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The role of absorptive and desorptive capacity (ACDC) in sustainable supply management: A longitudinal analysis

Jan Meinlschmidt (Smart Production Lab, Volkswagen AG, Wolfsburg, Germany)
Kai Foerstl (Chair of Supply Chain Management, German Graduate School of Management and Law (GGS), Heilbronn, Germany)
Jon F Kirchoff (Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA)

International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management

ISSN: 0960-0035

Article publication date: 7 March 2016




Sustainable supply management (SSM) has attracted considerable attention from researchers in recent years concentrating on how firms develop and use SSM capabilities to meet stakeholder demands. Acquiring and sharing sustainability knowledge with suppliers have been identified as critical success factors of SSM. The purpose of this paper is to identify the mechanisms that allow firms to effectively acquire and share sustainability-related knowledge with suppliers and how these knowledge generation and desorption mechanisms support the evolution of firm SSM capabilities.


To address the research purpose, four longitudinal case studies, two industry leaders in SSM and two industry followers, were conducted at multiple consecutive points in time between 2008 and 2013.


The results indicate which mechanisms constitute a sustainability-related absorptive and desorptive capacity and how they support SSM. Thereby, this research explains which mechanisms support firms to acquire sustainability knowledge, assimilate and exploit it and also share it with their suppliers over time.

Research limitations/implications

This research sheds light on the development and refinement of SSM capabilities by studying the explorative and exploitative learning cycles within focal buying firms taking place over time. Findings indicate a multiplicity in applying absorptive capacity- and desorptive capacity-related mechanisms yields an ambidextrous ability to simultaneously exploit existing knowledge through incremental SSM improvements and explore new SSM knowledge for more radical refinements of SSM capabilities.

Practical implications

The results provide a blueprint for firms, especially for sustainability followers, seeking to develop effective SSM capabilities. Furthermore, the results explain which mechanisms support firms to acquire, assimilate and exploit sustainability knowledge and also to share it with their suppliers.


SSM knowledge acquisition, assimilation, exploitation and sharing takes place over time in focal buying firms. This ongoing process helps explain how an SSM capability development and refinement is manifested in both leaders and followers.



Meinlschmidt, J., Foerstl, K. and Kirchoff, J.F. (2016), "The role of absorptive and desorptive capacity (ACDC) in sustainable supply management: A longitudinal analysis", International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, Vol. 46 No. 2, pp. 177-211.



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