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Exploring Themes and Challenges in Developing Sustainable Supply Chains - A Complexity Theory Perspective

Abbasi, Maisam LU (2014)
Abstract (Swedish)
Popular Abstract in English

If you wonder about the journey of goods and services before they reach you and the effects

that journey has on the natural environment and the society, this dissertation is for you. In

order to deliver goods and services from raw materials to you, the customer/consumer, several

organizations and individuals interact with each other. They source the materials, manufacture

or produce the products, pack and handle them, transport and distribute them, and ultimately

sell them. These interactions and activities make up the supply chain (SC). Supply chain

management (SCM) involves the management and integration of these interactions and

... (More)
Popular Abstract in English

If you wonder about the journey of goods and services before they reach you and the effects

that journey has on the natural environment and the society, this dissertation is for you. In

order to deliver goods and services from raw materials to you, the customer/consumer, several

organizations and individuals interact with each other. They source the materials, manufacture

or produce the products, pack and handle them, transport and distribute them, and ultimately

sell them. These interactions and activities make up the supply chain (SC). Supply chain

management (SCM) involves the management and integration of these interactions and

activities. Numerous evidence-based studies show that SCM can increase your satisfaction as

a customer and consumer, meet your demands, and reduce costs and conflicts for the

organizations, businesses and individuals involved.



Businesses are beginning to realize that SCs have several negative effects on their

surrounding natural environment and societies that should be minimized. Examples of these

are that SCs are still dependent on fossil fuels and nonrenewable natural resources. They give

rise to atmospheric, land, water, noise, air pollution; lead to waste, congestion, injuries, and

accidents; produce/manufacture and trade goods and services according to unethical laws and

standards; and abuse human as well as employees’ rights. If remedies for mitigating the

negative effects are not found soon, the costs will be too high for future generations to cope

with the effects. It might also be too late for them to find and implement long-term solutions

to keep our planet a sustainable place to live and our businesses sustainable to operate.



The purpose of this research was to explore themes (topics, activities) in developing

sustainable SCs so that the negative effects can be minimized. It also explored challenges

(difficulties, obstacles, or dilemmas) that can hinder sustainable development of SCs. In-depth

studies of logistical services and activities were carried out because they have not been well

examined with a sustainability lens.



The results revealed a pattern of themes in developing sustainable SCs. The first theme

originated from the direct characteristics of sustainable goods and services. Goods and

services can be sustainable if they are effective and efficient with minimized pollution, if they

are sourced from renewable raw materials and natural resources, and are recyclable, safe,

healthy, secure, and transparently traceable. This means that appropriate steps should be taken

to generate goods and services sustainably so that all sorts of waste, emissions, toxicants,

noise and air pollution are minimized. The second theme was related to sustainability in the

resources necessary for generating goods and services, including the physical, financial,

human, and intangible ones. Among the aspects discussed are: effectiveness and efficiency

(appropriate resources, rightly utilized) with minimized pollution; recyclability; safety;

security; respecting the rights of employees; developing a learning context; exploring and

exploiting innovation; fostering diversity; employee development; protecting trust, brand, and

reputation; maintaining and continuing business relationships; dealing with risks; as well as

resistance and resilience.



Sustainability does not emerge in just the goods, services, and resources of SCs, though. The

third theme sheds light on inter-processes and interrelationships in sustainable SCs including

the flows of goods and services from suppliers to consumers and vice versa that should be

integrated. All the businesses involved should take and share responsibilities in following the

ethical norms and minimum standards and requirements. They should also be responsible and

collaborative in their relationships with others. Businesses also have responsibilities in

developing their societies such as social investment, supporting public services, and

vi

philanthropy. Finally, the fourth theme underlined managerial and governmental activities in

developing SCs.



The results also revealed the pattern of the challenges in developing sustainable SCs. The first

challenge was to shift the values in the supply chains in a way that the two non-economic

pillars of sustainable development (environmental and social friendliness) are equally

weighted with the economic pillar. This can hinder sustainable development of SCs when

short-term costs are in focus or when customers prioritize financial criteria such as delivery

time, price, functionality, and service-rate ahead of environmental and social criteria such as

recyclability, emissions, and working conditions or rights of employees. The second challenge

was related to the difficulties of operationalization due to asymmetric knowledge in the

interpretation of criteria for sustainable development in different parts of SCs; difficulties in

changing the resistant, reluctant, disregarding, or short-term mind-sets and behaviors; and

uncertainties about short- and long-term changes that might affect SCs.



The third challenge was dealing with the increasing complexity associated with the

sustainable development of SCs. The first dimension that contributes to this complexity is the

difficulty in evaluating SC sustainability. This is due to the subjectivity in defining the

changing SC boundaries, the organizations and individuals involved, as well as the multiple

ways that SC activities affect or are affected by their surrounding societies and environments.

