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BUILDING A MORE COMPLETE THEORY OF SUSTAINABLE SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT USING

Pagell, Mark;Wu, Zhaohui


Journal of Supply Chain Management; Apr 2009; 45, 2; ABI/INFORM Research
pg. 37

BUILDING A MORE COMPLETE THEORY OF SUSTAINABLE


SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT USING CASE STUDIES OF
10 EXEMPLARS
MARK PAGELL
York University
ZHAOHUIWU
Oregon State University

Case studies of 10 exemplar firms are used to build a coherent and testable
model of the elements necessary to create a sustainable supply chain. The
cases build on previous research by examining the chain as an entirety, by
explicitly examining both the social and environmental outcomes of the
chain's activities, and by explicitly asking what these exemplar organizations
are doing that is unique in regards to managing their supply chains in a
sustainable manner. The analysis suggests that the practices that lead to a
more sustainable supply chain are equal parts best practices in traditional
supply chain management and new behaviors, some of which run counter to
existing accepted "best" practice.

Keywords: sustainability; supply chain management; case studies

INTRODUCTION
Interest in green and now sustainable supp(y chains has
been growing for over a decade and the topic is becoming
mainstream (Corbett and Kleindorfer 2003; Corbett and
Klassen 2006). However, there are still fundamental issues researchers need to address in order to offer managers prescriptive models of how to create sustainable
supply chains.
First, much of the existing research has been focused on
the _question of whether it pays to be green/sustainable
(e.g., Russo and Fouts 1997; Pagell, Yang, Krumwied and
Sheu 2004). While important, many believe this question is becoming irrelevant because it is increasingly clear
that organizations will need to deal with environmental
and social issues (e.g., Kleindorfer, Singha and Van
Wassenhove 2005; Corbett and Klassen 2006).
Second with some notable exceptions (see for instance,
Zhu and Sarkis 2004; Zhu, Sarkis and Lai 2008), the
development of the field has tended to focus on studies
of a single function or activity as opposed to looking at
the entire chain (Rao and Holt 2005). As we review the
literature it seems as if almost every study posits a
different task/behavior/investment as being the key to
being sustainable.

Finally, much of the existing research links previously


identified best practices to environmental outcomes.
And even many of the "new" practices such as design for
the environment and/or ISO 14000 certification identified in the literature have strong roots in previously
identified practices such as design for manufacturing and
ISO 9000 certification. While laudable, these efforts are
in a sense asking what is the same about creating sustainable supply chains, as opposed to what is unique.
Equally important these studies and the literature as a
whole have generally ignored the social component of
sustainability (Kleindorfer et al. 2005).
While all of this research is valuable, no coherent set of
practices in sustainable supply chain management has
emerged. In the present study, we use case studies of
10 exemplar firms to build a coherent and testable model
of the management practices that supply chain managers
will need to engage in to create a sustainable supply
chain. We build on previous research by examining the
chain in its entirety, by explicitly examining both the social and environmental outcomes of the chain's activities,
and by explicitly asking what is different about these exemplar organizations. We address the following research
questions about sustainable supply chain management.

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37

Journal of Supply Chain Management

1. What are leaders in sustainable supply chain management doing that is different from leaders in traditional
supply chain management?
2. Are there patterns of behaviors across these exemplar
firms that can be used to build a theoretical and testable model of an integrated sustainable supply chain?

LITERATURE REVIEW
Discussions of sustainability are driven by the basic
notion that a supply chain's performance should be
measured not just by profits, but also by the impact of
the chain on ecological and social systems (Gladwin,
Kennelly and Krause 1995; Starik and Rands 1995;
Jennings and Zandbergen 2005). To be truly sustainable
a supply chain would at worst do no net harm to natural
or social systems while still producing a profit over an
extended period of time; a truly sustainable supply chain
could, customers willing, continue to do business forever. As far as we know, no such supply chain exists today.
And none of the exemplars we studied claim to have
arrived at true sustainability. Instead most are significantly more sustainable than others in their industry. So all
things being equal these more sustainable organizations
could continue in business for far longer than their average competitor.
A sustainable supply chain is then one that performs
well on both traditional measures of profit and loss as
well as on an expanded conceptualization of performance that includes social and natural dimensions. Such
a conceptualization of performance is generally referred
to as the triple bottom line (Elkington 1999; Kleindorfer
et al. 2005). The triple bottom line concept has its detractors because it is often used with a narrow accounting
focus (Vanclay 2004) and/or as a means for companies to
avoid looking at their supply chain as a single system that
simultaneously impacts communities, economies and
the environment (Johnson 1991 ). These are valid criticisms but for the purposes of this manuscript we take the
perspective that the triple bottom line is a tool to measure an organization's progress toward the end goal of
being truly sustainable.
If a sustainable chain is one that performs well on all
elements of the triple bottom line, sustainable supply
chain management is then the specific managerial actions that are taken to make the supply chain more
sustainable with an end goal of creating a truly sustainable chain. When we refer to a sustainable supply chain
we are in essence referring to an outcome for that supply
chain. When we discuss sustainable supply chain management we are referring to managerial decisions and/ or
behaviors. In an attempt at parsimoniously enhancing
understanding of the sustainable supply chain management literature we have condensed the literature review
into three themes.
38

Existing Best Practices as a Foundation for


Sustainability
The first theme in the literature is an attempt to extend
what we already know about supply chain management
in general into the realm of sustainability. Numerous
authors have explored the linkage between existing best
practices in supply chain management and environmental (with almost no coverage of the social component) practices and outcomes. These studies are in a sense
all addressing a deeper fundamental question: do the
best practices and managerial systems traditionally associated with well run supply chains support or hinder
efforts to become greener/more sustainable?

This focus can be obvious, as with studies that examine


linkages between TQM (i.e., Clark 1999) and/or JIT (i.e.,
King and Lenox 2001) and environmental outcomes. At
other times the emphasis on existing practices is not as
dear. For instance, Zhu and Sarkis (2004) and Zhu et al.
(2008) present a model of the components of green
supply chain management (GSCM). The work of these
authors is highly commendable especially because they
create an empirically validated model of sustainable
supply chain management that is comprised of multiple
(five) interrelated factors.
However, the majority of the practices that make up
their model of GSCM are modifications of existing
practices. For instance, their green purchasing factor is
comprised of practices such as cooperation with suppliers, auditing and ISO certification, all of which have been
previously linked to sourcing to improve operational
outcomes. We can make similar arguments about most of
their other practices. Our point is not to disparage this
research. Nor is it to suggest that this approach is wrong.
In fact as Corbett and Klassen (2006) note, including an
environmental perspective with existing practices can
lead to higher supply chain performance. Rather our
point is that even the literature with an integrative perspective is primarily focused on what is the same about
sustainable supply chain management with much less
emphasis on what, if anything, might be truly unique.
For example, TQM, JIT and lean have long been linked
to improved operational performance. And there is evidence that these process improvement philosophies and
their associated tools improve environmental performance as well (e.g., Clark 1999; Curkovic, Melnyk,
Handfield and Calantone 2000; King and Lenox 2001 ).
However it is also possible that these programs, while
useful, are not sufficient to become sustainable and long
term could even be hindrances. Benner and Tushman
(2002, 2003) conclude that firms that focus on process
improvement strategies such as TQM also tend to focus
on innovations that are incremental in nature. Over time
the incremental innovation efforts of these firms will
make existing processes more efficient and existing
products of higher value. However, the same firms are
less likely to make radical innovations. In our context this

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Ten Exemplars

I
suggests that TQM and other continuous improvement
focused operational philosophies may be most useful for
making an existing supply chain more sustainable.
However, the same operational philosophy may become
a hindrance when the organization needs to radically
change what they do to become truly sustainable.
Two best practices in purchasing that have received
significant attention in regard to -sustainability are collaboration and certification. Collaborative behaviors
with suppliers and customers are a component of creating an environmentally sustainable supply chain (Carter
and Carter 1998; Zhu and Sarkis 2004). Research suggests a few specific behaviors to support collaboration
in sustainable supply chains. Goodman (2000) posits
that there have to be incentives to reduce suppliers' risks
from engaging in the new/novel collaborative processes
required by sustainability. And Rao and Holt (2005)
suggest that firms need to educate their suppliers and
have their suppliers educate each other.
A second fundamental purchasing activity that has received attention in the literature is supplier certification.
Certification is one of the few areas where social issues
such as child labor and unsafe working conditions
are addressed in the sustainable supply chain management literature (e.g., Teuscher, Gruninger and Ferdinand
2005).

