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Making connections: a review of supply chain management and sustainability literature

Alison Ashby (School of Business Management, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK)
Mike Leat (School of Business Management, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK)
Melanie Hudson‐Smith (School of Business Management, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK)

Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 1359-8546

Article publication date: 3 August 2012

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Abstract

Purpose

The objective of this paper is to investigate systematically the discipline of supply chain management (SCM) within the context of sustainability. The two concepts are increasingly aligned, and sustainable supply chain management (SSCM) represents an evolving field where they explicitly interact. Given their complex and holistic nature, breaking down the literature to understand its structures, processes, connections and limitations can provide an objective view of the status of research in these highly important fields, identifying key areas for future research/theory development.

Design/methodology/approach

A systematic review of current SCM literature is carried out, specifically in relation to the social and environmental dimensions of sustainability.

Findings

SSCM and the integration of sustainability into supply chains is a significant but evolving field evidenced by a current bias in the literature towards theory development and highly qualitative research methods. The environmental dimension is significantly better represented in the literature through specific processes at all stages of the supply chain. The social dimension is recognised, but receives less emphasis than expected given SCM's focus on interaction, relationships and communication. These two dimensions are treated separately in the literature with limited insight on how to integrate them and current SCM and sustainability research provides limited practical outputs.

Research limitations/implications

The review focuses on environmental and social sustainability within supply chains without explicit consideration of the economic dimension.

Practical implications

The review highlights the key themes and issues for supply chain managers faced with implementing sustainability. It also illustrates a number of areas for future research, along with the need for researchers to develop more practical tools for implementing SSCM.

Originality/value

Indicates the extent to which sustainability is integrated within SCM and where the research emphasis currently lies. The environmental dimension is significantly more defined and developed in the literature. SCM literature emphasises the importance of long‐term supplier relationships, but this “people‐focused” approach does not appear to translate into socially responsible supply chains. It suggests that the more process‐driven nature of environmental sustainability makes it easier to put into supply chain practice. There is also limited research or evidence on how the two dimensions can be integrated despite recognition of their inter‐relationship.

Keywords

Citation

Ashby, A., Leat, M. and Hudson‐Smith, M. (2012), "Making connections: a review of supply chain management and sustainability literature", Supply Chain Management, Vol. 17 No. 5, pp. 497-516. https://doi.org/10.1108/13598541211258573

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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