The second dimension relates to leakage/spillovers in open SCs because of the shift of

emissions from one sector to another (from transport to production of electricity, for example)

or from one country to another. Leakage may also occur when a stakeholder evades its

responsibilities or externalizes its social and environmental degradation costs by transferring

to or sourcing from places or stakeholders with looser regulations and standards. The third

dimension involves several trade-offs that exist in the sustainable development of SCs, where

making one part sustainable leads to unsustainability in another. There are also several

conflicts of a paradoxical character that simultaneously exist in the managing and governing

of sustainable SCs.



The fourth challenge was related to the difficulties in corporate governance of sustainable SCs

due to the large scale of interactions and activities. There are several contexts where supply

chains operate, ranging from local to urban areas, regions, and different countries. Different

rules, laws, standards, certificates, labels, norms, bureaucracies, and administration processes

exist. There is considerable heterogeneity regarding sustainability practices between and

within industries, and a reluctance of businesses to accept legislation or to participate in

initiatives. There are also concerns over transparency, accountability, and the credibility of

standards, norms, and third party or external auditors and certifiers. Finally, the fifth

challenge was related to the difficulties of small and medium sized enterprises, as they may be

uncertain about the benefits of upgrading to new sustainability standards and codes of

conduct. They may also lack the knowledge, skills, time, money and human resources to

respond to the social and environmental requirements of global buyers and SCs.



The conclusion is that taking a complexity theory perspective (CTP) on sustainable SCs is

beneficial to better understand, manage, and govern gradual and radical changes in them. A

CTP takes into account changes in the themes and challenges and is helpful in dealings with

the challenges, such as changing customers’ priorities; changing short-term mind-sets and

behaviors; uncertainties; subjectivity in embodying SCs; dealing with leakage/spillovers,

trade-offs, and paradoxes; and heterogeneity regarding sustainability practices between and

within industries. (Less)
Abstract
To develop sustainable supply chains in a way that their negative environmental and social effects are minimized, shortand long-term targets should be set. The transformation of supply chains towards these targets calls for the development of innovative strategies and the need to continuously identify, classify, and tackle the challenges that can hinder the

execution of such strategies. To develop innovative strategies, the patterns of current trends and themes need to be learned

and the missing ones need to be identified.



The purpose of this research was to explore themes and challenges in developing sustainable supply chain activities from

theoretical and empirical perspectives. Six research... (More)
To develop sustainable supply chains in a way that their negative environmental and social effects are minimized, shortand long-term targets should be set. The transformation of supply chains towards these targets calls for the development of innovative strategies and the need to continuously identify, classify, and tackle the challenges that can hinder the

execution of such strategies. To develop innovative strategies, the patterns of current trends and themes need to be learned

and the missing ones need to be identified.



The purpose of this research was to explore themes and challenges in developing sustainable supply chain activities from

theoretical and empirical perspectives. Six research studies (RS) were designed and carried out. Two explored the patterns

of the themes and challenges in making supply chains environmentally and socially sustainable in general (RS1, RS2).

One explored freight transport (RS3), one, urban freight distribution (RS4), and one, logistical services (RS5) in

particular. RS6 explored a complexity theory perspective (CTP) on managing, governing, and developing sustainable

supply chains activities. A CTP was chosen because of its applicability and ability to provide an understanding of the

complex phenomena that sustainable development and supply chains represent.



During and after the design of each research study, data were collected from a variety of sources and then analyzed by

different researchers on some occasions and by different methods. Thus, the research design, data collection, and data

analysis were mixed and overlapping, because they were not completely sequentially carried out. The aim of the analysis

was to generate knowledge by (re)organizing and categorizing the data collected, by exploring the meaning of the data

(i.e., generating information), and identifying their patterns of associations. After assessing the quality of the synthesized

knowledge, the results were communicated to several target groups through several communication channels.



In RS1, five major themes and challenges were identified in making supply chains environmentally sustainable. RS5 led

to a deeper understanding of the insights of logistics service providers (LSPs) about the challenges identified in RS1. RS2

led to the identification of five major themes and eight major challenges in making supply chains socially sustainable. In

the context of freight transport in RS3, fifteen major themes and five major challenges emerged. In the context of urban

freight distribution in RS4, these numbers were eight major themes and seven major challenges. However, the results (i.e.,

the generated knowledge) about the themes and challenges were subjective: They were influenced by my interpretation of

what had been said, observed, or scientifically written. The results were also relative (related to what had been said,

observed, or scientifically written), and influenced by the different methods for collection and analysis of data.