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Reconceptualizing the Supply Chain


The second theme encompasses the large, but mainly
conceptual literature on reconceptualizing the supply
chain and changing managerial cognitions. The literature
on ecocentricity, servicizing, reverse logistics and the like
focuses on changing who is in the chain, what the chain
does and how success is measured.
A crucial theoretical discussion involves the ecocentric
view which suggests that an organization should consider its relationships with the broader social and natural
environments. Therefore as a member of the community
where its business is conducted, an organization should
consider the well-being of broader constituents in the
social-ecological-industrial system (e.g., Shrivastava
1994).
From a supply chain perspective the most interesting
aspect of ecocentricity is that a sustainable chain would
explicitly include nongovernmental agencies (NGOs),
community members and even competitors that traditional chains either ignored or treated as adversaries.
Ecocentricity (Seuring 2004) and collaborating with
nontraditional chain members (Johnston and Linton
2000) have been the subject of research. However these
notions tend to be discussed either from a purely theoretical perspective (Shrivastava 1995; Egri and Herman
2000) or as a conclusion to an empirical study that examined other issues (e.g., Sharma and Henriques 2005).
Reconceptualizing the chain to include these nontraditional members may be a key component of sustainable

supply chain management, but that contention has yet to


be empirically tested.
There is also literature that examines innovation at a
scale that redefines what the entire supply chain does. For
instance, rather than just redesigning products and/or
processes, sustainable organizations could move to a
service oriented strategy (Sharma and Henriques 2005).
For example, in the chemical industry, some suppliers
offer "chemical management services" to electronic
companies to replace traditional chemical product
contracts (Reiskin, Johnson and Votta 2000). The suppliers work with the buying firm to design the production facility, deliver the chemical, deploy the
chemical as indirect production material, and finally
handle waste treatment. The buying firms pay the
suppliers based on a value-added service instead of
tonnage of chemicals bought. Furthermore, in this new
relationship, the suppliers actually are motivated to
reduce chemical usage.
Such wholesale redefinition of the business may be
easier for small firms to accomplish (Hart and Milstein
1999). So while there is ample evidence that smaller
companies tend to lag when it comes to sustainability
performance (Min and Galle 2001), redefinition may be
an area that smaller organizations can exploit. This supposition is interesting but generally untested.
Reverse logistics and closed loop supply chains are a
component of changing what the chain does that has
received significant attention, much of it empirical. In
addition to the need for a formal reverse flow, these
systems will require changes in design (Krikke, Blan
and Van De Velde 2004) and relationships with other
members of the chain (Pagell, Wu and Murthy 2006).
Numerous authors have examined reverse flows (e.g.,
Guide, Jayarama and Linton 2003) but with the exception of a few theoretical explorations (Starik and Rands
1995; McDonough and Braungart 2000) these works
have been treated as part of a unique literature stream
that deals with technical issues and have not been well
integrated into the sustainability literature.

Integration
The third theme is that to create a sustainable chain
managers need to integrate sustainability goals, practices
and cognitions into day-to-day supply chain management. Responsibility for sustainability cannot be given to
a separate entity within the organization; it must be part
of everyone's job, starting with top management.
The beliefs and behaviors of top management as they
relate to sustainability have been the subject of significant
study. There are numerous studies linking a proactive
stance toward the environment to efforts to become
more sustainable (e.g., Klassen and Whybark 1999).
There is also evidence that this proactive stance needs to
be backed with a tangible commitment to sustainability,

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39

Journal of Supply Chain Management

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often in the form of a written environmental policy


(Ramus and Steger 2000).
Beyond suggesting the need for integration and support
from upper levels of management the literature does not
provide much direction in terms of specific areas of leverage or focus to move from commitment to outcome.
Two specific processes that have received some attention
are measurement and design.
It is generally understood that good managers create
reward systems that link wanted behaviors to outcomes
employees' value. The sustainability literature has
reached the same conclusion at two levels of analysis.
At the firm level there is evidence that linking sustainability goals and measures to corporate strategy helps
to integrate sustainability into what the organization
does (Azzone and Nod 1998). At the individual level
employees need to be trained in sustainability (Starik and
Rands 1995), and then given incentives to follow
through (Daily and Huang 2001). Such linkages provide
employees the incentives to pursue sustainability goals
along with more traditional goals such as quality improvements. Without these incentives employees are
likely to continue pursuing only traditional goals
(Handfield, Melnyk, Calantone and Curkovic 2001).
Design of products and processes has been a focus of
the sustainable supply chain management literature. Redesigning processes to prevent pollution has been linked
to improved plant performance (e.g., Klassen and Whybark 1999). These performance benefits will mainly accrue to those firms that have the ability to innovate
(Christmann 2000). However, there is evidence that most
designers do not consider sustainability when designing
because of incentive structures (Handfield et al. 2001).
To create a sustainable supply chain then seems to require proactive top management that understands that
sustainability is an organizational commitment. This
understanding may be evidenced by redesigning products and/or processes, which can only occur if all employees including the designers are properly motivated
and rewarded.

METHODS
The three themes in the literature then provide some
guidance as to what may matter as organizations attempt
to make their supply chains sustainable. However, the
literature is incomplete and it is clear that there is a need
to understand what elements are truly unique to sustainable supply chain management, how these elements
fit together with each other and existing best practices,
and why this bundle of practices leads to sustainability; a
need to build theory (Handfield and Melnyk 1998). The
present study returns sustainable supply chain management research to theory building via a series of case
studies of exemplars in the move toward more sustainable supply chains.

40

Sample
Our fundamental research question asks what the
leaders in sustainable supply chain management are
doing that is different. Therefore a focus on exemplars is
needed. In addition, while the literature has examples of
single case studies of leading edge firms (e.g., Goodman
2000) to the best of our knowledge no one has examined
multiple exemplars simultaneously to build propositions
based on patterns of behavior.
Exemplars are organizations that are well ahead of
their industry on either social and/or environmental
performance while still maintaining economic viability.
Identifying exemplars in sustainable supply chain management is complicated because rigorous metrics of environmental and/or social performance are absent in
many industries (Specter 2008). In addition, claims of
sustainability progress are often little more than "greenwashing" (Preuss 2005). Given these constraints we
identified a pool of potential exemplars using a range of
data, all of which came from third parties.
Some of the potential respondent organizations had
received third party certification and/or recognition. For
instance, one firm was the first in their industry to receive
the EPA's Green Seal, while others had certifications from
NGO's such as the Rainforest Alliance. Other possible
respondents were identified because they had been selected by state environmental regulators as examples to
show other organizations that it was possible to exceed
regulations and maintain/improve operational effectiveness. We also used newspaper articles, articles in the
business press, presentations at sustainability conferences, investments in socially responsible funds and the
like to identify organizations that could be considered
exemplars. Each of the identified organizations had been
recognized and/or reported on in multiple outlets.
From our initial list of organizations that broadly fit the
definition of an exemplar we collected data from 10
supply chains from 10 different organizations (see Table
I). Data were collected in 2006 and 2007. Suggestions for
the number of cases to use in multiple case study research
vary, but Eisenhart (1989) suggests seven cases as the
maximum that a person can mentally process. Yin
(1994) and others are more circumspect in regards to
hard numbers and instead suggest that data should be
collected until saturation. In operations and supply chain
management research there are numerous examples of
multiple case study research using from three to 11 cases
(e.g., Pagell 2004; Wu and Choi 2005; Matos and Hall
2007). We stopped at 10 cases because we were near or at
a saturation point and were also reaching the limits of
the amount of data that could be processed in one study.
The level of analysis for the study is formally the supply
chain. At the two larger multinationals we focused on a
single chain as opposed to the entire company. This focus
was necessary at the firms that had multiple supply
chains because these multiple supply chains could be

