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BPMJ
16,3

Sustainable supply chains:


a study of interaction among
the enablers

508

Mohd Nishat Faisal


Department of Management and Marketing,
College of Business and Economics, Qatar University, Doha, Qatar
Abstract
Purpose A focus on supply chains is a step towards the broader adoption and development of
sustainability, since the supply chain considers the product from initial processing of raw materials to
delivery to the customer. The purpose of this paper is to present an approach to effectively adapt
sustainable practices in a supply chain by understanding the dynamics between various enablers that
help to transform a supply chain into a truly sustainable entity.
Design/methodology/approach Using interpretive structural modeling, the paper presents a
hierarchy-based model and the mutual relationships among the enablers of sustainability in a supply
chain.
Findings The paper shows that there exists a group of enablers having a high-driving power and
low-dependence requiring maximum attention and of strategic importance while another group
consists of those variables which have high dependence and are the resultant actions.
Practical implications This paper provides a useful tool to supply chain managers to differentiate
between independent and dependent variables and their mutual relationships which would help them
to focus on those key variables that are most important for effective implementation of sustainability
concepts in the design of a supply chain.
Originality/value This paper assumes importance in context of countries in the Gulf region which
are developing economies and the pace of development is quite high, putting a lot of pressure on natural
resources. Sustainability demands that the resources be used such that the environment is conserved
and this requires all the partners in a supply chain to be aware and ready to implement sustainable
practices. The findings of this paper would help delineate those variables that should to be necessarily
considered to design a sustainable supply chain.
Keywords Channel relationships, Supply chain management, Developing economies
Paper type Research paper

Business Process Management


Journal
Vol. 16 No. 3, 2010
pp. 508-529
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
1463-7154
DOI 10.1108/14637151011049476

Introduction
The World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) defined sustainable
development as: Development that meets the needs of the present generation without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Hart and
Milstein, 2003). Sustainable development implies a process, which is integrative in
essence, and that tries to maintain a state of dynamic balance in the long run (Osorio et al.,
2005). Recently, sustainable development has assumed considerable importance
in policy and research. Socio-economic and socio-cultural linkages have become
increasingly prominent (Lehtonen, 2004), and social concerns have crept into
the terminology of policy makers (George and Kirkpatrick, 2006; OECD/DAC, 2001).
The author would like to express his gratitude towards the reviewers and the editor-in-chief for
their valuable comments and suggestions which have enhanced the quality of the final paper.

Graedel and Crutzen (1989) point out that the composition of the atmosphere has been
altered more in the past 100 years through fossil-fuel use, agricultural practices, and
deforestation than in the previous 18,000 years. Sustainability calls for proponents of
human, economic, as well as environmental concerns to join together to provide an
everlasting life for the human species in the global ecosystem (Bagheri and Hjorth,
2007). A sustainable enterprise is one that contributes to sustainable development by
simultaneously delivering economic, social, and environmental benefits or what has
been termed the triple bottom line (Norman and MacDonald, 2004). From United
Nations (UNs) Agenda 21s perspective, companies can make a positive contribution
towards sustainable development through sustainability oriented initiatives. Currently,
there are a number of more or less isolated and to some extent replicated views in the
literature that strive to address aspects of sustainable business practices and theory,
such as (Svensson, 2007):
.
corporate social responsibility (CSR);
.
sustainable supply network management;
.
supply chain environmental management;
.
green purchasing strategies;
.
environmental purchasing;
.
green marketing;
.
environmental marketing;
.
environmental marketing management;
.
environmental product differentiation;
.
reverse logistics;
.
sustainability labeling schemes;
.
environmental management;
.
life-cycle assessment; and
.
ISO 14000-certifications.
European Parliament views the concept of sustainability as so critical to the future
of the EU that current and future legislation is required to integrate sustainability
into implementation orders. Many other countries and jurisdictions are introducing
legislation that addresses similar issues (Shih, 2001). Over the next few decades,
sustainable development will constitute one of the biggest opportunities in the history of
commerce (Hart, 1997). Environmental standards will rise as income increases, and people
will become more sensitive toward and concerned about environmental deterioration
(Dowell et al., 2000). Businesses will be challenged to create new strategies and it is likely
that the basis for gaining competitive advantage in the coming years may be rooted
increasingly in a set of emerging capabilities such as waste minimization, green product
design, and technology cooperation in the developing world (Gladwin, 1992; Schmidheiny,
1992) all of which fall under the corporate jurisdiction of supply chain management.
Therefore, the creation of a sustainable supply chain may prove to be an effective strategy
for seeking competitive advantage and securing stakeholder approval in the future.
In general, corporations in developing economies get involved with sustainability
programs forced by legislation. In addition, firms have thrived so far by providing the

