, operations, and engineering. Within the management literature, most of the existing conceptualizations of organizational sustainability have focused on ecological (e.g. the natural environment) sustainability, with only implicit recognition of social and economic responsibilities (Jennings and Zandbergen, 1995; Shrivastava, 1995a; Starik and Rands, 1995). Like the macroeconomic viewpoint, this research also takes a long-term perspective in defining sustainability. Starik and Rands (1995, p. 909) for example define sustainability as: [. . .] the ability of one or more entities, either individually or collectively, to exist and flourish (either unchanged or in evolved terms) for lengthy timeframes, in such a manner that the existence and flourishing of other collectivities of entities is permitted at related levels and in related systems.

Shrivastava (1995a, p. 955) describes sustainability as offering, “the potential for reducing long-term risks associated with resource depletion, fluctuations in energy costs, product liabilities, and pollution and waste management.” The operations management literature has similarly often considered sustainability from this ecological perspective without explicit incorporation of the social aspects of sustainability (Sarkis, 2001; Hill, 2001; Daily and Huang, 2001). Interestingly, the organizational definitions of sustainability in the engineering literature have been more encompassing, and have explicitly incorporated the social, environmental, and economic dimensions of the macro-viewpoint by defining organizational sustainability as, “a wise balance among economic development, environmental stewardship, and social equity,” (Sikdar, 2003, p. 1928) and as including “. . . equal weightings for economic stability, ecological compatibility and social equilibrium,” (Go´ncz et al., 2007, p. 4).

A framework of SSCM




Logistics literature Within the field of supply chain management, researchers have examined several stand-alone topics of environmental and social issues, including the development of environmental logistics strategies (Murphy et al., 1996); environmental purchasing (Min and Galle, 1997); carrier selection for and the transportation of hazardous materials (Kalevela and Radwan, 1988; Sharp et al., 1991); improvement of fuel efficiency and emissions reduction from transportation equipment (McKinnon et al., 1993; Stock, 1978); safety in motor carrier, rail, and airline industries (Cantor et al., 2006; Weener and Wheeler, 1992; Crum et al., 1995); diversity hiring and promotion issues concerning logistics personnel (Lynagh et al., 1996) and diversity of for-hire motor carriers (Corsi et al., 1982) and other industrial suppliers (Carter et al., 1999). More recently, Carter and Jennings (2002) have conceptualized the integration of social and environmental issues under the rubric of LSR, which ties together the previously standalone concepts of the environment, diversity, human rights, safety, and philanthropy and the community as they relate to logistics management. Carter and Jennings (2004) empirically operationalize purchasing’s involvement in LSR, which they refer to as PSR. The authors find that PSR is a second-order construct consisting of five first-order dimensions: the environment, diversity, safety, human rights, and philanthropy. While Carter and Jennings’ (2004) operationalization includes an implicit recognition of economic responsibility as a base level of organizational responsibility based on Carroll’s (1979) framework, they fail to explicitly incorporate economic responsibility into their empirical investigation. Although there exists a divergence of definitions of sustainability, these differences are not as great as one might initially believe. Most definitions of sustainability incorporate a consideration of at least environmental and economic concerns, and even CSR conceptualizations and operationalizations consider the intersection of social and environmental issues. Further, it is not uncommon to find varying definitions of a construct during the embryonic stages of its adoption in practice or its development in a field of scholarly inquiry (Kuhn, 1996). As noted by Gladwin et al. (1995, p. 876), “definitional diversity is to be expected during the emergent phase of any potentially big idea of general usefulness.” The triple bottom line Our review of the literature suggests that organizational sustainability, at a broader level, consists of three components: the natural environment, society, and economic performance. Figure 1 shows a visual representation of these three components. This perspective corresponds to the idea of the triple bottom line, a concept developed by Elkington (1998, 2004), which simultaneously considers and balances economic, environmental and social goals from a microeconomic standpoint. Within this context, organizations recognize that sustainability: [. . .] is not simply a matter of good corporate citizenship – earning brownie points for reducing noxious emissions from your factory or providing health care benefits to your employees [. . .] Sustainability is now a fundamental principle of smart management (Savitz and Weber, 2006, pp. xiv).

Thus, the triple bottom line suggests that at the intersection of social, environmental, and economic performance, there are activities that organizations can engage in which

A framework of SSCM Social Performance

Environmental Performance

365 Sustainability

Economic Performance

not only positively affect the natural environment and society, but which also result in long-term economic benefits and competitive advantage for the firm. Supporting facets of the triple bottom line Other aspects of sustainability that emerged from our review of the sustainability literature but which were not included in explicit definitions were risk management, transparency, strategy, and culture (Gladwin et al., 1995; Hart, 1995; Elkington, 1998; Henriques and Richardson, 2004; Jennings and Zandbergen, 1995; Sarkis, 2001; Savitz and Weber, 2006; Shrivastava, 1995a, b; Starik and Rands, 1995). We highlight each of these areas next, and show the relationships between these facets of sustainability and the core, triple-bottom line framework shown in Figure 1. While it may be argued that a host of other constructs could be included as supporting facets of sustainability, no other constructs appeared as consistently in the extant literature or in company sustainability reports, nor to nearly the same extent as the four supporting facets which will be introduced in this section of the paper. In addition, our interviews and open discussions with 35 managers and executives from 28 companies provided strong confirmation for these four supporting facets. At the same time, none of these 35 managers suggested the inclusion of any additional facet(s). For this reason, additional variables not highlighted in this section are treated as causal antecedents, modifiers, or outcomes of sustainability, and are examined in the propositions and in the discussion of the future research implications in the ensuing sections of the paper. Risk management. While not a part of operational definitions of sustainability in the extant literature, the concept of risk and the management of risk was identified as a reoccurring theme in the sustainability literature described earlier. Shrivastava (1995b) advocates that within the context of sustainability, an organization must manage not only short-term financial results, but also risk factors such as harm resulting from its