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Ten Exemplars

TABLE I

Description of the Organizations in the Case Sample


Company

Description

Cleaning
Products
(CP)

Regional producer
and distributor of
cleaning products for
janitorial markets
Regional grower and
processor of forest
products

Forest and
Wood
Products
(FW)
Electronic
Scrap (ES)

National e-scrap
collection and
recycling service
Local pizza restaurant
Pizza
Restaurants chain with 4 outlets
(PR)
Multinational IT
IT
Equipment hardware and services
(In
provider
Snack Food Multinational
(SF)
producer and
distributor of organic
and all natural snack
foods
National provider of
Paper
Products
nontraditional paper
(PP)

Size/
Price
Level of
Vertical
Ownership Premium?
Integration

Medium/
private

No

Janitorial
service
providers

Product design

High

Large/
private

No

Wholesale
dimensional
lumber

Operations

Very low
-virtual
chain
Medium

Small/
private

No

Consumer
and B to B

Small/
private

Yes

Low

Large/
public

No

Retail food
and
beverage
Consumer
and B to B

Supply chain
design, reverse
logistics
Supply chain
design, operations,
product design
Operations, reverse
logistics

Medium

Medium/
private

Yes

Retail/
consumer
food

Operations,
sourcing

Very low
- virtual
chain

Small/
private

Yes

Product design,
sourcing

Medium/
private

Yes

Consumer
and some
specialty
printing
Consumer
appliance

Large/
public

Yes

Medium/
private

Yes

National producer and Low


distributor of lighting

Building
Renovation

Local sustainable
Medium
cabinetry and building
contractor

(B~)

Process(es) at Which
They Are Considered
Exemplars

Low

Lighting
Products
(LP)
Food and
Beverage
(FB)

Global distributor of
retail food and
beverages

Market

Low

managed in very different ways (Bowen, Cousins, Lammin and Faruk 2001).
We followed a theoretical sampling approach (Eisenhart 1989; Miles and Huberman 1994; Pagell 2004;
Matos and Hall 2007) across multiple industries because
all industries are grappling with the need to become
sustainable, pointing to a need to develop propositions
and theory that would be generalizable to a wide range of
organizations. A multiple industry design has two additional benefits. First, focusing on one industry might not

Operations,
distribution

Retail food
and
beverage

Sourcing in the
developing world,
supply chain
design, certification
Homeowners Product and service
design, operations

provide a full spectrum of sustainable supply chain


management practice. And second, we were concerned
that there were few if any industries with large numbers
of exemplars which would have limited sample size and
further limited the applicability of the results. This design
decision mirrors many previous multiple case study
projects (e.g., Pagell and LePine 2002; Wu and Choi
2005; Matos and Hall 2007). Our results are then by
nature limited in the sense that we do not directly control
for industry specific contingencies.

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41

Journal of Supply Chain Management

Because no one company excels in all elements of


sustainability the most important determinant in sample
selection was area of sustainability expertise. Part of the
initial process of identifying exemplars was to categorize
where the organizations excelled based on external
evaluations. Our design goal was to have a mix of leaders
in product design, internal operations, sourcing, service
design, distribution and supply chain design. As Table I
makes clear, this design goal was achieved. The sampled
organizations have then each made progress along very
different vectors on the path to sustainability.
Existing studies suggest that firm size may impact sustainable activities and outcomes. There is evidence suggesting that adoption of sustainable practices is more
likely at larger firms (e.g., Pagell et al. 2004 ). However,
Sharma and Henriques (2005) note that'~ .. small firms
can potentially create competitive niches via disruptive
innovations in more sustainable product designs or
business models" (p. 175). To assess the effect of company size, companies in our sample include a local restaurant chain, medium-sized regional companies and
three multinationals with global operations.
The motivation, discretion and decision strategy of
publicly owned firms can be different from those of the
private companies. Therefore the sample contains both
publicly and privately owned organizations. Finally, the
sampled companies cover a wide range of manufacturing
and service operations, allowing us to examine supply
chains creating both products and services. This diverse
sample then allows for the development of propositions
that will likely be applicable to a wide range of supply
chains.

Interview Protocol
We used a semistructured interview protocol 1 at all of
the organizations Eisenhart (1989) for two reasons. We
had designed the sample to include companies with
different capabilities, therefore a semistructured protocol
gave us the flexibility to focus on what was unique at
each of the companies. In general, there was some theoretical underpinning for items included in the protocol.
For example innovation has been seen as a key component of creating sustainable chains (e.g., Christmann
2000) so it was important to understand how environmental and/or social issues were addressed in the innovation/design process.
Data Collection
The research design was based on the recommendations of Eisenhart (1989), Yin (1994), Miles and Huberman (1994) and Handfield and Melnyk (1998) and
closely followed previous research in operations and
supply chain management (e.g., Walton, Handfield and
1
The protocol was made available during the review process and is
available from the first author upon request.

42

Melnyk 1998; Carter and Dresner 2001; Montabon,


Melnyk, Sroufe and Calantone 2006). The initial protocol called for interviews with top managers of different
functions at each supply chain with an aim of understanding the entire supply chain. We requested to interview:
A member of the top management team - at small
companies the president or COO, at larger companies
the person in charge of the specific supply chain.
The top managers in charge of operations, R&D, purchasing, marketing and logistics.
One or more people involved in product and/or process design.
The person with responsibility for "sustainability:'
In reality organizations are structured differently and
job titles vary. This was especially true when it came to
identifying the respondent with responsibility for
sustainability. In most (8) of the sampled organizations
this responsibility was diffused and integrated into the
jobs of multiple managers, making no single individual
or function formally responsible for sustainability. In
addition, the member of the top management team who
was interviewed was oft.en in charge of one or more of
the functions of interest. So while the research design
called for expertise in a minimum of seven different
areas, at most supply chains there were respondents who
had multiple responsibilities, reducing the number of
interviews but naturally increasing interview breadth for
individual respondents. There were also a few cases
where the initial interviews made it clear that we needed
additional data. In these cases we formally interviewed
additional respondents. For instance, there were financial
and legal implications to IT Hardware's reverse logistics
chain that required interviewing additional people to
truly understand the system. The end result was multiple
respondents at all firms. The minimal number of formal
respondents was 4 and the maximum was 13.
Facility tours were part of the data collection effort at
the seven organizations that had their own on-site production facilities. And in one case we also toured a supplier's facility because the supplier did the majority of the
production for the organization's products. We often
informally questioned shop floor employees, engineers
and the like in the process of touring a facility. Finally
data were also gathered from publicly available sources
when available. Web sites, published articles, as well as
awards and reports from NGOs and regulators all formed
part of the data collected for each organization.
Most of the interviews lasted between 60 and 90 minute with several lasting for far more than 90 minutes. The
interviews were generally conducted on site, although a
few were conducted via the telephone. At eight organizations at least two members of the research team con-
ducted the interviews. Interviews were taped at nine of

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Ten Exemplars

the cases, including the two organizations where there


was a single interviewer. In addition, each interviewer
also took their own notes to record impressions, context
and so on. After each site visit, interview tapes were
transcribed and field notes were edited, and checked for
accuracy. Any new or interesting areas that arose from the
data were added to the protocol for future visits. The
interview instrument was updated and improved with
each replication. This constant updating and improving
of the protocol after each replication is a foundation of
grounded theory development (Glasser and Strauss
1967).
Data collection thus included multiple researchers, a
taped and transcribed record of the conversations, multiple respondents, an opportunity to observe production
at most organizations, and data from archival sources.
This design allowed us to capitalize on triangulation.
Triangulation involves combining observations from
multiple researchers, data from multiple sources and/or
different types of data (in this study interview, archival
and observational from the tours) to mitigate biases and
enhance reliability and validity (Tick 1979; Eisenhart
1989; Yin 1994). The use of multiple researchers helps to
control for the biases of any one individual researcher.
The use of multiple respondents and multiple types of
data mitigates the biases of a single respondent and increases the odds of capturing the organization's view of a
construct. Plant tours provide the opportunity to match
rhetoric with reality and may spur further questioning.
Coding was based on the transcripts, interviewer notes
and secondary data. When there were inconsistencies
between the data sources we followed up with the respondents. Questions arising from the interview notes
were answered by interviewees through follow-up
e-mails, phone calls and in two cases, a second round of
on-site interviews.