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optimal service level at the lowest price, paying little attention to how supply chain
decisions and actions affect other aspects of human life, such as the environment and
sustainability of natural resources (de Brito et al., 2008). But recent trends from
developed nations indicate that sustainability can be used as a springboard to reach
environmental and socially conscious customers along with the enhancement to the
overall brand image. In todays information and knowledge economies, supply chains
are dependent on the co-ordinated efforts of several organizations spread around the
globe. This makes the control of practices much more difficult to achieve sustainability.
In a world concerned more and more with the optimal use of the scarce resources,
supply chains need to re-align themselves to adjust to this trend.
Sustainability is not a fixed ideal, but an evolutionary process of improving the
management of systems, through improved understanding and knowledge (Bagheri
and Hjorth, 2007). Recently, improved understanding demands consideration of
sustainability from a supply chain perspective. But little work has been done that
addresses the impact that a sustainable supply chain, one focused on the protection of
global, green, and social capital, can have on a firms overall economic well-being. More
importantly, research has ignored the potential development of a competitive advantage
using a sustainable supply chain as a base (Markley and Davis, 2007). The critical role
that supply chain management can play in contributing towards sustainability is also
acknowledged by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA also recognized the
need to expand the sustainability efforts to include inventory management, materials
handling, disposition, and logistics can further improve environmental and cost
performance. As the future challenge is to develop a sustainable global economy, one
that the planet is capable of supporting indefinitely (Hart, 2000), it becomes increasingly
important for firms to evaluate the impact of sustainable supply chain strategy. This
paper develops a new conceptual framework for understanding sustainability in context
of supply chains. To date, there has been limited research undertaken in this area and so
the findings should provide an impetus for organizations to re-consider their approach
to sustainable practices. Further, making use of interpretive structural modeling (ISM)
the conceptual framework shows that to integrate sustainability in supply chains it is
imperative to understand the mutual relationships among the enablers of sustainability
in supply chains.
Sustainability and supply chain management
In the past, supply chain management was mostly concerned with the efficient and
responsive system of production and delivery from raw material stage to final
consumer. However, environmental issues in supply chain are significantly growing as
part of the wider debate on how industry meets the challenges of sustainability (Seitz
and Wells, 2006). Supply chain managers face the challenge to integrate sustainable
practices in managing their supply chains because of the pressures from various
stakeholders. In this context, practices like environmental friendly packaging, return of
end-of-life and used products to the producer as well as the eco-friendly handling of
these returns, recycling, remanufacturing and adequate waste disposal have assumed
importance. Further, issues like 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 that may not form the core activities of the supply

chain management but still have a considerable impact on overall sustainability of a


