A research framework of sustainable supply chain management. The role of relational capabilities in driving performance

Author:Injazz J. Chen, Aleksandr M. Kitsis
Publication Date:13 Nov 2017
A research framework
of sustainable supply
chain management
The role of relational capabilities
in driving performance
Injazz J. Chen
Department of Operations and Supply Chain Management,
College of Business Administration, Cleveland State University,
Cleveland, Ohio, USA, and
Aleksandr M. Kitsis
Management and Information Systems (MIS) Department,
Kent State University, Kent, Ohio, USA and
Department of Operations and Supply Chain Management,
College of Business Administration,
Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to develop a framework and propositions to advance research and
practice in sustainable supply chain management (SSCM). Performance indicators (economic, environmental,
and social) identified in the paper aim to facilitate empirical testing of a rangeof theoretical models derived or
extended from the stated propositions.
Design/methodology/approach The study of SSCM is truly complicated, and there i s no one theory that
applies in all instances. The authors analyzed over 200 critical articles publishedinmajorsupplychain management
and sustainability-based journals and grounded the proposed framework in a multi-theoretical perspective.
Findings SSCM implementation entails linking stakeholder pressures, moral motives, and management
commitment with relational practices. The paper further elucidates how relational practices, when bundled
together, can create a set of relational capabilities, which in turn transform stakeholder pressures into
sustainable outcomes.
Research limitations/implications The research framework contributes to SSCM theory building
insofar as it can be expanded into various theoretical models, allowing researchers to empirically test the links
among SSCM drivers, management commitment, and relational capabilities, along with their individual or
collective impact on supply chain performance.
Practical implications The framework provides a roadmap for firms to develop and nurture relational
capabilities while dealing with growing stakeholder pressures. Moral motives strengthen top management
commitment, which helps channel stakeholder pressures toward the proactive development of relational capabilities.
Originality/value The paper fulfills a call for utilizing multiple theoretical lenses to examine complex
SSCM phenomena and, ultimately, to create a coherent theory of SSCM.
Keywords Management commitment, Relational capabilities, Moral motives, SSCM research framework,
Stakeholder pressures, Triple bottom line performance
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Environmental and social issues are increasingly taking central stage in corporate and
public agendas (Carter and Easton, 2011), and business responsibility for the triple bottom
line (TBL) has also become an emerging reality (Morali and Searcy, 2013). While the
The International Journal of
Logistics Management
Vol. 28 No. 4, 2017
pp. 1454-1478
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/IJLM-11-2016-0265
Received 15 November 2016
Revised 28 January 2017
22 March 2017
Accepted 22 March 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Injazz J. Chen wishes to thank the Fulbright US Scholar Program and the Foundation for Scholarly
Exchange (FSE) for the research grant support provided by them.
increased attention to corporate sustainability (CS) exerts extra pressure, it also opens
opportunities for innovation and competitive advantages (Beske and Seuring, 2014).
Sustainable supply chain management (SSCM), therefore, is vital as it stands to integrate
sustainability into business operations, thereby minimizing sustainability risk, uplifting
corporate image, and improving performance.
To the extent that corporationsdrive to maximize profits is often blamed as the cause of
many environmental and social problems (Paulraj et al., 2017), firms are increasingly
pressed to minimize their ecological footprint and adverse social impact (Morali and
Searcy, 2013). CS, however, extends beyond the confines of a focal firm to include its entire
supply chain. Multinational corporations such as Apple (sweatshop labor), BP (oil spills),
Mattel (toxic materials), Nestle (deforestation), and Nike (child labor) provide ample
examples of corporations hampered by unsympathetic problems caused by their supply
chain partners (Seuring and Muller, 2008; Wolf, 2014). Brand owners, thus, must work
closely with their supply chain partners so as to provide sustainable products and services
(Gold et al., 2010).
The question facing corporations today is thus not whether to embrace sustainability
but rather how to best create sustainable supply chains (Carter and Rogers, 2008;
Kiron et al., 2012). Answering the latter question undoubtedly requires a concrete
understanding of the transition from traditionalto sustainablesupply chains (Pagell and
Shevchenko, 2014). While extant literature offers a number of ideas (e.g. Sarkis et al., 2010;
Carter and Easton, 2011; Hoejmose and Adrien-Kirby, 2012; Zhu et al., 2013), many attempts by
firms to address the sustainability issue have met persistent challenges. In practice, managers
are in dire need of a coherent roadmap for sustainability practices (Wolf, 2014). Academically,
the challenge of understanding SSCM revolves around its interdisciplinary nature and the lack
of a single theory that can adequately describe it (Ellram and Cooper, 2014). Because SSCM has
been slow to develop into its own discipline, numerous researchers are loudly and persistently
calling for theory building (e.g. Dyllick and Hockerts, 2002; Seuring and Muller, 2008; Carter
and Easton, 2011; Ashby et al., 2012; Markman and Krause, 2014).
Inspired by the calls for a theoretical framework conducive to SSCM research, this study
intends to make four contributions. First, our framework identifies and links stakeholders
pressures and top managements role with relational capabilities and performance
outcomes. Second, it integrates moral motives a critical driver virtually ignored by most
SSCM scholars with stakeholder pressures into a coherent SSCM framework. Third, this
study articulates how fragmented relational practices, when linked together within a supply
chain, can be transformed into a set of relational capabilities that uplift performance.
Finally, this research identifies indicators for measuring TBL performance, with a notable
focus on the social aspect, a dimension that lacks comprehensive and widely accepted
measures in the literature.
The remainder of the paper is organized as follows. Section 2 defines SSCM and outlines
the proposed framework. Section 3 discusses stakeholder pressures and corporate moral
motives as primary drivers of SSCM. Section 4 identifies and examines crucial practices for
the strategic development of relational capabilities, along with the mediating role of top
management commitment. Three dimensions of supply chain performance along with their
corresponding measures are identified in Section 5. Section 6 concludes with implications
of this study.
2. SSCM and research framework
In a widely cited study of traditionalsupply chain management (SCM), SCM is envisioned
as a network of interdependent relationships developed and fostered through strategic
collaboration with the goal of deriving mutual benefits(Chen and Paulraj, 2004a, p. 121).
The way outsourcing has frequently been practiced, a buyers sustainability performance is
A research

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