CODING AND ANALYSIS


In addition to triangulation, potential contamination
from the researchers' biases was also controlled by
avoiding coding and model building until all data were
collected (Miles and Huberman 1994). Once the data
collection was complete, coding was done via a multistep
iterative process.
Coding was done to identify the extent of adoption of
practices that might be central to sustainable supply
chain management. The literature review obviously
identified a number of these practices which were included in the initial coding scheme. But the main intent
of the research was to capture those practices that were
unique, that had not yet found their way into the literature. To code these took a more detailed process that
sometimes required going back and forth between cases.
The basic coding process was as follows.

First, we individually came up with a coding scheme we


thought would capture those practices that were in the
literature. So for instance, lean had been previously
linked to improved environmental performance, but we
needed a rigorous way to assess the extent of lean at an
organization using our case based data. We then met to
compare schemes and work on a jointly acceptable version of the scheme. Once we jointly thought we had a
working scheme for the existing practices we individually
coded the first case.
In the process of coding the first case we also needed a
way to capture two additional types of data; practices that
were familiar to supply chain management scholars but
which had not yet been linked to sustainability and
practices that were novel. So as we individually coded we
also captured any additional practice or set of practices
that was linked to enhanced sustainability performance
for the chain being coded.
Once we had both coded the first case we met to
compare classifications for those practices that the
scheme already covered. Where we differed we worked
out why there were differences. Did one of us use different
data? Did one of us adjust a definition? Or, was there
some other problem? If the problem was the scheme, we
revised it and went back and recoded the case. If the
problem was one of interpretation, we worked together
until reaching agreement.
We also had to expand the scheme to address the
practices that arose from the data but which had not
appeared in the literature. So as we coded each case the
newly identified practices were defined and added to the
scheme. In other words the scheme grew with each case
which often necessitated going back to previously coded
cases to look for evidence of the newly identified practices.
The same process was followed for all subsequent cases.
This was an iterative process of individually coding a case
followed by working together to assure consistency and
to improve the scheme. We did not consider coding
complete until we had reached consensus on each construct. The process forced 100 percent interrater reliability
between the coauthors. It also provided a check on either
author's individual biases clouding the analysis.
Data analysis itself had two main components: within
and across case analysis. Within case analysis helps us to
examine sustainable supply chain management in a
single context, while the across case analysis serves as a
form of replication (Yin 1994) where the constructs of
interest in one setting are tested in other settings.

Within Case Analysis


Within case analysis is a process of data reduction and
data management (Miles and Huberman 1994). For
this research there were an average of 75 pages of transcripts per organization, plus site visit notes and any
publicly available information. The goal of the within

April 2009

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43

Journal of Supply Chain Management

case analysis is to structure, define, reduce and make


sense of this information.
The within case analysis had five main components.
First, we tried to make sense of the business model of
these companies and how sustainability affects the
company's operations and financial performance. Then,
we cross-referenced the organization's activities in relationship to sustainability with what the literature posited
as being important. Third, we identified practices, programs and policies that the organization was involved in
that aided sustainability that had not been previously
identified in the managerial literature on sustainability.
The fourth component involved identifying constraints
and/or enablers that were related to sustainability. We
looked for evidence of barriers, capabilities and resources
that were either enhancing and/or limiting sustainability
performance. The final step was an attempt to synthesize
the previous four. In this step we identified which policies, programs and practices were truly important and
effective for the organization. The end result of the within
case analysis was a concise description of sustainable
supply chain management practices at each of the organizations.

Cross Case Analysis


The cross case analysis is concerned with identifying
patterns across the various organizations. It is facilitated
by using a variety of tools to reduce the amount of data
and to display the data in a meaningful fashion (Miles
and Huberman 1994; Yin 1994). Data reduction was
primarily done through categorization and pattern
matching.
The end result of the within case analysis is an inventory of factors that were linked to sustainable supply
chain management for each individual supply chain. In
order to facilitate the cross case analysis these individual
factors were compiled across the organizations. This was
done through a process of "cutting and pasting:' Individual factors identified for each case were "cut" from
their original data displays and "pasted" into displays
centered on a single construct. The cross case analysis
then rearranges the data from a case by case format to a
construct by construct format.
Tables II-V display a portion of this process. Table II
summarizes practices that have been previously linked to
supply chain best practice and/or sustainability. For instance, many of the organizations engage in supplier development activities designed to help suppliers to become more sustainable. Supplier development is a previously identified best practice in supply chain management (e.g., Krause, Scannell and Calantone 2000) that
has also been linked to sustainability via mentoring (Rao
and Holt 2005). There was also evidence that internal
supply chain integration was an important component to
sustainable supply chain management. Internal integra-

44

tion has long been studied (i.e., Pagell 2004) but it has
not previously been linked to sustainability.
Table II also contains practices identified as important
in the literature review that were not important to the
sampled organizations. For instance, the literature suggests that lean and TQM are key components for sustainable supply chain management. Yet our data suggests
that while most (8) of the supply chains in this study
perform well on traditional operational performance
metrics, the adoption of lean, TQM or similar principles
is not a salient factor that explains their achievement in
sustainability.
.
The within case analysis also identified practices that
were reinterpretations of concepts that had previously
appeared in the literature and/or practices that were truly
novel. Table Ill is a summary of these practices. An example is transparency and traceability. The literature
provides discussions of transparency (e.g., Hart 1995;
Roth, Tsay, Pullma and Gray 2008). But discussions of
transparency generally involve a chain providing information to the public about what it is doing. Our analysis
distinguishes traceability from transparency. Traceability
is an internal practice of sharing information among
chain members about materials and methods (toxins,
use of child labor, type of solvents used and so on)
to optimize noneconomic chain performance and minimize risks. Typical traceability activities included
demanding information on all materials used in a supplier's product (even those the supplier bought) to ensure
that all inputs meet the buying firm's standards and/or
requiring that suppliers provide evidence that working
conditions were acceptable.
Transparency is a new but related activity whereby
organizations were actually demanding information on
the flow of money through their entire chain. The key
difference between traceability and transparency is that
with transparency the buying firm is demanding to know
the profitability of every supplier in the chain, with the
explicit goal of ensuring that chain members at origins
(in our sample farmers) made enough of a profit to do
more than just subsist. Traceability is then concerned
with how things are made while transparency is concerned with profits across the entire chain.
From Tables II and Ill the data were rearranged in
numerous ways to attempt to both reduce it and create
more meaning. This was a multistep iterative process.
For instance, one activity involved rearranging the individual practices into larger "meta constructs" with a goal
of identifying individual practices that hung together. In
one of our initial classifications we grouped individual
practices by function. Hence in this iteration supplier
certification and supplier development were put together
with all other sourcing management practices.
In addition to grouping we needed to eliminate those
practices that seemed tangential to our purpose and/or
which were highly company specific. So for instance, one

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Ten Exemplars

TABLE II

Distribution of Practices Previously Identified in Managerial Literature


Practice

Proactive stance/
organizational commitment
Reconceptualizing what the
chain does - business
redefinition
Supplier selection
Collaborate with suppliers
Integrate environmental
efforts into the entire
organization
Supplier certification
Reconceptualizing who is in
the chain (ecocentric
perspective)
Supplier development
Reducing supplier risk
Life cycle thinking/analysis
Closed loops/reverse logistics
Collaborate with customers
Measurement and reward
systems linked to sustainability
TOM
Lean/JIT
Commitment to employees
(high quality work)
Internal supply chain
integration
Sustainability helps in
recruiting/motivating
employees
Maintain and/or build culture
formally
Buy on total cost not price
Adding new suppliers to spur
change/innovation