supply chain should be managed utilizing an integrated approach.
Sustainability today demands that supply chains must be explicitly extended to
include by-products of the supply chain, to consider the entire life-cycle of the product,
and to optimize the product not only from a current cost standpoint but also a total cost
standpoint. Total cost must include the effects of resource depletion and the generation
of by-products those are neither captured nor used (Linton et al., 2007). In a supply chain,
the business activities prior to the point of origin (e.g. actors and activities of renewable,
non-renewable, and recycled resources) and those business activities following the point
of consumption (e.g. actors and activities of renewable, non-renewable and recycling
resources) are rarely acknowledged. These prior and posterior business activities may
be labeled as part of second-order supply chains. In an effort to explore sustainability in
a supply chain context, greater consideration needs to be given to the connection
between first-, second-, and n-order supply chains and the components and interfaces
thereof. Accordingly, the supply chain should be seen as not ending at the point of
consumption, but at another (or a new) point of origin (Svensson, 2007).
Even if sustainability is not holistically integrated yet in logistics and SCM, there are
signs that this movement may introduce a new paradigm in SCM, which has so far
evolved from managing a logistics system of functions to a network through functional
internal integration, and finally a supply chain through external integration. Such a
new paradigm for SCM should be attained through extended integration of
sustainability values, where the key function is responsibility management (de Brito
et al., 2008). Supply chains which integrate social and environmental resources may also
be more difficult to replicate, particularly if suppliers devote asset-specific investments
to engage in the design for disassembly and reuse activities of their customers
(Carter and Carter, 1998).
Adoption of sustainable practices in supply chains is fraught with several
challenges. In supply chains where issues such as price competition and responsiveness
are of prime importance, the adoption of sustainable practices is a daunting task. For
example, outsourcing strategies make more difficult to exercise control on the working
conditions in the offshore production sites (particularly in developing economies);
smaller size of deliveries deriving from shorter delivery times may increase number of
shipments, thus raising its environmental impact. This implies that sustainability
initiatives should be analyzed according to an integrated approach, which would
consider the trade-off between the environmental, social, and economic dimensions.
Even when players of the chain try to be consistent, it is very challenging to do it at
a global level. Vermeulen and Ras (2006) mention the difficulties that two Dutch firms
had while trying to green their global fashion supply chain. Peek & Cloppenburg, a
clothing chain store could not go beyond Europe, as agents and factory tailors refused
to provide information or to cooperate. Similarly, Van Bommel, a top quality shoe
producer, sourcing leather in Europe and India, met severe reluctance from an Indian
supplier who resisted the efforts to assess its environmental performance. There seem
to be regional differences on the view of CSR and sustainability, namely between
Europe and Asia. Nonetheless, the countries in Asia are now making serious efforts
towards sustainability (Carter and Mol, 2006).
The experience with the certification system of the Forest Stewardship Council
showed that the largest firms and richer countries earned certificates faster and easily,

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while small enterprises and poorer communities in developing countries lacked support
infrastructure and faced higher costs of certification, annual auditing, and
improvements (Conroy, 2007). A focus on supply chains is a step towards the broader
adoption and development of sustainability. Sustainability stretches the concept of
supply chain management to look at optimizing operations from a broader perspective
the entire production system and postproduction stewardship as opposed to just the
production of a specific product (Linton et al., 2007).
Literature review: enablers of sustainable supply chains
According to Merriam-Webster enabler is defined as as one that enables another to
achieve an end where enable implies to make able; give power, means, competence, or
ability to. Thus, for the purpose of this research, enabler is considered as a variable that
enables (ability to) the attainment of sustainability in a supply chain. This definition is
consistent with the use of the term enabler in ISM models like enablers of flexible
manufacturing systems (Raj et al., 2008), growth enablers in construction companies
(Bhattacharya and Momaya, 2009), information technology (IT) enablement in supply
chain ( Jharkharia and Shankar, 2004), enablers of reverse logistics (Ravi et al., 2005), IT
enablers for Indian manufacturing small and medium enterprises (SMEs) (Thakkar
et al., 2008), supply chain performance measurement system implementation (Charan
et al., 2008).
The concept of sustainable development has moved to a new level, from its
environmental and CSR roots of the last decade through and including the triple bottom
line to where it becomes an integral part of business strategy bringing in business
profits in and of itself, not just as part of cost reductions for the bottom line (Klimley,
2005). In an era where outsourcing is the norm, all major companies are going to have to
find ways to ensure they understand and are able to influence the sustainability of
their supply chains. The very nature of branded goods ensures that they are high in the
public consciousness and many stakeholders continue to hold branded goods firms
accountable for issues relating to the production of the raw materials and goods that go
into their products, whether or not they own or directly control the production processes
(Roberts, 2003).
Implementation of sustainable practices is also more likely if there are identifiable
benefits from action (cost savings or product/market differentiation) or risks from
inaction (reputational damage, loss of market share). Such initiatives are likely to be
successful if they are supported by key company staff and other members of the supply
network, and procurement staff are forward-thinking and have appropriate skills
(Roberts, 2003). Bowen et al. (2001) state that organizations will adopt green supply
chain management practices if they identify that this will result in specific financial and
operational benefits. Walton et al. (1998) suggest that environmental issues are
becoming an intrinsic part of strategic planning in organizations due to stricter
regulations and the demands of environmental accountability. But to ensure complete
environmental excellence, top management must be totally committed (Zsidisin and
Siferd, 2001; Rice, 2003).
To create sustainable competitive advantage, it is recognized that long-term and
highly collaborative win-win ways of working which are normally based on trust and
transparency have to be created between all participants in the supply chain. This
approach is sometimes refereed to as partnering or alliancing (Cox et al., 2007).