Figure 1. Sustainability: the triple bottom line



products, environmental waste, and worker and public safety. Gladwin et al. (1995, p. 878, p. 897) state that sustainable development must encompass the concept of security, which, “demands safety from chronic threats and protection from harmful disruption” including, “biodiversity loss, climate change, freshwater scarcity, food insecurity, and population growth.” Further, Shrivastava (1995a, p. 955) notes that, “by systematically addressing these long-term (sustainability) issues early, companies can become aware of and manage these risks” associated with scarcity in natural resources used as inputs to the supply chain and fluctuations in energy costs. In addition, proactive engagement in sustainable practices lowers the risk of the introduction of new and costly regulations (Porter and van der Linde, 1995). Risk can be broadly defined as the probability of variation surrounding an anticipated outcome. Risk has been examined across multiple disciplines including economics and management via behavioral decision theory and prospect theory (Kahneman and Tversky, 1979; Wiseman and Gomez-Mejia, 1998), and finance in terms of insurance and portfolio analysis (Stultz, 1996). Zsidisin et al. (2000) define supply chain risk as the potential occurrence of an inbound supply incident which leads to the inability to meet customer demand. Such supply chain risks can result from natural disasters such as hurricanes (Atkinson, 2006), legal liabilities (Giunipero and Eltantawy, 2004), poor demand forecasting and failure to coordinate demand requirements across the supply chain (Christopher and Lee, 2004), fluctuating prices for key raw materials including energy (Barry, 2004), poor supplier quality and shipment quantity inaccuracies (Zsidisin, 2003), and poor environmental and social performance by a firm and its suppliers which can result in costly legal actions (Carter and Jennings, 2004; Klassen and McLaughlin, 1996). Recently, Spekman and Davis (2004, p. 418) suggest that one: [. . .] dimension of risk relates to the notion of corporate social responsibility and the extent to which supply chain members’ reputation and image can be tainted by the actions of another member who engages in activities that result in public sentiment or outcry or, even worse, is accused of criminal behavior where liability extends up and down the supply chain.

Within the context of our framework, we define supply chain risk management as the ability of a firm to understand and manage its economic, environmental, and social risks in the supply chain. Corporations are increasingly recognizing that risk management is a part of their sustainability. For instance, Hewlett Packard (2006, p. 50) notes in its annual sustainability report: HP conducts preliminary risk assessment of the supply base to determine priorities. Risk criteria include geographic location, chemical or labor-intensive processes, length of supplier relationship to HP and commitment to global citizenship.

As another example, General Electric’s (2006, p. 47) Corporate Risk Committee meets quarterly to examine risks surrounding human rights at supplier locations “with a focus on minimizing commercial and reputational risks.” Supply chain risk management can occur through contingency planning and by building more resilient and agile supply chains. As part of its sustainability, Motorola (2005, p. 13) attempts to address potential supply chain disruptions via crisis teams that have:

[. . .] developed preparedness plans to ensure that our response will be effective and our recovery swift. Teams conduct annual tests of their plans and capabilities to improve coordination, sharpen employee skills and discover potential trouble spots before an emergency happens.

Risk management also includes product stewardship issues related to being able to swiftly and efficiently recall damaged or tainted products (Corbett and Klassen, 2007). Transparency. While not included in stated definitions, transparency is also mentioned extensively within discussions of organizational sustainability. For example, Hart (1995, p. 1000) states that: Increasingly, local communities and external stakeholders are demanding that corporate practices become more visible and transparent [. . .] To maintain legitimacy and build reputation, therefore, companies may need to open their operations to greater public scrutiny.

This transparency is being driven, in part, by the rapid speed of communication via the internet and satellite television (Elkington, 1998), as well as other factors such as interoperable software and globalization of supply chains which have lead to a “flat world” (Friedman, 2005). Maintaining the secrecy of corporate wrongdoings has become very difficult and extremely risky. The actions of a company’s facility or supplier this morning in a remote part of the world may be this evening’s headline news. As noted by Tom Delfgauuw, retired Vice President for Sustainable Development at Shell, “We discovered that there are no more ‘local’ issues anymore . . . In the long run, it is simpler, and like anything simpler, it is also cheaper,” for a company to operate with transparency concerning economic, social, and environmental issues (Holliday et al., 2002, p. 21). Transparency includes not only reporting to stakeholders, but actively engaging stakeholders and using their feedback and input to both secure buy-in and improve supply chain processes. This transparency encompasses green marketing activities within a stakeholder perspective (Rivera-Camino, 2007) as well as more traditional cause-related marketing (Drumwright, 1996). Transparency can be improved through vertical coordination across a supply chain as well as horizontal coordination across networks. For example, common auditing procedures adopted by an industry coalition can allow a single, effective supplier sustainability audit to be performed, which increases transparency and supplier sustainability while lowering transaction costs for both the supplier and the multiple buying organizations that might do business with that supplier. As noted by Nike (2005, p. 29): Transparency across the industry of our respective contract factories will promote greater collaboration, sharing of monitoring information and reinforcement of remediation expectations across the industry. This could also decrease the burden on suppliers dealing with contradictory audit requirements by multiple buyers.