CP

FW

ES

PR

IT SF

pp

LP

FB

BR

N y

Yes

N y

Yes
Yes
Yes

9
8
8

y
y
y

y
y
y

y
y
y

y
y

y
y
N y

y
y
y

y
y
y

Yes
Yes

7
6

y
y

y
y

y
y

Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes

6
4
4
3
3
3

N
N

N
L
N

y
y
y

y
y
N

y
y

y
y

N
N

N
N
N

L
L
N
L

N
N
N
L

Yes
Yes
No

3
2
9

y
y
y

L
N

L
L

No

Previously
Linked to
Sustainability

Number in
Sample Engaged
in Practice

Yes

y
N

y
y

N
L
N
N

N
L

N
N

N
L

N
L

L
N

y
L
y

y
y
y

N
N
N

No

No

N y

No
No

4
2

N
N

N
N

N
N

y
y

N
N

y
L
N
N

L
N

N
N

Y=yes they engage in the activity in significant amounts; N=no engagement in activity; L=limited
engagement in activity.

of the organizations was licensing their product designs


to others. While intriguing, this seemed unlikely to be a
practice most organizations would want to engage in
even if they could. On the other hand, information
sharing in all guises has been linked to improved chain
performance (Lee and Whang 2000) so even though
transparency was not widely adopted we kept it in the
analysis because it was a novel form of information
sharing that could be adopted by all organizations. In

addition, this practice could be grouped with others


while licensing could not.
In general individual practices that had low levels of
adoption, limited applicability and/or which did not
relate to other practices were dropped. We made exceptions to these decision criteria where the literature
strongly suggested a practice mattered or when the absence of a practice previously deemed important seemed
worthy of further exploration. So for instance, we kept

April 2CXYJ

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45

Journal of Supply Chain Management

TABLE Ill

Practices Not Previously Identified in Managerial Literature on Sustainability


Practice

Conversation

Touchstone
value
Business
model
Traceability

Decommoditize
inputs

Developed
own
certification
Supplier
supplier
interaction
Continuity of
suppliers

Local chain

Supplier
development
-to improve
other chains

Transparency

Licensing

Count

CP

FW

ES

PR

IT

SF

pp

LP

FB

BR

Sustainability issues are part of


daily conversation and almost
always part of decision making.
Not an add-on or something they
do on occasion
Do they have a single value or
guardrail that seems to guide
them?
Does sustainability fit in business
model?
Ability to track where something
comes from and the materials
that are in it to source
Buying commodities on
something besides price and by
extension treating commodity
suppliers as if they are strategic
- also linked to continuity
Self-explanatory

Description

Suppliers working with each other


to improve the overall chain

Trying to ensure that all suppliers


in chain, especially those at
origins (growers) not only can stay
in business but stay in business in
a manner that helps to ensure a
reasonable quality of life for the
farmers now and into the future.
Should more than just subsist.
(Note the role transparency plays
here)
Source from closest sources to
minimize transport and maximize
freshness
Rather than helping suppliers to
improve with the main intention
of improving their own chain. SF
works with some suppliers to
make them better suppliers for
others interested in all natural/
organic food
Definition: Detailed information
on the flow of money in the chain.
Who got paid what?
Sell designs/name/process to
others

r
r

Y=yes they engage in the activity in significant amounts; N=no engagement in activity; L=limited
engagement in activity.

46

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Ten Exemplars

TABLE IV

Rearranging Individual Practices Into "Meta" Constructs


Meta Construct

Practices from Tables 2 and 3

Bundle 1: commonalities,
cognitions and orientations

Sustainability fits the business model


Proactive stance/organizational commitment
Internal supply chain integration
Touchstone value/ guardrail
Conversation
Integrate environmental efforts into the entire
organization
Bundle 2: ensuring supplier
Decommoditization - within chain
Supplier development
continuity
Reducing supplier risk
Supplier development - to improve other chains
Continuity as an explicated concern
Transparency
Bundle 3: reconceptualize the
Reconceptualizing what the chain does - business
chain
redefinition
Reconceptualizing who is in the chain
Closed loops
Bundle 4: supply chain
Supplier selection
Collaborate with suppliers
management practices sourcing management
Traceability
Supplier certification
Buy on total cost not price
Bundle 4: supply chain management TOM
LEAN/JIT
practices - operations
Bundle 4: supply chain management Commitment to employees (high quality work)
Maintain and/or build culture formally
practices - invest in human capital
Bundle 5: Measurement
Life cycle thinking/analysis
Measurement and reward systems linked to
sustainability

Count
8

9
9
9
8
8
6
6
4
3
3
2
9
6Y,3L
3Y,4L
9
8
8Y/1L
7
4Y/2L

3
2
9
8

4
3

Y=yes they engage in the activity in significant amounts; N=no engagement in activity; L=limited
engagement in activity.

t
l

I
I

Lean{fQM on the list of practices even though the chains


in our sample generally did not engage in these practices.
Table N is the end result of this analysis. However to
move the data from Tables II and III into Table N required
us to categorize practices and engage in the second primary activity of pattern matching. Two constructs in Table
IV best illustrate the pattern matching process. Initially we
classified all practices relating to supplier management
into a single construct of "sourcing management:' This
construct included previously identified practices from
Table II such as supplier certification as well as previously
unidentified practices from Table III such as decommoditization. When we examined these data, a subset
of supply chains seemed to be engaged in a new set of
practices related to continuity. Additional analysis (see
Table N) suggested that we really had two constructs:
"sourcing management" and "supplier continuity:'

The moving of data from case based displays toconstruct based displays required multiple iterations. As with
any research, attempts were made to be both parsimonious and complete, which lead to trying a number of
different categorizations. The following are the five key
bundles of practices that arise from the analysis.
Bundle 1
Commonalities, Cognitions and
Orientations. The sampled supply chains have a great
deal of variance in terms of size, scope, types of goods
and services they create and so on. Yet they also have
common attributes, especially when it comes to
managerial orientations toward sustainability and the
role of environmental and social concerns in decisionmaking.
The literature suggests that innovative organizations
will be leaders in sustainability (Christmann 2000).

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47

Journal of Supply Chain Management

So in a sample of exemplars it should be no surprise


that all but one organization showed evidence of
having reconceptualized what the chain did compared with their more traditional competitors. For
example, Electronic Scrap has created a new business
that is radically different from existing models of
recycling.
The literature also suggests that top management
needs to be proactive or committed (e.g., Klassen and
Whybark 1999). Nine of the chains showed this
commitment. Similarly eight of the chains had internally integrated sustainability, which the literature
also suggests is important (Handfield et al. 2001 ).
Commitment and integration were evidenced in a
four key ways.
First, is an alignment between the economic and
noneconomic elements of sustainability. Environmental
and/or social goals and activities had to complement
the economic activities of the organization and vice
versa. At eight of the chains, achieving noneconomic
sustainability goals generally helps to achieve economic
goals as well. For instance, Cleaning Products has tightly
tied its brand to sustainable products. Changes in
product design that allow for safer (for people and the
environment) manufacturing and use are changes that
allow them to expand their brand to new products.
However, two of the organizations did not have good
alignment between the elements of sustainability. IT
Equipment had made significant investments in its
product take back reverse chain. However, this reverse
chain was not integrated into the forward chain and was
run completely as a cost center. This elegant process
worked to reduce environmental impacts, but it was
very expensive to operate. Improvements in environmental outcomes harmed economic outcomes. The
eight organizations that had business models that
aligned the elements of the triple bottom line were
profitable and growing because of their noneconomic
sustainability activities, while the two organizations
lacking such alignment struggled.
The second indicator of a proactive orientation was
the conversation at the organizations. While job descriptions and responsibilities generally look very traditional,
the conversation at eight of these entities is very different.
Sustainability is not an occasional topic; it is part of
the daily conversation. Decisions automatically include
discussions of social and/or environmental impacts.
Sustainability is not an add-on or an afterthought; it is
part of what the managers do on a daily basis. For a
decision to be judged acceptable at these organizations it has to improve one of the three elements of
the triple bottom line while at worst not harming the
other two.
Third, nine of the organizations had a guiding value
or "guardrail:' At Snack Foods, it was their "ingredient philosophy;' which was sacrosanct. All decisions
about food had to protect this philosophy. At Lighting