The literature for supporting such positive relationships is relatively strong. For
example, Frosch (1994) argued that an inter-firm linkage facilitated by proximity could
lead to improvement in environmental performance. Geffen and Rothenberg (2000)
suggested that relations with suppliers aid the adoption and development of innovative
environmental technologies. In addition, the interaction of customer and supplier staff,
partnership agreements and joint research and development lead to improvements in
environmental performance. In recent years, firms have embraced the importance of
working collaboratively with their supply chain partners to enhance their
CSR/sustainability performance (Nalebuff and Brandenburger, 1996). For example,
Starbucks that sources its core raw materials from hundreds or thousands of different
suppliers has found that the costs of finding these suppliers, checking them for quality
and other criteria and finally agreeing terms is very high. The more scrutiny of supply
chain practices there is, the higher the cost. For Starbucks, then, switching costs the
cost of finding one supplier to replace another are therefore high and rising.
Starbucks therefore has a vested interest in reducing churn in its supply base.
By creating long-term, preferred and strategic supply relationships, Starbucks is
successfully reducing total supply chain costs. Further, longer-term, closer
relationships with farmers are also helping to reduce supply chain risk (Lee, 2008).
Lead firms in sustainable supply chain management have traditionally tended
towards a strict compliance approach with a focus on negative sanctions against
non-compliant suppliers. However, this approach has several drawbacks. First,
suppliers may be tempted to conceal non-compliance for fear of loosing business with
buyers. This in turn limits transparency and hampers buyer efforts to assess supplier
performance (Cramer et al., 2003). Second, non-compliant suppliers, particularly in
developing countries, risk being crowded out from global value chains leading to a
further downgrading of their social and environmental standards. This problem has
been particularly evident with respect to child labor, where buyer policies have
sometimes led developing country producers to lay off child workers, without proper
consideration for the children and their families. Third, from a buyer point of view the
zero-tolerance approach can prove commercially untenable, as it may seriously restrict
the number of available suppliers in the market place (Jorgensen and Knudsen, 2006).
Recently, large buyers have therefore increasingly adopting a development-oriented
approach in order to handle non-compliance issues through joint remediation plans
rather than through negative sanctions. Such remediation plans may then involve
transfers of technology and capacity-building initiatives in support of continuous
improvement (Jamison and Murdoch, 2004). Learning that occurs between buyers and
suppliers concerning environmental and social activities such as working with
suppliers to commit to waste reduction goals and developing capable minority business
enterprise suppliers takes time, but such learning can have a strong positive influence
on supplier performance and reduced operating costs in supply chain relationships
(Carter, 2005).
For sustainable practices to be successful in supply chains, indicators are required
to show which aspects of performance must be improved and to indicate the direction
of change. An indicator set which relates both environmental and economic
performance has been developed by Unilever (Clift, 2003) in the approach known as
Overall Business Impact Assessment (OBIA). OBIA has been extended to analyze the
environmental and economic performance of supply chains ( Jackson and Clift, 1998;