Strategy and culture. An organization’s sustainability initiatives and its corporate strategy must be closely interwoven, rather than separate programs that are managed independently of one another (Shrivastava, 1995a). In its annual sustainability report, IBM (2005, p. 15) describes the integration of its triple bottom line strategy with its core business strategy, and Hewlett Packard notes that its goal, “is to connect our corporate commitment to global citizenship with the day-to-day conduct of the HP business.” To accomplish this, we have chosen to align our global citizenship strategy and priorities with our business strategy to maximize the impact of our investments

A framework of SSCM




(Hewlett Packard, 2006, p. 8). Similarly, Nike (2005, p. 14) states that sustainability is, “integrated into Nike’s core business strategies.” Finally, organizations that become sustainable enterprises do not simply overlay sustainability initiatives with corporate strategies. These organizations also have (or have changed) their company cultures and mindsets (Savitz and Weber, 2006). Hamel and Prahalad (1989) found that a shared, organization-wide long range vision was significant in generating the internal drive and passion to spur innovation and change. Similarly, in their study of “visionary companies” that have outperformed competitors over extended periods of time, Collins and Porras (1994) found that profit maximization was not the primary driving force of these organizations. Instead, these firms had core values and cultures and a sense of purpose beyond the economic bottom line. A post hoc analysis that we conducted found that the visionary companies are significantly more likely to be members of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (2006) – the leading global indexes that track the “financial performance of the leading sustainability-driven companies worldwide” – and are significantly more likely to be rated among Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work for than the “comparison companies” from the Collins and Porras study ( p , 0.01 and p , 0.001, respectively). As additional support for the role of corporate culture in sustainability, Carter and Jennings (2004) found a significant relationship between environmentally and socially responsible purchasing activities and an organizational culture which considers the welfare of others and which is fair and supportive. Interrelationships among risk management, transparency, culture, and strategy. The four supporting facets of the triple bottom line are not intended to be entirely mutually exclusive. For instance, engaging stakeholders – an example of improving transparency – can reduce risk by lowering the chances of consumer boycotts and targeted actions by non-governmental organizations, and can also be an explicit part of an organization’s strategy. For example, at HP, stakeholder engagement is a key part of the development of HP’s sustainability goals and strategy; HP’s sustainability strategy is in turn used as one of the primary parts of its overall business strategy. Thus, the authors advocate that all four of these supporting facets are an integrated part of SSCM practices. A framework of SSCM The term supply chain management has been defined by Mentzer et al. (2002, p. 18) as, “the systemic, strategic coordination of the traditional business functions and the tactics across these business functions within a particular company and across businesses within the supply chain, for the purposes of improving the long-term performance of the individual companies and the supply chain as a whole” and by Lambert et al. (2006, p. 2) as, “the integration of key business processes from end-user through original suppliers, that provides products, services, and information that add value for customers and other stakeholders”[1]. Based on these prominent and complementary definitions of supply chain management, and our review of the sustainability literature, we define SSCM as the strategic, transparent integration and achievement of an organization’s social, environmental, and economic goals in the systemic coordination of key interorganizational business processes for improving the long-term economic performance of the individual company and its supply chains. This definition of SSCM, which is based on the triple bottom line and the four

supporting facets of sustainability reviewed above – risk management, transparency, strategy, and culture – is conceptualized and shown in Figure 2. Of course, the social and environmental dimensions of SSCM shown in Figure 2 must be undertaken with a clear and explicit recognition of the economic goals of the firm. Thus, like Carter and Jennings (2002), we are not suggesting that organizations blithely undertake social and environmental goals relating to the supply chain. In fact, in the same vein as Porter and Kramer (2002), the SSCM perspective advocates that such undertakings would be socially irresponsible unless considered within the broader context of a firm’s overall strategic and financial objectives. Thus, we place question marks around the term “good” which labels the intersection of social and environmental components but omits the economic component of the triple bottom line in Figure 2. These question marks actually complement the perspective undertaken by some scholars that environmental and social initiatives are costly undertakings. For example, Walley and Whitehead (1994, p. 46) state that, “Responding to environmental challenges has always been a costly and complicated proposition for managers,” and go on to suggest that, “win-win situations . . . are very rare and will likely be overshadowed by the total cost of a company’s environmental program.” Colby et al. (1995, p. 135) somewhat similarly argue that, “easy problems have mostly been fixed – the remaining obstinate challenges are becoming increasingly expensive to resolve.” Walley and Whitehead (1994), however, focus their discussion of the costs of compliance with reactive governmental regulation, which can indeed result in increased costs for business (Porter and van der Linde, 1995), while Colby et al. (1995) focus on costs, while ignoring potential benefits. Good? Strategy • Sustainability as part of an integrated strategy

l nta me ce n o r n i a Env rform Pe

A framework of SSCM


Organizational Culture • Deeply Ingrained • Organizational Citizenship Social Performance • Values and Ethics


