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Exploring sustainable supply chain management: a social network perspective

Haiyan Emma Lu (Plymouth Business School, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK and Cardiff Business School, Ringgold Standard Institution, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)
Andrew Potter (Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)
Vasco Sanchez Rodrigues (Department of Business, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)
Helen Walker (Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)

Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 1359-8546

Article publication date: 7 June 2018

Issue publication date: 20 August 2018



The implementation of sustainable supply chain management (SCM) calls for an acknowledgement of uncertainty inherent in complex environment. Confucianist society forms social networks in Confucianist society, called guanxi networks, influence economic behaviours and business practices in the workplace. The purpose of this study is to explore how these social networks influence the implementation of sustainable SCM. In doing so, this study aims to critically investigate the constructs of guanxi networks, their impact on flow of supply chain capital and how this leverages the implementation of sustainable SCM.


Two systematic literature reviews are conducted to understand the constructs of social networks in Confucianist culture and their impacts on the flow of supply chain capitals. The reviews also analyse evidence related to the economic, social and environmental practices to reveal the current state of the literature and research gaps. Propositions and a framework are developed to support future research in this area.


The constructs of ganqing, renqing, xinren and mianzi in guanxi networks have expanded the contexts of social networks in Western literature. Guanxi networks increase the flow of supply chain capital and generate trust between players, thus enhancing capabilities to implement sustainable SCM. Guanxi networks also create the mechanism of network governance with which to increase sustainable SCM implementation under the institutional logics of sustainability.

Research limitations/implications

The conceptual framework and justification are based on the reviews of current studies in the field. Future empirical study is encouraged to test the propositions, both in Confucianist culture and other countries with culture of social networks.


Social networks are socially constructed concepts. The constructs of guanxi networks revealed in this study have developed the knowledge of Western-based social network theory. Besides, arguments from a social network perspective provide an alternative answer to explain increased behavioural commitment and companies’ investment in sustainable SCM. This study helps practitioners understand the logic of this social norm and to use it to maximise their operation outputs, including sustainable SCM implementation.



The authors thank colleagues from the Journal Club in Cardiff Business School for sharing their pearls of wisdom on an earlier version of the manuscript. They would also like to show gratitude to Dr Fotios Petropoulos for providing his insights and expertise in shaping the contributions of the study. They thank the editor and the reviewers for their invaluable comments and assistance with the improvement of flow and justification of the study.


Lu, H.E., Potter, A., Sanchez Rodrigues, V. and Walker, H. (2018), "Exploring sustainable supply chain management: a social network perspective", Supply Chain Management, Vol. 23 No. 4, pp. 257-277.



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