48

Products, it was a philosophy of being thoughtful which


played out in their commitment to never outsource
pollution. They used suppliers in China but held them
(via third-party audits) to North American standards. In
all but one of the organizations there was a succinct way
for employees to describe what the organization valued
and how it did business. The guardrail generally defined
sustainability for the organization, was tightly tied to the
business model, protected the brand and was used to
guide decision making.
Finally, as predicted by the literature (Sarkis 2001)
responsibility for sustainability had to be shared across
the supply chain. At eight of the organizations no one
person or group was responsible for sustainability, it was
everyone's responsibility. When responsibility is placed
in a single person and/ or department others do not take
ownership of sustainability. For instance, IT Equipment
had a separate environmental group. In this organization
noneconomic issues were rarely part of the discussion or
decision making for employees who were not part of the
environmental group.
The notion of being proactive or committed finds
support in the literature. What our data add is an
ability to describe some of the attributes needed to be
proactive.

f
I
I
r

Bundle 2 - Ensuring Supplier Continuity. One of the


most interesting constructs to emerge from the data was
the notion of ensuring supplier continuity. When
Japanese management techniques were first introduced
to North American managers (Liker and Choi 2004) one
of the supplier management practices that stood out was
the way first tier suppliers were treated. The practices we
observed are similar, but involved all suppliers not just ,
first tier suppliers. So while the goal of continuity may
seem familiar, six organizations in our sample are trying
to ensure that all members of their chain not only stay in
business, but that they do so in a manner that allows
them to thrive, reinvest, innovate and grow. Table V
provides insight into what differentiates the organizations pursuing continuity from those that are not.
Six of the organizations were involved in decommoditizing some or all of the chain. Two organizations were
working to move the entire chain out of a commodity
business. For instance, Cleaning Products was moving
from selling janitorial supplies based on price to
differentiating the chain's products by making them
safer to use and by providing additional services along
with the purchase of the products. The other four chains
were already differentiated, but now the organizations
were actively involved in moving their suppliers out of
commodity businesses. Intriguingly, and contrary to the
literature (Kraljic 1983) these organizations were treating
suppliers of commodity inputs as if they were strategic
suppliers. While other chains would buy potatoes,
lumber, basic metal parts and so on based on price,
these organizations paid above market prices. Suppliers

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Ten Exemplars

TABLE V

Pattern Matching Example


Number of Respondents
Who Do Decommoditize
Engaged in Practice
(Y and L) n=6

Number of Respondents
Who Do Not Decommoditize
Engaged in Practice n=4

5
6

4
5

0
1
1

9
10
7
9

6
6
5
6

3
4
2
3

Total Engaged
in Practice
(Y and L)

Continuity
Formal mention of continuity
of suppliers
Supplier development - to
improve other chains
Transparency
Reducing supplier risk
Supplier development

Sourcing management
Supplier selection
Collaborate with suppliers
Supplier certification
Traceability

Y=yes they engage in the activity in significant amounts; N=no engagement in activity; L=limited
engagement in activity.

l
~

l
I

were also provided long-term contracts and access to


supplier development resources. In return the buyers got
stable long-term relationships, access to information,
access to products in tight markets, reduced risk and so
on. Most organizations do not want to be caught in a
commodity trap, but in our sample a sizable number of
organizations were actively helping their suppliers avoid
the same fate.
Supplier development, in two forms, played a
significant role in continuity. First, the organizations
that were most likely to focus on decommoditization
were also the organizations that were most likely to
engage in traditional supplier development. Food and
Beverage sourced globally and had opened formal
development centers located in the regions where they
sourced. Farmers were brought in and taught how to
grow crops that met the organization's quality, environmental and labor standards. Suppliers who could meet
these standards were guaranteed far above market prices.
These behaviors directly benefited the buyers who were
making an investment to ensure that suppliers could
provide the desired inputs with the expected level of
noneconomic performance. Suppliers obviously benefit
as well, because they get access to new customers, who
will pay above market prices for what were generally seen
as commodity inputs.
The second type of supplier development was not
traditional. Three organizations were actively helping
their suppliers to be better suppliers for other
organizations. The development was not aimed at
making the supplier a better provider for the focal

chain, but rather on improving the supplier's ability to


serve others. For instance, Snack Foods helped to educate
their suppliers on providing inputs to the all natural and
organic markets, to their competitors. This activity
provided no direct benefits to the focal organization
but significant benefits accrued to the supplier.
Continuity was also evidenced by a focus on reducing
supplier risk. For instance, Pizza Restaurants wanted to
move into selling their own branded soda made with
locally grown fruit. They did not have the capability or
space to do any of the needed processes, so they helped a
local beer brewery purchase the required equipment,
with the understanding that over time the equipment
would become the brewery's. They bought the supplier
the needed equipment to move into a new, but highly
speculative business and provided a guaranteed customer
for the process.
Finally two organizations were engaged in increasing transparency. Within our context transparency is
requiring detailed information on the flows of money
in the chain to origins. Transparency provides insight into
what is happening in the chain and enables improvements. But transparency also has a strong element of
social responsibility because it helps to ensure that no one
in the chain is being abused. In a fully transparent chain
a supplier is guaranteed a reasonable living; ensuring
that the supplier is available for future business and has
the resources to make improvements that benefit the
chain.
Continuity benefits the focal firm in that it guarantees a stable and capable supply base. A concern for

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49

Journal of Supply Chain Management

continuity that extends all the way to origins is also one


of the more measurable social components of sustainable
supply chain management. It is interesting to note that
while many supply chains are chasing lower wages to
parts of the globe with questionable social and/or
environmental protections, many of the organizations in
our sample are profitably moving in a different direction.
Bundle 3 -

Reconceptualize the Chain. The literature

suggests three basic forms of reconceptualization:


changing what the chain does, moving toward closed
loop systems and reconceptualizing who is in the chain.
Nine chains have reconceptualized what their chain does,
and while closed loops are not yet common the sample
seems to be moving in that direction. Six of the sampled
organizations are also engaging in a rethinking of who is
in the chain by following the path suggested by the
ecocentridty literature (Gladwin et al. 1995) and
collaborating with entities that many managers would
either ignore or treat as adversaries. For instance, Food
and Beverage is well known for their collaborations with
NGOs and other nonprofits.
But this is not an isolated behavior. Pizza Restaurants
partner with NGOs, work with local governments, are
part of a collaboration that includes competitors, and
help their suppliers interact with each other. Both
organizations are treating these entities as knowledge
suppliers, not potential sources of trouble. The
literature suggests such behavior may be necessary to
become more sustainable; our sample provides initial
empirical evidence for such a proposition.
Bundle 4 - Supply Chain Management Practices. Much
of the existing literature is built on linking existing best
practices in traditional supply chain management to
sustainability. Our data in general support a contention
that sustainable chains engage in many managerial
practices that the literature deems best practice from a
traditional (profits as main measure of performance)
standpoint. But our sampled organizations also differ
from the literature in some key ways.
With the exception of the focus on continuity, the
sampled firms are generally behaving in the manner
predicted by the literature when it comes to sourcing.
Nine tie supplier selection decisions to sustainability
goals. Eight collaborate with their suppliers to help
achieve sustainability goals. Seven certify suppliers on
social and/ or environmental actions and outcomes. And
six are involved in supplier development activities related
to improving supplier performance on environmental
and/or social outcomes that are important to the chain.
Nine are involved in traceability efforts with their
suppliers. Our sampled organizations demanded information from suppliers on how products were made, the
byproducts of their production, materials used (and
often sources of materials) and so on. The initial intent
of these efforts was to ensure that their own business was