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Clift and Wright, 2000). Sustainability demands have led a growing number of
multinational corporations to adopt voluntary codes of conduct and programs for
sustainable supply chain management. These codes of conduct and programs regulate
supplier performance in areas such as pollution, health and safety, labor rights, human
rights, and anti-corruption practices. Subsequently, many buyers seek to verify
supplier performance through various types of audits, including documentation and
on-site inspections of supplier facilities (Feldman and Smith, 2003; Kristensen, 2005).
Toyota is already including certain sustainability standards in its evaluation of
suppliers. Five years ago, the company asked its then 500 North American-based
suppliers to adopt environmental standards specified in its Green supplier guidelines
(Klimley, 2005).
In most developed countries and now in many developing countries, standards are
already codified in national legislation or international treaties and conventions, which
are in turn ratified by member states. For example, by encouraging the adoption and
certification of the global environmental system standard ISO 14001, the Chinese
Government has contributed to sustainable practices adoption such as integrating
environmental considerations into supplier selection (Zhu et al., 2005). Therefore, rule
makers in sustainable supply chain management often make reference to national
legislation or international conventions such as the UN Universal Declaration on
Human Rights, the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child, The International Labor
Organization Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and the
OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Often, reference is also made to the UN
Global Compact, which sets out ten principles of sustainable business conduct (Cramer
et al., 2003).
Community pressures and the threat of liability, however, can drive companies to
improve their environmental performance. Clearly, companies are most likely to
improve their environmental performance when public pressure results in strong
regulations. Sometimes, companies themselves lobby for regulations if they have
developed an environmentally friendly technology and believe that regulations
requiring their technology would give them a competitive advantage (Kleindorfer et al.,
2005). To comply with regulations, companies must track their use of hazardous
substances and emissions of pollutants. Since regulatory scrutiny is costly, many
companies are going beyond compliance (Rothenberg et al., 2001). By going beyond
current regulations, companies reduce the costs of changing technologies and operating
policies to comply with new regulations (Woensel et al., 2001; Delmas, 2001, 2004).
Another school of thought suggests that, if sustainable processes are more expensive in
a competitive environment, then they will not be done unless they are mandated by law
or by customers. It recommends government intervention and regulations that require
industry-wide sustainable practices to be adopted. Regulations should include changes
to the tax code to encourage sustainability and discourage the status quo (Brown, 2009).
There is widespread recognition that supply chains are comprised of
inter-dependent units that can influence the reputation and performance of one
another. Accordingly, firms are becoming aware of the need to develop strategies that
extend their traditional corporate governance processes beyond the firm boundary to
their supply chain partners (Kytle and Ruggie, 2005). In general, it is found that most of
the Tiers II and III partners in the supply chain are SMEs. These SMEs are likely to lack
the resources required to implement sustainability standards among their own

