Implementing Sustainability into Supply Chain Operations

    Publikation: Bog/antologi/afhandling/rapportPh.d.-afhandling

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    Sustainability is acknowledged as a top strategic agenda by many global companies. As increasing globalization and outsourcing trends shift competition from single company affairs to competition among supply chains, the implementation of sustainability within companies’ supply chain operations becomes even more crucial. Professional literature acknowledges that complex and dispersed supply chain structures present organizational challenges when companies strive to translate their strategic sustainability intentions into ongoing supply chain operations.
    Despite the recognized challenges, few empirical studies have investigated in detail how sustainability agendas are implemented or how they affect supply chain operations. These studies have mostly investigated the impact of implementation, explored the relationship between strategy formulation and performance, or provided descriptions of drivers of sustainable behavior. However, a process perspective on what happens when sustainability is implemented in ongoing supply chain operations remains underrepresented in the research. In particular, research on how top-down sustainability strategy is translated into, aligned with, and affected by bottom-up, day-to-day experiences of supply chain operations is scarce.

    The contingency approach, which includes the contextual conditions under which the implementation occurs, is also scarce. Moreover, there is a lack of theoretical frameworks based on empirical studies that can support the application of sustainable supply chain management SSCM in practice.

    This study aims to explore in detail the implementation of sustainability in ongoing supply chain operations. Specifically, it investigates how a company approaches the implementation of sustainability in different areas of its supply chain operations, exploring interactions on both cross-functional and cross-organizational levels.
    The thesis builds on an exploratory, in-depth, single case study, which examines how a Danish company leading in sustainability has implemented a strategic sustainability agenda within its supply chain operations. In order to understand and explain why the implementation of sustainability occurs as it does, the following research questions were developed:
    Research Question 1. What are the current organizational barriers to sustainability and how do they impede companies in implementing and anchoring sustainability in their supply chain practices?
    Research Question 2. How does a new agenda of sustainability affect supplier-buyer relationships?
    Research Question 3. How does operational coordination between suppliers and customers change with the introduction of a sustainability agenda?

    To answer these specific research questions and achieve the aims of the study, the logic of theory-building through a qualitative case study approach was applied. Secondly, a multi-theoretical lens was adopted to explain the revealed aspects of the phenomenon. Thirdly, systems theory was used as an epistemological meta-theory to unfold the complexity of sustainability implementation in supply chain operations.
    The study findings point to the need for adequate cross-functional and cross-organizational coordination, as well as the need to develop sustainability performance metrics that are tangible and coherent within the operational logic of supply chain functions. The findings also show that the co-generated value-seeking approach (vs. a trade-off approach) is one of the factors affecting the deployment of sustainability in supply chain operations, as well as that a company’s purchasing strategy changes when sustainability is set as a strategic target. The study’s examination of operational coordination suggests the appearance of multiple value-offering and order-decoupling points that occur when sustainability is practiced as a buyer-supplier collaborative initiative. Finally, the study highlights the need for an “integrator” function—both across company functions and across the organizations involved in the supply chain—to achieve sustainability deployment.

    The outcomes of the study are as follows: (1) Conceptual frameworks are developed based on empirical data from the case study. These frameworks cover three different levels of the business system and present a simplified model to explore the complexity of the phenomenon. (2) Means for the deployment (i.e., successful implementation) of a sustainability agenda in supply chain practices are identified. The discussion of means provides some explanations for relationships among frameworks components. More specifically, these means begin to explain why sustainability is being implemented the way it is. (3) Research propositions are suggested for validation in future research. These propositions are developed based on the discussion of means.
    This study contributes to both industry practice and academia. The study contributes to industry practice through knowledge of more efficient sustainability implementation by (1) providing rich insights into the process of sustainability implementation and (2) discussing the means for sustainability deployment. The study enhances SSCM theory development by: (1) adding in-depth knowledge and unfolding the complexity of the cross-functional and cross-organizational aspects of the implementation of sustainability in ongoing supply chain operations, (2) suggesting frameworks that fit into the business system, and (3) providing an explanation for the phenomenon through a discussion of the means for implementing sustainability.
    StatusUdgivet - 2016

    Bibliografisk note

    How can sustainability be implemented in your company’s supply chain operations?
    Sustainability is acknowledged as a top strategic agenda by many global companies.This paper examines how companies implements sustainability in their supply chain operations. It also lists the challenges this may present.
    The paper concludes that:
    1.there is a lack of sustainable performance measurements
    2.environmental solutions are only implemented if they can support operational performance in terms of cost and efficiency
    3.there is a need to develop clear coordination mechanisms for cross-functional coordination and for coordination between buyer and supplier to ensure effective boundary management and a good fit with concrete operational contexts.

    Published: 2016

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