Best Better

Better Risk Management • Contingency Planning • Supply Disruptions • Outbound Supply Chains

Economic Performance

Transparency • Stakeholder Engagement • Supplier Operations

Figure 2. Sustainable supply chain management



In response to Walley and Whitehead, Clarke (1994, p. 37) notes, “a broader approach is necessary, one that focuses on basic changes in products, services, and business strategies that offer opportunity financially as well as ecologically.” In addition, win-win situations will increasingly arise as energy prices inevitably increase and as greater transparency allows stakeholders to see further along an organization’s supply chain. Additionally, companies such as 3M would argue against Walley and Whitehead’s assertion that there is very little low-hanging fruit. For example, Smart (1994, p. 42) notes, “3M is still finding projects for its 3P (pollution prevention pays) program, now over 15 years old. Many other companies have barely begun to look.” Finally, authors such as Walley and Whitehead largely overlook the product-differentiation contribution to the revenue side of shareholder value. There are of course, challenges to implementing sustainability. First, it is true that some companies have begun to exhaust the easy, low-hanging fruit and “are now into the harder, longer term investment commitments in which conventional and environmental criteria are not necessarily in harmony” (Gray, 1994, p. 47). However, projects will likely become increasingly viable as energy costs continue to rise, pressures from consumer groups increase due to greater transparency along supply chains, and firms begin to take a more holistic view of the costs and benefits associated with social and environmental projects. For example, in examining the economic costs and benefits of alternative energy sources for its warehouses, Staples places an economic value on the price certainty and availability of solar energy versus the risk associated with price volatility and rolling blackouts of traditional energy sources (Buckley, 2007). Second, the above debate has to some degree solidified into entrenched positions on opposite sides of a continuum, in which the argument is viewed as a fixed pie (Bazerman, 1983) which cannot be enlarged (Hoffman and Bazerman, 2005). We instead offer an alternative to this fixed pie perspective, in which there are a variety of environmental and social issues that a firm can undertake which can both improve as well as harm the economic bottom line. Environmental and social activities which can harm or at least not help the economic bottom line are represented by the areas in Figure 2 which do not overlap with economic performance. Third, it is important to note that some individual environmental and social initiatives of course, fail, as do marketing, research and development, new product development, and numerous other conventional business initiatives. The key is to learn from these failures and to develop workarounds for the most common failures. For example, misunderstanding the marketplace and incorrectly expecting a price premium can be partially mitigated by placing real numbers on intangibles such as customer loyalty and selling green and social attributes as tertiary to quality and cost (Etsy and Winston, 2006). Conversely, there are social and environmental supply chain activities that lie at the intersection with the economic bottom line – these are the activities that are defined as sustainable. Potential economic advantages (intersections of economic with social and/or environmental performance in Figure 2) include the following: . Cost savings due to reduced packaging waste (Mollenkopf et al., 2005; Rosenau et al., 1996), and the ability to design for reuse and disassembly (Christmann, 2000; Hart, 1995; Shrivastava, 1995c). . Reduced health and safety costs, and lower recruitment and labor turnover costs resulting from safer warehousing and transportation and better working conditions (Brown, 1996; Carter et al., 2007).





Lower labor costs – Better working conditions can increase motivation and productivity, and reduce the absenteeism of supply chain personnel (Holmes et al., 1996; McElroy et al., 1993). Proactively shaping future regulation – companies that proactively address environmental and social concerns can influence government regulation when this regulation is modeled after a company’s existing production and supply chain processes, leading to a difficult-to-replicate competitive advantage for companies and their suppliers (Carter and Dresner, 2001). Reduced costs, shorter lead times, and better product quality associated with the implementation of ISO 14000 standards, which provide a framework for environmental management systems (Hanson et al., 2004; Montabon et al., 2000; Tibor and Feldman, 1996). Enhanced reputation – engaging in sustainable behavior can make an organization more attractive to suppliers and customers (Ellen et al., 2006), to potential employees (Capaldi, 2005), and to shareholders (Klassen and McLaughlin, 1996).

Our contention is that the proportion of environmental and social initiatives which result in enhanced economic performance is relatively large, as illustrated by the extent of overlap between environmental, social, and economic performance shown in Figure 2. While most of the above outcomes are “good” examples of ways in which a firm can improve its sustainability, true sustainability occurs at the intersection of all three areas – environmental, social, and economic – and includes multiple activities (e.g. activities in the aggregate) where an organization explicitly and comprehensively incorporates social, environmental, and economic goals in developing strategic vision and long-term strategic objectives. Further, as indicated in our review of the supply chain management literature, the environmental and social aspects of sustainability can extend beyond an organization’s boundary to include supply chain activities. When coupled with economic objectives to develop a clear, long-term strategy, the inclusion of supply chain management activities in a firm’s sustainability can actually create a longer-lasting, and less imitable set of processes, as will be discussed further in the next section of the paper. The preceding discussion of the benefits of such an explicit and long-term viewpoint and integration of all three of the dimensions which make up SSCM leads to the following proposition: P1.