50

not put at risk by suppliers knowingly or inadvertently


using material and/or processes that could harm people
and/or the environment. But these additional efforts to
gather information generally lead to increased knowledge about how processes were being done, knowledge
which most of the chains were using to improve the
chain as a whole. Traceability then increased the effectiveness of the sourcing portion of the chain and reduced
risk
Traceability, as we have operationalized, is a novel
form of information sharing. But the rest of the
sourcing side activities that our sampled supply chains
are engaging in can be found in the traditional supply
chain management literature. Sustainable chains engage
in many of the same sourcing practices associated with
traditional best practice in supply chain management.
A conclusion related to the practices used to manage
internal operations is not as dear cut. Certain practices
associated with continuous improvement such as committing to employees are evident in most of the sample
(7) but only one of the organizations could truly be
called a leader in TQM and/or lean. This may be a sample
specific result. But it is also possible that continuous
improvement based philosophies inhibit radical innovation (Benner and Tushman 2002, 2003 ). It may or may
not be a coincidence that the one truly lean exemplar in
the sample is IT Equipment, which has designed their
reverse chain in a manner such that it does not upset
their preexisting efficient lean forward chain. Being
unwilling or unable to disrupt existing processes is
certainly the type of limitation that Bennen and
Tushman's work would predict.
Logistics and transportation was generally not an area
of focus in our sample. Beyond efforts to reduce packaging and/ or change the type of shipping containers used,
the logistics managers at the sampled organizations had
the most traditional jobs in the sample. This may be
because a traditional goal in logistics is to reduce
shipping costs, which is generally tightly tied to
reducing fuel use and cutting the costs of packaging.
The one exception to the above is the focus on reverse
chains. While only three of the organizations are
currently heavily involved in dosing loops, seven of
them have some sort of dosed loop system and/or use
waste streams as inputs. Electronic Scrap's entire business
model was premised on using waste streams as inputs. In
addition, Snack Foods was using the cooking oil from
their facility to create biofuels for their vehicles. In
general the sample seems to be moving toward an
increased emphasis on dosing loops.
One final issue emerged from the data; sustainable
chains invest in human capital. This may be one of the
most concrete social outcomes in our sample. Nine have
human resource practices that increase employee wellbeing and commitment to the organization. In addition, ~
eight formally (one of the remaining two does this
informally) work to build and maintain a culture that ~

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Ten Exemplars

values people and the environment. Employees consistently described their employers as thoughtful, caring, committed and so on. This investment was often
started as part of a social agenda. For instance, Lighting
Products goes out of its way to hire refugees while
Electronic Scrap creates work for groups with very high
levels of unemployment such as the developmentally
disabled. However, over time these behaviors have
strengthened the chains that engage in them.
In sum, sustainable chains are engaging in a wide array
of managerial practices, many of which are familiar, that
have previously been linked to enhanced operational/
organization performance. And some of the novel
practices such as a focus on traceability and/or transparency are novel forms of existing practices (information sharing). In general the external focus is on
sourcing while the internal focus is on investing in
employees. An operational forus on TQM and/or Lean
is not evident in our sample. And while reverse chains are
not the norm, presently this seems to be the direction
that the sampled chains are heading.

Bundle 5 - Measurement. One area that is a focus of


the literature is measurement and rewards (e.g., Sroufe
2003). While all of the organizations were measuring
their noneconomic impacts in some form or another,
they all also struggled in this area. At the organizational
level they were working without benchmarks. It is
possible to track energy use in your own facilities, but
it is much harder to determine if you are using more or
less energy than competitors. So while all but one of the
organizations could show that they had made internal
progress to become more sustainable, none could be sure
how close they were to truly being sustainable.
One formal tool to try to capture the true impacts of a
chain would be to use life-cycle analysis (Matos and Hall
2007). Four of the organizations were using some form
of life-cycle analysis but most of these efforts were fairly
rudimentary. And generally these activities captured only
the environmental impacts of the chain and not the
social component.
While nine of the organizations were committed to
sustainability, only three had created coherent measurement and reward systems that dearly guided behavior
toward sustainability goals. In general the individual
rewards for pursuing environmental and/ or social improvements, if they existed at all, were intrinsic. Intrinsic
rewards can be very powerful for those employees for
whom sustainability has some resonance. And the
sample certainly shows some evidence of such an outcome with nine organizations seeing positive motivational and recruiting outcomes from their investments in
sustainability.
However, many of the organizations also reported
uneven diffusion of commitment to the noneconomic
components of sustainability across the organization. At
both Snack Foods and Lighting Products managers noted
that sustainability was not a concern of shop floor

employees. And at Food and Beverage there were


significant pockets within the managerial ranks where
the focus on sustainability had not permeated. For those
employees for whom sustainability did not resonate,
extrinsic linkages between sustainability goals and
employee outcomes were needed but generally absent.
When it comes to measuring the noneconomic
components of sustainability the respondent organizations are just beginning to truly understand their
entire impact. And one significant limitation in the
sample seems to be directly linking noneconomic goals
to employees' incentives and behaviors.

DISCUSSION
Our analysis suggests that the practices that lead to a
more sustainable supply chain are equal parts best
practices in traditional supply chain management and
new behaviors. Our findings are summarized in Figure 1.
The ability to be innovative has been linked to
sustainability. Our sample is by nature comprised of innovative firms. So an organizational capability to innovate is then a precursor to successful sustainable supply
chain management. The other organizational attribute
that is a precursor to sustainable supply chain management is managerial orientation. The literature suggests
that firms need to be proactive and committed. Our
analysis suggests that being proactive and committed can
only be effective if the business model and the environmental and social elements of sustainability are aligned.
This business model then guides decision making. In the
case of our sample this guidance was provided by
touchstone values. When the employees have a way to
think about sustainability that is compatible with business goals it is then possible for sustainability to become
part of the day to day conversation. But that can only
happen if responsibility for the noneconomic components of sustainability is shared across all employees and
not housed in a single function or individual.
Proposition 1: An innovation capability is required to
create a sustainable supply chain.
Proposition 2: A positive management orientation toward sustainability is required to create a sustainable
supply chain.
Proposition 2a: Management orientation is evidenced by
a business model where economic goals are compatible
with environmental and social goals.
Proposition 2b: Management orientation is evidenced
by sustainability being part of the day-to-day conversation.
Proposition 2c: Managerial orientation is evidenced by a
touchstone value that guides decision making.
Proposition 2d: Managerial orientation is evidenced by
responsibility for social and environmental concerns
being shared across the organization.

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51

Journal of Supply Chain Management

FIGURE1
A Model of Sustainable Supply Chain Management Practices

Having an Economically
Viable Supply Chain

Design I Innovation
Capability

Beyond Lean & TOM


Product Positioning

Guardrail Value
Alignment of
Environmental, Social
and Economic Goals
Proactive and
Commitment

Integration

Re-conceptualizing Who Is in the


Supply Chain

NGO, Competitors, Trade Groups

Managerial Orientation
Toward Sustainability

Focus on Supply Base Continuity

Transparency
Traceability
Supplier Certification
Decommodization

New Behaviors

Sustainability Outcomes
- Simultaneous High
>---+---Performance on
Indicators of Economic,
Environmental and
Social Performance

Rewards and
Incentives
Intrinsic & Extrinsic

i
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Proposition 3: Sustainability becomes integrated in the
organization when the organization has both a managerial orientation toward sustainability and an innovation
capability.
The data suggest that those organizations which have
an innovation capability and a managerial orientation
toward sustainability will engage in two unique sets of
activities. First, they will reconceptualize who is in the
supply chain. Rather than viewing NGOs and the like as
adversaries, sustainable supply chains leverage the skills
and abilities of these nontraditional chain members.
Proposition 4: Managers of sustainable supply chains
will collaborate with nontraditional members such as
NGOs, regulators, competitors and members of the community.
A concern for supplier continuity is the second activity
or practice that will arise from the ability to innovate and
a management orientation toward sustainability. There
are multiple elements of continuity all of which seem
linked to improving the flows of information in the
chain with an end goal of ensuring that all members of
the chain not only survive but thrive. However, the
adoption of some of individual practices is limited,
suggesting that additional contingencies are at work. We
explore this possibility further when discussing potential
future research.

52

Proposition 5: Managers of sustainable chains will treat


supplier continuity as an important outcome.
Proposition Sa: Practices such as decommoditization,
transparency, tradition and nontraditional supplier development, and reducing supplier risk enhance supplier
continuity.

