An Interdisciplinary Inquiry Into Sustainable Supply Chain Management

An Interdisciplinary Inquiry Into Sustainable Supply Chain Management

Fern D. Kaufman (Dalhousie University, Canada) and M. Ali Ülkü (Rowe School of Business, Dalhousie University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5757-9.ch001

Abstract

Research in the last two decades has broadened venues from optimizing operations for a specific organization to critically examining the entire supply chain from the perspective of sustainability. The term sustainability has been used in varying meanings in different disciplines. With this chapter, the authors propose to bring together an interdisciplinary framework for sustainable supply chain management (SSCM). SSCM will be studied through literature surveys on the axes of both natural sciences, and social sciences, with an overarching goal of policy implications. Unlike quantitatively oriented natural sciences, integrating perspectives from the social sciences into a firm's overall sustainability strategy is still seen as a large undertaking by firms and can impede its sustainability. More practical and scholarly research needs to be conducted in this area, especially in terms of assessment and evaluation mechanisms.
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Background

The 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development Report, commonly referred to as the Brundtland Report, defines sustainability as “ensuring that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987, p. 8). From a more business or organizational perspective, sustainability has also been defined as “meeting the needs of a firm’s direct and indirect stakeholders without compromising its ability to meet the needs of future stakeholders” (Schrettle et al. 2014, as cited in Dyllick & Hockerts, 2002). This definition isn’t specific to the environmental or the social facets of sustainability, and this is important, as sustainability is inherently interdisciplinary; the natural sciences and social sciences serve as a foundation for sustainable development. Interdisciplinarity is the “dialogue or interaction between two or more disciplines” (Moran, 2001, p. 15). The Brundtland Report’s sections have names such as “The Interlocking Crisis” and scholarly articles about sustainability have differentiated themselves with language such as “environmental sustainability” versus “social sustainability”. However, this definition of sustainability is quite vast and can be overwhelming to individuals, who have difficulty determining their role in how to achieve sustainability within their organization (Carter & Rogers, 2008).

The term “Supply Chain” has been used to describe organizational and strategic issues and organization-supplier relations (Croom, Romano, & Giannakis, 2000, p. 69). Three meanings are at the forefront of discussions; the supply chain from the perspective of an individual firm (a focal company), the supply chain as related to a product, and its use as a synonym for purchasing, distribution, or materials management (New, 1997). For the purposes of this paper, a supply chain is defined as “…activities associated with the flow and transformation of goods from raw materials stage (extraction), through to the end user, as well as the associated information flows” (Seuring & Müller, 2008, p. 1700). Members of the supply chain are associated with both the upstream and downstream flows of products, services, finances, information, or whatever else the flows through the supply chain (Mentzer, et al., 2001).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Supply Chain: The transformation of raw materials to the final consumer, along with associated knowledge and communication. A supply chain involves multiple stakeholders and includes material and exchange of knowledge both upstream and downstream.

Applied Sciences: Scientific disciplines that apply existing scientific knowledge to develop more practical applications such as technology or inventions. Engineering, for example, is an applied science.

Sustainable Supply Chain Management: The coordination of a supply chain that takes into account the principles of sustainable development.

Social Sciences: Science that focuses on aspects of human society. This includes concepts such as sociology, economics, and managerial science.

Formal Sciences: Language disciplines concerned with formal systems, such as logic, mathematics, statistics, theoretical computer science, information theory, game theory, systems theory, decision theory, and theoretical linguistics.

Policy: A set of rules adapted by an organization such as a company or government to maintain and further its organizational objectives.

Natural Sciences: Science that deals with the natural and physical world, such as chemistry, biology, or physics.

Green Supply Chain: A supply chain that takes into account its impact on the natural environment, and employs best practices to protect it.

Interdisciplinarity: The intersection and interaction of two or more disciplines to build and explore new knowledge. Interdisciplinarity is a crucial element for sustainability research.

Sustainability: The principle of meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future; takes into consideration social, economic, and environmental factors. Culture has also been considered as an important factor.

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