Firms that strategically undertake SSCM will achieve higher economic performance than firms that pursue only one or two of the three components of the triple bottom line.

Although P1 might appear tautological, it advocates that the highest level of economic performance will occur at the intersection of environmental, social, and economic performance as shown in Figure 2. Thus, firms which attempt to simultaneously maximize performance of all three dimensions of the triple bottom line will outperform organizations that attempt to only maximize economic performance, or companies that attempt to achieve high levels of social and environmental performance without explicit consideration of economic performance.

A framework of SSCM




While our discussion thus far provides a definition and framework for understanding sustainability and SSCM, it is somewhat a-theoretical. More than its use as a conceptual tool, the framework should also offer predictive and normative value, based on sound theoretical underpinnings. In the next section of the paper, we integrate the resource dependence perspective, transaction cost economics, population ecology, and the resource-based view of the firm to provide a theoretical lens by which to view SSCM and to more broadly make the case for why the explicit incorporation of supply chain management activities into an organization’s sustainability practices can further enhance the organization’s long-term viability. This is accomplished through the development of theoretically based propositions which consider the antecedents to and consequences of SSCM, and which can be used to guide future empirical research. Theory development and research propositions In following the calls of Flint et al. (2005) and Mentzer and Kahn (1995) for the development and creation of theory in the supply chain management discipline, we develop a broader theoretical framework within which to position our above conceptualization of SSCM. We do so by integrating four distinct but complementary theories – resource dependence theory, transaction cost economics, population ecology, and the resource-based view of the firm – in order to advance research propositions which might begin to guide future inquiry in this area. We chose these four perspectives to build our framework of SSCM because each theoretical base is derived from divergent disciplines: resource dependence from sociology and political science, transaction cost economics from economics, population ecology from biology, and the resource-based view from strategic management and the theory of competitive advantage. These four theories were also selected because while each tenders unique perspectives, they are also complementary in offering explanations of SSCM, as we will show next. The population ecology perspective advocates that limited environmental resources can constrain populations (Hannan and Freeman, 1977). This means that some populations, and organizations within populations, disappear and others survive (Hannan and Freeman, 1988) and that in order to survive, firms must control limited environmental resources. The resource dependence perspective also proposes that organizational success and ultimately survival occur by maximizing power (Pfeffer, 1981), through the acquisition of scarce and valuable resources (Pfeffer and Salancik, 1978), in a stable and low-cost manner. Similarly, one of the tenets of transaction cost economics is that firms attempt to acquire resources in a low cost and stable manner (Williamson, 1975). Pfeffer and Salancik argue that as dependence on resources rises, firms should attempt to increase vertical coordination. This leads to P2a, which posits that resource dependence is positively related to vertical coordination. As firms become increasingly dependent on scarce and valued resources, they will increase coordination with other members of the supply chain, by for example acquiring access to strategic supplier technologies and knowledge by forming supplier partnerships and strategic alliances (Arminas, 2004), developing joint ventures (Ellram, 1992), or even purchasing sources of supply (Webster, 1992): P2a. Firms that are dependent upon key, external resources can improve their economic sustainability through vertical coordination.

This relationship between resource dependence and vertical coordination becomes even more important under conditions of uncertainty (Pfeffer and Salancik, 1978) which is based on both dynamism and complexity (Duncan, 1972) in the supply chain environment. Similarly, the transaction cost literature suggests that firms are more likely to vertically integrate in the event of uncertainty, by creating bureaucracies or clans (Williamson, 1979; Ouchi, 1980) or other, more vertically coordinated governance mechanisms (Williamson, 2008). Thus, P2b: P2b. Firms that face uncertainty regarding key, external resources can improve their economic sustainability through vertical coordination. Finally, there is likely to be an interaction effect between resource dependence and uncertainty. Thus, if an organization is highly dependent upon a resource, and faces uncertainty surrounding the acquisition of that resource, this suggests an even stronger rationale for vertical integration than if either of the exogenous conditions of uncertainty or resource dependence existed without the other. Hence, the following proposition: P2c. There is a positive relationship between vertical coordination and the interaction of uncertainty and resource dependence. That is, firms which are dependent upon key resources and which face uncertainty concerning those resources should increase vertical coordination to an even greater extent than firms that only face resource dependence or only face uncertainty. While these propositions may at the surface seem rudimentary, they begin to provide guidance for how organizations can structure supply chains to achieve economic sustainability, and follow the calls in the extant literature for theory development in supply chain management (Flint et al., 2005; Mentzer and Kahn, 1995). Additionally, these propositions, while perhaps seemingly generic, apply to our framework of SSCM (Figure 2) concerning risk management and assurance of continuity of supply. In the short term, for commodity-like products, an organization might utilize futures markets to attempt to “coordinate� with supply sources to minimize this uncertainty. Other options include contracts, and relational forms of governance such as partnerships and strategic alliances (Ellram and Cooper, 1990). Starbucks Coffees has used such partnerships to ensure the supply of high-quality coffee while paying stable and living wages to farmers who grow the coffee in an ecologically sound manner (Argenti, 2004). This strategy cannot only benefit the farmer in terms of stable wages, but can also result in a lower purchase price due to the disintermediation of the inbound supply chain (McKone-Sweet, 2004). Finally, P2a-P2c do not advocate that increasing access to scarce resources is a sole solution to ensuring sustainability. As will be highlighted at the end of this section of the paper, firms will likely need to adopt even longer-term and more flexible supply chain solutions to ensure their long-term viability. As one example here, the hybrid car has been criticized as not being a solution to a dwindling supply of oil, but it is nonetheless a valuable intermediate technology. Somewhat similarly the creation of a vertically integrated, closed-loop supply chain by General Mills (2006) (Carter et al., 1998) to ensure a consistent supply of recycled material has been an excellent initial step toward the reduction of packaging materials for its products, although in the long run even more sustainable materials and processes may be developed.