By combining the thirty-three identified themes in the research studies and classifying them based on their similarities and

overlap, four central themes in making supply chains sustainable emerged out: sustainability in goods and services,

sustainability in resources, sustainability in corporation, and sustainability in management and/or governance. Similarly,

by combining the twenty-four identified challenges in the research studies and classifying them based on their similarities

and overlap, five central challenges in making supply chains sustainable emerged out: shifting the values, difficulties of

operationalization, dealing with complexity, difficulties of corporate governance, and SMEs difficulties. Taking a CTP

was beneficial in understanding the complexity involved in the central themes of making supply chains sustainable. It also

led to further propositions for tackling the challenges. (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
supervisor
opponent
  • Prockl, Günter, Department of Operations Management, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
organization
publishing date
type
Thesis
publication status
published
subject
keywords
Supply Chain, Logistic, Sustainable Development, Sustainability, Complexity
categories
Higher Education
pages
245 pages
publisher
Lund University (Media-Tryck)
defense location
Lecture hall (DC: Shö) at the Department of Design Sciences (IKDC), Sölvegatan 26, Lund University Faculty of Engineering
defense date
2014-05-28 10:15
ISBN
978-91-7473-956-5
978-91-7473-955-8
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
550735ab-ad80-41cb-9381-df69c0ceb5bf (old id 4429258)
date added to LUP
2014-04-30 12:38:16
date last changed
2016-09-19 08:45:13
@misc{550735ab-ad80-41cb-9381-df69c0ceb5bf,
  abstract     = {To develop sustainable supply chains in a way that their negative environmental and social effects are minimized, shortand long-term targets should be set. The transformation of supply chains towards these targets calls for the development of innovative strategies and the need to continuously identify, classify, and tackle the challenges that can hinder the<br/><br>
execution of such strategies. To develop innovative strategies, the patterns of current trends and themes need to be learned<br/><br>
and the missing ones need to be identified.<br/><br>
<br/><br>
The purpose of this research was to explore themes and challenges in developing sustainable supply chain activities from<br/><br>
theoretical and empirical perspectives. Six research studies (RS) were designed and carried out. Two explored the patterns<br/><br>
of the themes and challenges in making supply chains environmentally and socially sustainable in general (RS1, RS2).<br/><br>
One explored freight transport (RS3), one, urban freight distribution (RS4), and one, logistical services (RS5) in<br/><br>
particular. RS6 explored a complexity theory perspective (CTP) on managing, governing, and developing sustainable<br/><br>
supply chains activities. A CTP was chosen because of its applicability and ability to provide an understanding of the<br/><br>
complex phenomena that sustainable development and supply chains represent.<br/><br>
<br/><br>
During and after the design of each research study, data were collected from a variety of sources and then analyzed by<br/><br>
different researchers on some occasions and by different methods. Thus, the research design, data collection, and data<br/><br>
analysis were mixed and overlapping, because they were not completely sequentially carried out. The aim of the analysis<br/><br>
was to generate knowledge by (re)organizing and categorizing the data collected, by exploring the meaning of the data<br/><br>
(i.e., generating information), and identifying their patterns of associations. After assessing the quality of the synthesized<br/><br>
knowledge, the results were communicated to several target groups through several communication channels.<br/><br>
<br/><br>
In RS1, five major themes and challenges were identified in making supply chains environmentally sustainable. RS5 led<br/><br>
to a deeper understanding of the insights of logistics service providers (LSPs) about the challenges identified in RS1. RS2<br/><br>
led to the identification of five major themes and eight major challenges in making supply chains socially sustainable. In<br/><br>
the context of freight transport in RS3, fifteen major themes and five major challenges emerged. In the context of urban<br/><br>
freight distribution in RS4, these numbers were eight major themes and seven major challenges. However, the results (i.e.,<br/><br>
the generated knowledge) about the themes and challenges were subjective: They were influenced by my interpretation of<br/><br>
what had been said, observed, or scientifically written. The results were also relative (related to what had been said,<br/><br>
observed, or scientifically written), and influenced by the different methods for collection and analysis of data.<br/><br>
<br/><br>
By combining the thirty-three identified themes in the research studies and classifying them based on their similarities and<br/><br>
overlap, four central themes in making supply chains sustainable emerged out: sustainability in goods and services,<br/><br>
sustainability in resources, sustainability in corporation, and sustainability in management and/or governance. Similarly,<br/><br>
by combining the twenty-four identified challenges in the research studies and classifying them based on their similarities<br/><br>
and overlap, five central challenges in making supply chains sustainable emerged out: shifting the values, difficulties of<br/><br>
operationalization, dealing with complexity, difficulties of corporate governance, and SMEs difficulties. Taking a CTP<br/><br>
was beneficial in understanding the complexity involved in the central themes of making supply chains sustainable. It also<br/><br>
led to further propositions for tackling the challenges.},
  author       = {Abbasi, Maisam},
  isbn         = {978-91-7473-956-5},
  keyword      = {Supply Chain,Logistic,Sustainable Development,Sustainability,Complexity},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {245},
  publisher    = {ARRAY(0xa3e1670)},
  title        = {Exploring Themes and Challenges in Developing Sustainable Supply Chains - A Complexity Theory Perspective},
  year         = {2014},
}