suppliers (Jorgensen and Knudsen, 2006). Thus, there is an urgent need to share
information regarding sustainable practices and also their relationships with financial
return. By sharing information, the partners in a supply chain can be convinced that
sustainability is a good idea. This is important as there are also intangibles related to
sustainability that are difficult to quantify (Brown, 2009).
It is important to recognize that the social and environmental efforts of many
companies have not been as productive as they could be because, companies tend to
think of corporate social responsibility in generic ways, with existing approaches to
social and environmental initiatives fragmented and disconnected from strategy
(Carter and Rogers, 2008). Practitioners have also realized that the natural environment
needs to be integrated with organizational strategy. Many organizations have
developed and implemented environmental mission statements. In addition, financial
reporting has grown to include yearly environmental reports. Vice presidential and
board positions have been designated for environmental specialists. These initiatives
point to the importance of the natural environment at the strategic decision-making
level of organizations. These concepts of integration, and organizational level
environmental guidance are ISO 14000 requirements for certifiable environmental
management systems (Sarkis, 2001). Eco-industrial parks are also an evolving factor for
some sustainable business practices. In this situation, wastes of one manufacturing
plant may be useful material for another manufacturing plant. Location decisions in the
future may also be defined by whether complementary organizations exist nearby to
minimize costs and environmental impacts of transport of waste and recyclable
material. This factor is also very closely related to customer-supplier relationships
(Sarkis, 2001).
To transform a supply chain into a sustainable supply chain, suppliers need to
change their existing production practices. They must invest time and resources to
acquire new skills and to improve infrastructure. These are often not readily available.
In developing countries, government programs, if any exist, may not reach small
producers. Needed investments are often beyond their reach. In other cases, when
suppliers have complied with new standards, they do not find markets for their
products. Uncertainty regarding the benefits of upgrading can become a problem
(Perez-Aleman and Sandilands, 2008). The CI-Starbucks experience highlights that
assured market from large buyers is even more valued by suppliers. Commitment to
purchasing and longer-term contracts reduces uncertainty for suppliers and increases
the value attached to migrating to sustainable practices.
Modeling the enablers
In the first phase, an initial visit to the selected organisations was undertaken to
understand their integration of sustainability practices within their supply chain
operations. Majority of the selected organizations were from manufacturing segment
but companies from retail, milk and dairy products, mineral water, and third party
logistics were also included. Further using semi-structured questionnaire technique,
interviews were conducted. The personnel interviewed were in charge of the logistics
and supply chain function in the selected organizations. One of the major findings was
the fact that although these organizations are working hard to improve the overall
performance of their supply chains, few had a strategy regarding the adoption of
sustainable practices seamlessly across the supply chain. In the second phase, a formal

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invitation was extended to these companies to nominate their representatives for


the workshop. But from the selected organisations only three experts participated,
while rest cited non-availability of time, lack of knowledge, and no expertise in
sustainable practices as the major reasons for non-participation. One of the experts was
from an automobile company, another from computer hardware and the third from
heavy electrical machinery. To moderate the discussion two academicians working in
the area of supply chain management also participated in the workshop.
Before the workshop, literature related to sustainability was posted to the participants
to familiarize them with the formal definitions of sustainable practices as it relates to
supply chains. Then, in the brainstorming session, participants were asked to identify and
define enablers of sustainability in the supply chain. After two brainstorming sessions,
13 enablers were agreed upon, which were finally reduced to ten as some overlapped and
some were combined. Then, the experts were also asked to identify the mutual
relationships among the variables. In the last session of the workshop, a list of variables as
identified and the diagram representing the mutual relationship was circulated among the
participants for any modification. With a consensus on these ten variables among the
experts they were used to develop the ISM-based model. These ten enablers along with
their references are presented in Table I.
ISM methodology and model development
ISM falls into the soft operations research family of approaches. The term ISM refers to
the systematic application of graph theory in such a way that theoretical, conceptual,
and computational leverage is exploited to efficiently construct a directed graph, or
network representation, of the complex pattern of a contextual relationship among a
set of elements. In other words, it helps to identify structure within a system of related
elements. It may represent this information either by a digraph (directed graph) or by a
matrix. Using the process view allows the researcher to pay explicit attention to the
assumed nature of the causal relationships between the chosen variables (Anantatmula
and Kanungo, 2008). ISM model also portrays the hierarchy of the variables. The need
of hierarchy is pressing as often the enablers considered together may seem equally
important and sometimes overriding each other. Such a situation makes it difficult to
have a clear mental model. The development of a hierarchy helps in the classification
and categorization of the enablers, and thereby formulates their respective strategies
and policies while providing clarity of thought. Further, when resources are scarce, this
hierarchy is expected to facilitate the allocation of resources in a rational manner and to
achieve the maximum leverage out of the resources employed. The hierarchy identified
can also help control the situation in times of crisis. In other words, the hierarchy
ascertained will help to achieve effective planning, scheduling, monitoring, and control,
thus helping top management (Bhattacharya and Momaya, 2009).
Sustainability in a supply chain depends on a number of variables. A model depicting
relationships among key variables would be of great value to the top management to
delineate the focus areas. ISM can rightly be employed under such circumstances
because on the basis of relationship between the variables, an overall structure can be
extracted for the system under consideration. Thus, to model the enablers of
sustainability in a supply chain, ISM approach has been utilized in this paper.
ISM methodology helps to impose order and direction on the complex relationships
among elements of a system (Warfield, 1974; Sage, 1977). The ISM methodology is

