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Supply chain sustainability trajectories: learning through sustainability initiatives

Bruno S. Silvestre (Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada)
Minelle E. Silva (La Rochelle Business School, Excelia Group, CEREGE (EA1722), La Rochelle, France)
Allan Cormack (Department of Industrial Engineering, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro & Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Antônio Márcio Tavares Thome (Department of Industrial Engineering, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Article publication date: 24 June 2020

Issue publication date: 30 November 2020

1735

Abstract

Purpose

This paper explores how organizational capabilities and path dependence affect the implementation of supply chain (SC) sustainability initiatives. Through the lenses of contingency and evolutionary theory, the paper addresses the underexplored supply chain dynamics that enhance or inhibit sustainability trajectories.

Design/methodology/approach

Using in-depth multi-case studies for theory elaboration, five supply chains were studied through open-ended interviews with SC members, secondary data collection and site visit observation. The design consists of a combination of deductive and inductive approaches to elaborate theory on supply chain dynamics and enhanced sustainability trajectories.

Findings

The empirical study shows that learning is a fundamental condition for supply chains as they implement sustainability initiatives, and that exploitation capabilities are more frequently used than exploration capabilities. Path dependence plays a role in the outcomes of supply chain sustainability initiatives, which are influenced by both path dependence and contingencies of the contexts in which these systems operate.

Research limitations/implications

This paper puts forward five propositions that emerge from the literature and from the field study results. Although this is an exploratory research bounded by geographical limitations and the limited number of SC cases, the goal of elaborating theory may open up several promising avenues for future large-scale and longitudinal research studies.

Practical implications

By enhancing our understanding of the dynamics of supply chain sustainability trajectories, decision-makers, scholars and policy-makers can better understand how supply chains learn, how they employ SC member capabilities and how they deal with stakeholder resistance.

Originality/value

This paper extends supply chain sustainability theory by addressing the knowledge gap that exists with regard to understanding the dynamics of evolving supply chain sustainability trajectories. This paper sheds additional light on this important topic and contributes in multiple ways to the sustainable supply chain management literature.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the University of Manitoba Transport Institute (UMTI) at the Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba, Canada; the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq 311862/2019-5, 404682/2016-2); and Foundation for Research Support of the State of Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ E-26/203.252/2017).

Citation

Silvestre, B.S., Silva, M.E., Cormack, A. and Thome, A.M.T. (2020), "Supply chain sustainability trajectories: learning through sustainability initiatives", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 40 No. 9, pp. 1301-1337. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJOPM-01-2020-0043

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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