In different country contexts and fields of study “sustainability” may have different meanings (Filho, 2000). But in the business management literature, the most widely quoted definition is that found in the Brundtland Report (1987) where it is defined as; “development that meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. While authors such as Kiewiet and Vos (2007) consider this to be the definition of “sustainability”, others (Wilson, 2003; Presley et al., 2007) refer to it as “sustainable development”.

We can therefore ask whether sustainability is a synonym of sustainable development. In this article, we will use both terms interchangeably.

Whatever definition we adopt, the performance of a sustainable organisation can be said to be based on a “triple-bottom-line” (TBL); constituted by the economic, social and environmental components of sustainable development (Robins, 2006).

Kiewiet and Vos (2007) emphasised the issue of performance by stating that “an organisation is considered sustainable if a certain minimum level of performance is attained in the three ‘P-areas’ (people, planet and profit)”. These three Ps – people, planet and profit – can be assimilated respectively to the three components of sustainability; social, environmental and economic.

In the supply chain context, the definition of sustainability also varies.

According to Beamon (2005), environmental conscious supply chain management has historically emphasized on product recovery (recycling, remanufacturing, or reuse) or the product design function (e.g., design for environment). Beamon (2005) argues that environmental considerations in manufacturing are often separated from traditional value-added considerations.

Thus, ethical decision-making in supply chain management is proposed. Field and Sroufe (2007) studied the implications, for supply chain management, of the use of recycled materials in manufacturing. Kleindorfer et al. (2005) claim that sustainable operations management combines the profit and efficiency focus of traditional operations management with the company’s stakeholder issues… As well as its environmental impacts.

The concept even broadens to include green product & process development (Rahimifard and Clegg, 2007; Geldermann et al., 2007a), green supply chains and technology (Vachon, 2007), lean & green suppliers (Simpson and Power, 2005), green SCM and performance (Beamon, 1999; Hervani & Helms, 2005; Rao and Holt, 2005; Zhu et al., 2005), as well as remanufacturing and close-loop supply chains (Krikke et al., 2004).

In the sustainable supply chain management literature, there is a wide range of definitions since researchers and practitioners lay emphasis on one or more phases and/or activities that constitute the product life cycle (PLC).

The definition of Facanha & Horvath (2008) includes profitability, resource effectiveness and Brundtland’s definition. Kleindorfer et al. (2005) defines sustainable supply chains using the concept of closed-loop supply chains and triple bottom line thinking.

The definition of Carter & Rogers (2008) further adds transparent integration of an organisation’s social, environmental and economic goals.

Linton et al. (2007) argues that “sustainability must also integrate issues and flows that extend beyond the core of supply chain management;

  • product design,
  • manufacturing by-products,
  • by-products produced during product use,
  • product life extension,
  • product end-of-life,
  • and recovery processes at end of life”.

These definitions are complementary and can serve as a basis for determining a framework for assessing corporate sustainability, especially its link with supply chain management.

A lot of research has been done on sustainable supply chain management. But often from a one-dimensional perspective, looking at just one business sector or one of the three pillars of sustainability; social, economic and environmental.

Geldermann et al. (2007b) argue that an appropriate innovation and technology management is essential for sustainable production strategies. For retail industries, Courville (2003) compared supply chains in the coffee industry using indicators, such as fair price, cost of production and ability to meet basic needs.

Aiking and De Boer (2004) discuss the diverging interpretations of food sustainability. Other authors have studied the application of sustainable supply chain management to manufacturing and electronics-based industries (e.g., Handfield et al, 2005; Vachon & Klassen 2006; Zsidisin & Siferd 2001).

Our literature review shows that there are many studies on green supply chain management and social issues on supply chains, mainly labour standard, yet there are not many works conducted on more comprehensive overview of sustainability aspects of supply chain management including all three pillars of social, economic and environmental aspects. The social aspects as well as the integration of the three dimensions of sustainability are rarely mentioned (Seuring & Muller 2008; Seuring 2008). This is a clear limitation of current approaches and tools that should be solved in future works…

Authors: U. Okongwu (Toulouse Business School), R. Morimoto (Toulouse Business School), M. Lauras (AGILEA / Ecole des Mines)

Sustainable Supply Chain Concept: Literature Review

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