A framework of SSCM




Traditionally, the field of strategic management has analyzed an organization’s external opportunities and threats (Ansoff, 1965; Porter, 1980, 1985) with the belief that internal organizational resources are homogeneous and any existing resource heterogeneity within an industry will be short lived (Porter, 1981). The resource-based view (Penrose, 1959; Rumelt, 1984; Wernerfelt, 1984) challenges these assumptions and posits that: . strategic resources within an industry may be heterogeneous across firms; and . these resources may not be mobile, and as a result this resource heterogeneity may be long lasting (Barney, 1991). Hence, the resource-based view suggests that a firm may achieve economic sustainability by effectively employing its resources. Barney (1991, p. 101) defines firm resources to include: [. . .] all assets, capabilities, organizational processes, firm attributes, information, knowledge, etc. controlled by a firm that enable the firm to conceive of and implement strategies that improve its efficiency and effectiveness.

Some researchers have focused on knowledge as a resource, which includes the ability of organizations to effectively learn and to implement changes based on what they have learned (Garvin, 1993). Such organizational learning occurs when knowledge is accumulated over time and learned by an organization’s members (March, 1991). This knowledge is stored by organizations not only in their procedures and rules, but also in their less formal norms and social and communication patterns (Barney, 1991; March, 1991). These knowledge and human capital resources (Becker, 1964) consist of training, as well as experience, social relationships, and the insights of managers and workers in an organization (Barney, 1991). Researchers have shown that a learning organization, in concert with a marketing orientation, can lead to competitive advantage (Moorman and Miner, 1997; Sinkula et al., 1997; Slater and Narver, 1995). The resource and knowledge-based views can be expanded to the resources of a supply chain (Gulati, 1999). In fact, while supply chains are external to an organization they are in many ways less transparent and more difficult to imitate. Learning that occurs between buyers and suppliers concerning environmental and social activities such as working with suppliers to commit to waste reduction goals and developing capable minority business enterprise suppliers takes time, but such learning can have a strong positive influence on supplier performance and reduced operating costs in supply chain relationships (Carter, 2005). Supply chains which integrate social and environmental resources may also be more difficult to replicate, particularly if suppliers devote asset-specific investments to engage in the design for disassembly and reuse activities of their customers (Carter and Carter, 1998) or share rich information and develop higher levels of trust associated with the “embedded ties” (Gulati, 1999, p. 400) of minority supplier development activities (Krause et al., 1999). This leads to the next proposition: P3.

Supply chains which integrate social and environmental resources and knowledge may be more difficult to imitate, thus leading to economic sustainability.

Williamson (1975, 1985, 1996) states that transaction costs include both the direct costs of managing relationships and potential opportunity costs of making poor governance decisions. Transaction cost economics makes two assumptions about human behavior: (1) bounded rationality exists due to limitations associated with communication, information processing, and cognitive capabilities (Simon, 1957) and this is complicated by external uncertainty; and (2) there is the potential for opportunistic behavior, which is defined as, “self-interest seeking with guile” (Williamson, 1985, p. 47). Because some organizations act unethically or even illegally, this creates transaction costs in terms of investment monitoring for shareholders and costly government regulation and reporting requirements (e.g. Sarbanes-Oxley) for the organizations themselves. Within a supply chain context, the threat of opportunistic behavior by other members of the supply chain creates the need for costly monitoring (Stump and Heide, 1996) and cumbersome contracts (Joskow, 1987). While transaction cost economics often focuses on more relational exchanges, or what Williamson (2008) refers to as Hybrid Contracting, the theory, and issues surrounding opportunism, also apply to more arms-length relationships (Rindfleisch and Heide, 1997). From the standpoint of sustainability, this leads to the following proposition: P4.

To the extent that an organization can eliminate opportunistic behavior (improve social sustainability) in its supply chain, this should lower the firm’s costs, thus improving the economic component of sustainability.

According to Hannan and Freeman (1977), changes in organizational forms, structures, and processes occur due to changes in the environment. Similarly, supply chain structures likely transform in response to external change. From the population ecology perspective, inertia is the posited explanation for why organizations fail to adapt. Inertia can exist due to internal factors including sunk costs, communication structures, internal politics, and institutional norms, as well as external factors like barriers to entry and exit, bounded rationality, and social legitimacy. These assertions from the population ecology literature, combined with the concept of SSCM which integrates social, environmental, and economic considerations, lead to the final proposition: P5.

