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Sustainability: A Flash in the Pan? Or a Collaborative Capability?

Environmental management is emerging as a focal business strategy to reduce environmental risks, improve market share and realise corporate profits, with the added benefit of increasing the ethical and ecological efficiency of the focal organisation and its partners (suppliers and customers). The effects of legislation combined with pressures from a range of stakeholder groups including, customers, suppliers and financial institutions have led to a proliferation of sustainable strategies.

Given this context, environmental management practices have evolved to minimise the deleterious effects of their products and manufacturing practices on the natural environment. Over the past decade environmental management has evolved to include a range of boundary spanning activities such as green supply , reverse supply chains and logistics and product stewardship and design . All of these activities are directly related to the broad area of supply chain management and require varying degrees of interaction and coordination with other organisations. However, many of these activities appear to occur in a silo, and are often constrained to a specific area such as purchasing, logistics, product branding, or waste management, with limited integration of environmental initiatives across the product or service life cycle or across multiple cross-functional lines of work. Limited understanding of environmental management particularly within the supply chain has hampered the development of a comprehensive framework to characterize and categorise environmental activities.

Furthermore, the linkage between sustainable supply chain practices and organisational performance has also not been fully examined.
Sustainability raises a number of important challenges and paradoxes relative to management strategy. Is sustainability a dimension of performance along with cost, quality, and technology, or a “flash in the pan” that can be managed through branding and consumer perceptions? Are organizations truly able to embrace sustainability not just within their four walls, but impose their will and compliance requirements across multiple firms in their supply chains? And most importantly, can we “measure” the relative alignment of competitive strategy with sustainable performance in the supply chain (Hart, 1995)?
This paper proposes to examine the relationship between environmental performance henceforth referred to as ‘sustainability’ (this includes ethical as well as environmental issues) supply chain management practices and operations and supply chain strategy. We seek to answer the question: can a sustainability focus within operations and supply chain strategy improve environmental and firm performance? This question will be addressed in many of the discussions in our upcoming SCRC meeting on April 29-30. If you are interested in attending, please don’t hesitate to contact us at