A component of being sustainable is economic viability. Therefore, a sustainable chain based on the triple
bottom line would have to be sustainable from a traditional economic standpoint. Our data strongly support
such a supposition. The sampled supply chains are generally economically viable and engaged in practices the
literature associates with increased profitability. However,
the data suggest that existing best practices are not universally linked to high levels of sustainability performance. Traditional best practices in purchasing and
human resources seem to be tied to all elements of the
triple bottom line. However, there is no evidence that
lean or TQM is needed to become a leader at sustainable
supply chain management. On the other hand, some
concern for dosing loops and reverse logistics does seem
to be required to make further progress toward sustainability.
Proposition 6: A supply chain that performs well on traditional operational metrics is a foundation of a sustainable supply chain. A supply chain that performs poorly

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Ten Exemplars

on traditional operational metrics will inhibit efforts at


sustainability.
Proposition 6a: Managers of sustainable chains will
focus on sourcing side activities such as supplier certification, including social and environmental criteria in
supplier selection, and ensuring the traceability of physical flows through the entire chain.
Proposition 6b: Managers of sustainable chains will invest in human capital.
Proposition 6c: Managers of sustainable chains need not
engage in the systematic adoption of process improvement philosophies such as lean.
Proposition 6d: Managers of sustainable chains will
work to close loops and/or create reverse chains.
Across the sample there are strong cultures and employees committed to sustainability. For committed employees noneconomic incentives to pursue sustainability
appear sufficient. But each of these organizations has
pockets where sustainability has not gained traction. It is
in these areas where well-designed measurement and
reward systems that link employee outcomes to sustainability outcomes are needed.
Proposition 7: Measurement and reward systems that
link employee behaviors to sustainability outcomes enhance sustainability outcomes.

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Our results have implications for both research and


practice. First, we would argue that future research needs
to be more integrative. Most existing studies look at one
component of sustainable supply chain management at a
time. These studies have been insightful, but they have
not led to a complete understanding of what exactly
sustainable supply chain management entails. Figure 1
and the propositions above should provide direction as
to what a more complete conceptualization of sustainable supply chain management entails.
Our sampling strategy was designed to capture common patterns and allow us to generalize. However, one
possible limitation of such a strategy is that it can be
difficult to determine the role of contingencies such as
industry and/or temporal factors, so these need to be
explored in future research. It is certainly possible to
make an argument that some of our findings are industry
specific. In this sample the use of process improvement
strategies such as lean and TQM is limited. So while
many members of our sample are excelling without these
practices, future research needs to determine if that
would be in the case in industries (for instance, automotive) where lean has high levels of adoption and is
often seen as a requirement for economic survival.
Similarly, the basics of continuity were fairly common
in the sample (six supply chains) but the adoption of
many of the specific practices varied across the sample.
Transparency was only adopted by the two organizations
that sourced inputs that ultimately came from a large
number of small farmers. So it is possible that food

supply chains that tend to isolate the focal firm from


origins may be most appropriate for this practice.
It can also be argued that the adoption of the same
practices is a function of where the supply chain is in
relation to the goal of becoming truly sustainable. Time
may then be a key contingency. For example, previous
research (Benner and Tushman 2002, 2003) suggests that
programs like TQM and lean may inhibit many of the
innovations a move toward true sustainability requires.
In our data this is displayed by IT equipment where the
desire not to disrupt an "efficient" existing forward chain
has lead to the design of the inefficient reverse chain.
Lean might then help an organization improve existing
products and processes along multiple dimensions of the
triple bottom line (becoming more sustainable) but limit
the disruptive innovation needed to be truly sustainable.
So as an organization moves closer to the productivity
frontier of existing systems, lean could a hindrance to
sustainability efforts.
A time-based argument can also be made for the limited adoption of some of the elements of continuity.
Sticking with transparency it is possible to argue that
other industries will eventually follow the food industry
in moves to ensure the economic prosperity of the entire
chain. One can certainly see evidence of similar initiatives in the textile industry where sweat-shop labor has
long been an issue. In fact when it comes to sweat-shops
one could argue the transparency goes a step further to
ensuring that individual workers are treated fairly. Temporal explanations in the varied processes used to ensure
continuity may then be more important than industry.
Regardless, future research needs to explore the role of
industry and time in all of the practices that are captured
in our model.
Based on our results managers will need to focus on
three main areas to become more sustainable. First they
will need to reconceptualize who is in their chain and
what the chain is trying to do. Second they will need to
ensure this new chain is efficient and effective. Many of
the activities necessary to run this chain in a sustainable
manner will be familiar. However, activities such as a
focus on supplier continuity will be a radical departure
for many managers. The third change will involve the
conversation. Environmental and social outcomes cannot be afterthoughts or areas of occasional focus; they
need to be interwoven into how the organization makes
money. In order to successfully manage the reconceptualized chain in a more sustainable manner, managers are
going to have to be willing to work to change their cultures so that good decisions in their organization will be
those that enhance natural, social and economic capital.

CONCLUSION
Existing studies have tended to examine what was the
same about sustainable supply chain management. Our

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53

Journal of Supply Chain Management

study took a different approach. We directly explored what


more sustainable companies do that is unique and that
can inform others attempting to follow the same path.
Our analysis suggests that a common theme across
these cases is managerial cognitions. That these chains
are more committed is not a surprise. But what they have
done with their commitment is novel. Eight have internalized sustainability goals in such a way that their
noneconomic performance is a critical factor for growth
and financial performance. In other words, financial
goals and environmental goals are aligned. Sustainability
is then an integral part of their business and is incorporated in every aspect of their supply chain. These
companies also seek out novel partners to bring new
knowledge and opportunities into the chain. Such collaboration creates unique value to the product and service offerings, which in tum protects the entire supply
chain from commodity traps, improving financial value
to the focal firm and suppliers. Traditional purchasing
strategy (Kraljic 1983) suggests that when buying a
commodity, you can and should use your leverage over
suppliers because they are easily replaced. Organizations
in our sample have turned that notion on its head and
instead have decommoditized not only their own business, but their suppliers' businesses.
Supply management at these exemplars also has a deep
social dimension that is at most tacitly implied in the
quality or supply management literature. Supply base
continuity, material traceability and price transparency
demonstrate a concern for the long-term well-being and
social equity of every member of the supply chain. In
many cases the buyer's motivation and behavior (e.g., not
outsourcing pollution) cannot be interpreted solely from
a short-term economic perspective. Yet such behavior
supports the values of these companies and is an integral
part of the organizational culture that attracts and retains
dedicated employees and suppliers.
Our study has its limitations which opens opportunities for future research. First, like all case studies the external validity of our proposed model needs to be
empirically tested in a much larger sample.
Second, and related to the above, our sample contains
only one competitor in each market, generally the firm to
move to sustainability first in that market. What is unknown is how these practices will translate to second
movers or to an entire industry. For instance, a focus
on continuity may make sense as a market transitions
to being sustainable. But if all firms are truly forced to
become sustainable will the organizations in our sample
continue to be willing and/ or able to pay above market
rates to commodity suppliers? Future research needs to
examine the practices of more typical organizations.
Finally, our design included organizations that, from an
external perspective, each did different things well. Yet
the majority of the novel activities identified fall under
the rubric of supplier management. Future studies should

54

examine operations, logistics, design and other activities


to see if there are other important new behaviors being
engaged in by leaders in sustainable supply chain management that were missed due to the composition of our
sample.

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Mark Pagell (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is an


associate professor of operations management and information systems in the Schulich School of Business at
York University in Toronto, ON, Canada. Dr. Pagell has
published over 30 peer-reviewed articles on topics such
as sustainable supply chain management, human resource issues including employee safety in operational
environments, and operational responses to environmental uncertainty. This research has been published in a
number of premier outlets, including: Journal of Opera-

tions Management, Production and Operations Management,


International Journal of Production Economics, Journal of
Supply Chain Management, Production and Inventory Management Journal, Journal of Quality Management and International Journal of Production Research. Dr. Pagell's
research has won a number of awards including Best ~
Papers published in the International Journal of Operations
and Production Management (2005) and Journal of Operations Management (2002), as well as Best Operations
Management Paper at the Academy of Management
Meetings in 2001 and 2003.
Zhaohui Wu (Ph.D., Arizona State University) is an ,
assistant professor of operations management in the
college of business at Oregon State University in Cor- '
vallis, OR. He is currently teaching and conducting research in interorganizational relationships and green
supply chain strategy with U.S. aerospace, automotive,
food/beverage and telecommunication companies. Before that, Dr. Wu worked as a buyer at Lord Corporation,
an U.S. aerospace company, and as a project manager at
CMEC, a Chinese international trade company.

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