Organizations that more effectively adapt to dwindling natural resources, along with social changes such as calls for increased diversity and improvements in human rights, will be more economically sustainable.

Implications Research implications The conceptual framework and propositions developed in this paper begin to meet the call for more theory building research in supply chain management (Melynk and Handfield, 1998; Mentzer and Kahn, 1995), which can, “lead to a better balance between theory-building and theory-testing,” in a scientific discipline (Meredith, 1993, p. 4). The paper’s theoretical framework (Meredith, 1993), also referred to as a “middle range theory” (Weick, 1989), attempts to meet the criteria of a good theory, defined by Weick (1989, p. 517) as, “a plausible theory (which is) judged to be more plausible and of

A framework of SSCM




higher quality if it is . . . obvious in novel ways . . . (and) high in narrative quality,” conditions which are more likely when explicit research questions, such as those found in the paper’s introduction, are stated in advance. While the framework meets many of the components of a theory – specifically definitions of key concepts and posited relationships among those concepts (Weick, 1989) – frameworks derived through conceptual theory building are considered “pre-theories” (Meredith, 1993, p. 7) or “middle theories” (Weick, 1989) and the transition from framework to formal theory occurs as “frameworks are tested against reality until they are eventually developed into theories as research study builds upon research study,” (Campbell, 1974, p. 415). Our hope is that our research will stimulate additional theory-building and conceptual development within the supply chain management discipline. Given the early development of the framework, the propositions should be considered very tentative, and should be subjected to further refinement through both qualitative and quantitative research methods. One obvious initial step would be to use a multiple case study methodology to test the conceptual framework and propositions. Similarly, further development of the framework could be accomplished via a grounded theory approach (Glaser and Strauss, 1967; Strauss and Corbin, 1990). A potentially valuable research design to test the conceptual framework via multiple case studies would be to sample companies that have been identified as engaging in sustainable corporate and supply chain management practices, such as organizations that are members of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, along with a comparison group of companies that have been identified as having good, but not best practice sustainability initiatives. Such a design, which was employed by Collins and Porras (1994) in their study of visionary companies, can result in ground-breaking findings which might not be uncovered by only including best-in-class firms within a sample. Researchers might gain an even deeper understanding of the beliefs and motivations of companies’ engagement in SSCM through ethnographic inquiry via full time, on-site participation and observation of an organization and its supply chain (Hammersley and Atkinson, 1995). Such an approach can allow researchers to take an experiential “deep dive” into organizational (Hargadon and Sutton, 1997) and potentially interorganizational phenomena, and can allow for movement from rapid collection of “specimens” to instead “coax(ing) out of the native by patient sympathy” the deeper relationships and implications of the collected data (Stocking, 1983, pp. 80-81). Supply chain researchers might employ such an ethnographic methodology to examine the supporting role of organizational culture in SSCM, as well as the interrelationships among culture, strategy, risk management, and transparency. To assess long-term economic performance (P1), a longitudinal analysis will be necessary. Such an analysis might use a survey-based methodology to measure the level of an organization’s environmental and social supply chain performance over time (Johnson et al., 2006), combined with multi-year financial measures (Wiggins and Ruefli, 2005). This sort of analysis would need to measure actual performance (e.g. reduction in carbon emissions or effect on literacy rates) as opposed to activities (e.g. the use of alternative fuel vehicles or volunteer hours spent at local schools). A longitudinal analysis might also provide a basis for the identification of common stages of SSCM evolution and implementation, perhaps via an in-depth case study design. Obviously, this sort of in-depth analysis would require significant effort, and

the recommendation for employing such longitudinal designs is not being casually put forth. One has only to consider Chandler’s (1966) study of organizational strategy and structure, or the attrition of companies participating in studies over multi-year periods (Johnson et al., 2006), to appreciate the effort and potential methodological difficulties that researchers can encounter in using longitudinal methodologies. However, given the call for more longitudinal research in supply chain management, and the long-term perspective of SSCM, such studies would likely yield rich and very valuable insights. After further developing and refining the SSCM framework, a logical next step would be to develop scales to measure the triple bottom line, the supporting facets of SSCM, and the relationships among resource dependence, external uncertainty, vertical coordination, imitability, and supply chain resiliency (P2a-P5). Potential starting points to measure the triple bottom line would be the exploratory work of Murphy and Poist (2002) and Carter and Jennings (2002), and the developed scales which Carter and Jennings (2004) used to measure PSR. For the complementary facets of SSCM, researchers might look to Carter and Jennings (2004) and Chatman and Jehn (1994) to assess organizational culture, and Christopher and Peck (2004), Giunipero and Eltantawy (2004), Svensson (2004) and Zsidisin and Ellram (2003) to gauge risk management. Social and environmental supply chain resources and knowledge (P3) might be measured using scales adapted from Hult et al. (2006) and others who have measured knowledge as a resource in the supply chain, while opportunistic behavior in the supply chain could be assessed using the established scales found in the marketing channels (Morgan and Hunt, 1994) and supply chain (Carter and Stevens, 2007) literature. Supply chain imitability could be assessed through a modification of Steensma and Corley’s (2000) scale of imitability in technology-sourcing partnerships. Findings from interviews with managers and a review of the trade press might be incorporated into the development of scales to assess the remaining facets of SSCM (Churchill, 1979; Flynn et al., 1990). Implications for supply chain managers Our framework provides a starting point for a common understanding of SSCM among supply chain managers. While many managers have heard of the term sustainability, our personal conversations with supply chain managers suggest that most supply chain personnel have very different viewpoints of what sustainability really is. Much like the blind men who touch an elephant only to describe it as a thick rope (the trunk), a large leaf (the ear), a tree (the leg), etc. so too do supply chain managers appear to view sustainability primarily as environmental management, as a synonym for social responsibility, as long-term economic viability, or in some cases as the triple bottom line. The SSCM framework thus provides an initial integration and extension of all of these perspectives into a managerially relevant and theoretically derived conceptualization. The SSCM framework also suggests a business case for the managerial adoption and integration of SSCM. While prior research has alluded to the economic benefits of LSR and PSR, the SSCM framework explicitly accounts for long-term economic performance. Our hope is that the business case that has been developed for SSCM through the introduction of the paper’s propositions will lead to greater acceptance and adoption of SSCM in practice.