Consumer concern towards sustainable


practices
Collaborative relationships

Metrics to quantify sustainability benefits


in a SC

Regulatory framework
Support to partners in the SC

Top management commitment

Awareness about sustainable practices in SC

6
7

10

Availability of funds

Strategic planning to implement sustainable


practices in SC

Zsidisin and Hendrick (1998)

Information sharing

Remarks

Crucial element which binds supply chains


together from end-to-end
Walton et al. (1998) and Klimley (2005)
Optimization of the complete supply chain is
accomplished through efficient planning
decisions at strategic level
Kleindorfer et al. (2005) and Becker-Olsen et al. Contributes to increase the overall demand for
(2006)
sustainability in all the business processes
Cox et al. (2007), Geffen and Rothenberg (2000), Leads to a high degree of interdependence
along the supply chain
Lee (2008) and Nalebuff and Brandenburger
(1996)
Bowen et al. (2001), Clift (2003), Jackson and
Metrics provides a feedback loop that
Clift (1998) and Clift and Wright (2000)
continuously informs of what is working, what
is not, and what must be changed
Brown (2009) and Zhu et al. (2005)
Key driver to guide sustainability initiatives
Jamison and Murdoch (2004)
Support for activities like technological
upgrades, recycling, etc.
Roberts (2003), Zsidisin and Siferd (2001) and Provides a clear and meaningful vision of the
Rice (2003)
supply chain strategy going forward
Geldermann et al. (2007), Brown (2009) and
Improved understanding about what
Carter et al. (1998)
constitutes sustainability in a supply chain
helps to make better decisions and decreases
the risks of both a single organization and the
whole network
Husted (2003) and Conroy (2007)
Required to support partners in the supply
chain who lack the financial strength to support
sustainability endeavors

Reference(s)

Enabler

S.
no.

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Table I.
Sustainability enablers in
a supply chain

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Table II.
ISM applications found in
literature

interpretive from the fact that the judgment of the group decides whether and how the
variables are related. It is structural too, as on the basis of relationship; an overall
structure is extracted from the complex set of variables. The model so formed portrays
the structure of a complex issue, a system of a field of study, in a carefully designed
pattern employing graphics as well as words. The process of structural modeling
consists of several elements: an object system, which is typically poorly defied system to
be described by the model; a representation system, which is a well-defined set of
relations; and an embedding of perceptions of some relevant features of the object
system into the representation system. Interpretation of the embedded object or
representation system in terms of the object system results in an interpretive structural
model (Sage, 1977). ISM has been applied by a number of researchers (Table II) to
develop a better understanding of the systems under consideration.
In ISM, a set of different and directly related variables affecting the system under
consideration is structured into a comprehensive systemic model. Therefore, in this
paper, the enablers of sustainability in a supply chain have been analyzed using the
ISM methodology, which shows the interrelationships of the enablers and their levels.
These enablers are also categorized depending on their driving power and dependence.
The various steps involved in the ISM methodology are as follows:
.
Step 1. Variables affecting the system under consideration are listed, which can
be objectives, actions, and individuals.
.
Step 2. From the variables identified in Step 1, a contextual relationship is
established among variables with respect to which pairs of variables would be
examined.
.
Step 3. A structural self-interaction matrix (SSIM) is developed for variables,
which indicates pair-wise relationships among variables of the system under
consideration.
.
Step 4. Reachability matrix is developed from the SSIM and the matrix is
checked for transitivity. The transitivity of the contextual relation is a basic
assumption made in ISM. It states that if a variable A is related to B and B is
related to C, then A is necessarily related to C.
.
Step 5. The reachability matrix obtained in Step 4 is partitioned into different levels.
.
Step 6. Based on the relationships given above in the reachability matrix, a
directed graph is drawn and the transitive links are removed.
.
Step 7. The resultant digraph is converted into an ISM, by replacing variable
nodes with statements.

