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 corporations’drive 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 “traditional”to “sustainable”supply 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 management’s 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 “traditional”supply 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 buyer’s sustainability performance is