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On the road to carbon reduction in a food supply network: a complex adaptive systems perspective

Anne Touboulic (Business School, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)
Lee Matthews (Lincoln International Business School, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK)
Leonardo Marques (COPPEAD Graduate School of Business, Instituto COPPEAD de Administracao, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 1359-8546

Article publication date: 7 June 2018

Issue publication date: 20 August 2018




In acknowledging the reality of climate change, large firms have set internal and external (supplier oriented) targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. This study aims to explore the complex processes behind the evolution and diffusion of carbon reduction strategies in supply networks.


The research uses complex adaptive systems (CASs) as a theoretical framework and presents a single case study of a focal buying firm and its supply network in the food sector. A longitudinal and multilevel analysis is used to discuss the dynamics between the focal firm, the supply network and external environment.


Rather than being a linear and controlled process of adoption implementation outcomes, the transition to reduce carbon in a supply network is much more dynamic, emerging as a result of a number of factors at the individual, organisational, supply network and environmental levels.

Research limitations/implications

The research considers the emergence of a carbon reduction strategy in the food sector, driven by a dominant buying firm. Future research should seek to investigate the diffusion of environmental strategies more broadly and in other contexts.

Practical implications

Findings from the research reveal the limits of the control that a buying firm can exert over behaviours in its network and show the positive influence of consortia initiatives on transitioning to sustainability in supply networks.


CAS is a fairly novel theoretical lens for researching environmental supply network dynamics. The paper offers fresh multilevel insights into the emergent and systemic nature of the diffusion of environmental practices in supply networks.



Touboulic, A., Matthews, L. and Marques, L. (2018), "On the road to carbon reduction in a food supply network: a complex adaptive systems perspective", Supply Chain Management, Vol. 23 No. 4, pp. 313-335.



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Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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