A framework of SSCM




Of course, it is important to recognize that the social and environmental efforts of many companies have not been as productive as they could be (e.g. these efforts fall outside of the triple bottom line) because, “companies tend to think of corporate social responsibility in generic ways,” with existing approaches to social and environmental initiatives “fragmented” and “disconnected” from “strategy” (Porter and Kramer, 2006, pp. 78-80) which can lead to conflicting social, environmental, and economic objectives. Instead organizations must explicitly link environmental, social, and economic goals within a broader strategic perspective to ensure that environmental and social initiatives occur at the intersection of the triple bottom line. Finally, our framework also offers supply chain managers a starting point for what is needed to develop SSCM practices in their organizations. The numerous examples that we have presented should provide managers with a tangible and salient picture of how leading-edge, real-world companies are already implementing SSCM in their organizations. In addition, Porter’s (1985) value chain may be a particularly useful means for managers to pragmatically utilize our framework of SSCM to identify the environmental and social initiatives that can have the greatest economic impact, and to do so in the integrative, strategic fashion suggested by our framework. For example, across the primary activities of the value chain, managers can examine inbound and outbound logistics activities such as packaging use and disposal, warehouse safety, and transportation impacts such as emissions and safety; operations issues including emissions, energy use, hazardous materials, and worker safety and human rights; and after-sales service concerns comprising reverse logistics issues centering on environmentally sound disposal and disposition (Porter and Kramer, 2006). Supporting activities in the value chain such as technology development also relate to SSCM (e.g. relationships with universities to develop qualified supply chain managers), as does procurement in particular through activities such as asking suppliers to engage in environmental initiatives, purchasing from and developing minority-owned suppliers, ensuring safe and humane working conditions at suppliers’ plants, and participation in design for disassembly, reuse, and recycling (Carter and Jennings, 2004). This use of the value chain can enable managers to identify social and environmental initiatives with the greatest strategic value (Porter and Kramer, 2006). Note 1. These definitions are largely in-line with other popular definitions including the Council of Supply Chain Management Professional’s current definition of supply chain management. References Ansoff, H.I. (1965), Corporate Strategy: An Analytic Approach to Business Policy for Growth and Expansion, McGraw-Hill, New York, NY. Argenti, P.A. (2004), “Collaborating with activists: how Starbucks works with NGOs”, California Management Review, Vol. 47 No. 1, pp. 91-116. Arminas, D. (2004), “Steel yourself for price increases”, Supply Management, Vol. 9 No. 25, p. 14. Atkinson, W. (2006), “Hilton’s supply chain ready for anything heading into hurricane season”, Purchasing, Vol. 135 No. 12, p. 24. Barney, J.B. (1991), “Firm resources and sustained competitive advantage”, Journal of Management, Vol. 17 No. 1, pp. 99-120.

Barry, J. (2004), “Supply chain risk in an uncertain global supply chain environment”, International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, Vol. 34 No. 9, pp. 695-7.

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numerous supply chain management journals including Decision Sciences, International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management, Journal of Business Logistics, Journal of Operations Management, Journal of Supply Chain Management, Transportation Journal, and Transportation Research E. Craig R. Carter is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: Dale S. Rogers (PhD, Michigan State University) is the Director of the Center for Logistics Management and a Professor of Supply Chain Management at the University of Nevada. He received his PhD, MBA, and undergraduate degree at Michigan State University. He has published in several logistics journals and is a co-author of three books on logistics, including Going Backwards: Reverse Logistics Trends and Practices.

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A framework of SSCM


Craig R. Carter, Dale S. Rogers  

The authors wish to thank Rob Klassen, Mark Pagell, and Mellie Pullman, who provided comments and feedback on earlier versions of this paper...

Craig R. Carter, Dale S. Rogers  

The authors wish to thank Rob Klassen, Mark Pagell, and Mellie Pullman, who provided comments and feedback on earlier versions of this paper...