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Mixed sustainability motives, mixed results: the role of compliance and commitment in sustainable supply chain practices

Yinfei Chen (School of Finance and Economics, Institute of Industrial Economics, Jiangsu University, Zhenjiang, China)
Injazz J. Chen (Department of Operations and Supply Chain Management, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA)

Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 1359-8546

Article publication date: 11 July 2019

Issue publication date: 21 August 2019




As supply chain sustainability has become more urgent than ever before, this study aims to provide a more nuanced understanding of how supplying firms’ sustainability motives influence their compliance and commitment, as well as sustainable performance, as they respond to buyers’ sustainable supplier management programs.


To investigate the intriguing links among sustainability motives, compliance/commitment and sustainable performance of supplying firms, this paper draws on multidisciplinary literature and collects empirical data from 281 supplying firms in China to test the proposed model and hypotheses using structural equation modeling.


Instrumental and moral motives make comparable contributions to compliance; moral motives exert stronger influence on firms’ commitment to sustainable practices. In addition, although compliance has a greater impact on economic and environmental performance, commitment is far more robust in improving environmental and social performance.

Research limitations/implications

Unlike most research on motives that has been theoretical, this study represents one of the few empirical analyses of how motives may affect sustainable performance. Examining the challenges from the perspectives of supplying firms, it also adds to the SSCM literature by making clear how compliance and commitment may differentially predict sustainable performance.

Practical implications

Although instrumental and moral motives can be complementary in advancing sustainable practices, it is imperative for firms to integrate moral considerations into sustainability decision-making and move beyond compliance, if they are to contribute meaningfully to a better society and cleaner environment.


This is the first large-scale empirical investigation on the links among motives, compliance, commitment and sustainable performance from the perspectives of suppliers.



Funding: Yinfei Chen was supported by Humanity and Social Sciences Research of Ministry of Education of P.R. China (15YJC630010).


Chen, Y. and Chen, I.J. (2019), "Mixed sustainability motives, mixed results: the role of compliance and commitment in sustainable supply chain practices", Supply Chain Management, Vol. 24 No. 5, pp. 622-636.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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