Increasingly, private sector companies are aiming to buy and supply products and services in a sustainable way, termed “sustainable supply chain management” (sustainable SCM), using purchasing and supply to reduce negative impacts on the environment, economy and society. There is often a gap between rhetoric and reality, with companies often accused of paying green lip service to sustainable SCM. This research aims to explore sustainable SCM issues in companies that have been recognized as leaders in their sectors, and investigate what factors influence sustainable SCM, and how practice might change in the future.
Current practice in sustainable SCM and predictions for the future were explored in case studies of seven UK companies, through semi‐structured interviews with purchasers and CSR practitioners, and secondary data collection from reports and websites. Sectors included aerospace, retail, pharmaceuticals, and food and drink.
Companies were mapped onto a typology of approaches to sustainable SCM, based on internal and external enablers and barriers. Companies were classified as Internal focusers, Reserved players, External responders, and Agenda setters. Predictions for the future of sustainable SCM within the companies were also explored.
The typology could be further explored through a survey of firms from different sectors, and with firms not seen as leading in their field.
The paper draws on contingency theory and existing sustainable SCM literature to develop a typology of approaches to sustainable SCM. The paper draws useful lessons from leading companies for practitioners seeking to implement sustainable SCM.
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