S. no.

Researchers

System under consideration

1
2
3
4
5
6

Mandal and Deshmukh (1994)


Bolanos et al. (2005)
Faisal et al. (2006)
Faisal et al. (2007)
Faisal and Rahman (2008)
Wang et al. (2008)

Vendor selection
Strategic decision making
Enablers to risk mitigation in supply chains
Barriers to risk mitigation in supply chains
Barriers to e-government in India
Barriers to energy savings in China

Step 8. The ISM model developed in Step 7 is reviewed to check for conceptual
inconsistency and necessary modifications are made.

Structural self-interaction matrix


In this research, for identifying the contextual relationship among the enablers of
sustainability in a supply chain, five experts were consulted. Contextual relationship of
leads to type is chosen which means that one variable helps to alleviate another
variable. Based on this, contextual relationship between the variables is developed.
Keeping in mind the contextual relationship for each variable, the existence of a
relation between any two enablers (i and j) and the associated direction of the relation is
questioned. Four symbols are used to denote the direction of relationship between the
enablers (i and j):
(1) V: enabler i will alleviate enabler j.
(2) A: enabler j will be alleviated by enabler i.
(3) X: enabler i and j will alleviate each other.
(4) O: enablers i and j are unrelated.

Sustainable
supply chains

519

Based on the opinion of experts Table III is developed.


Reachability matrix
The SSIM is transformed into a binary matrix, called the initial reachability matrix by
substituting V, A, X and O by 1 and 0 as per the case. The rules for the substitution of
1s and 0s are the following:
(1) If the (i, j) entry in the SSIM is V, then the (i, j) entry in the reachability matrix
becomes 1 and the ( j, i ) entry becomes 0.
(2) If the (i, j) entry in the SSIM is A, then the (i, j) entry in the reachability matrix
becomes 0 and the ( j, i ) entry becomes 1.
(3) If the (i, j) entry in the SSIM is X, then the (i, j) entry in the reachability matrix
becomes 1 and the ( j, i ) entry also becomes 1.
(4) If the (i, j) entry in the SSIM is O, then the (i, j) entry in the reachability matrix
becomes 0 and the ( j, i ) entry also becomes 0.

Enablers

10

1. Information sharing
2. Strategic planning to implement sustainable
practices in SC
3. Consumer concern towards sustainable practices
4. Collaborative relationships
5. Metrics to quantify sustainability benefits in a SC
6. Regulatory framework
7. Support to partners in the SC
8. Top management commitment
9. Awareness about sustainable practices in SC
10. Availability of funds

V
V
V
A
V
V
V
V

A
X
A
A
X
A
A

A
V
X
A
O
A

X
V
V
A
O

A
X
A
A

V
V
V

A
V

Table III.
Structural self-interaction
matrix

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16,3

520

Following these rules and after incorporating transitivities final reachability matrix for
the enablers is shown in Table IV.
Level partitions
From the final reachability matrix, the reachability and antecedent set for each enabler
are found (Sage, 1977). For every element pi, we define the reachability set R( pi) as the
set of elements reachable from pi. R( pi) may be determined by inspecting the row
corresponding to pi, the element that column represents is contained in R( pi). Similarly
for every element pj, an antecedent set A( pj) is defined which is the set of elements
which reach pj. A( pj) may be determined by inspecting the column corresponding to pj.
For every row which contains a 1 in column pj, the element that row represents is
contained in A( pi).
The elements in the top level of the hierarchy will not reach any elements above
their own level. As a result, the reachability set for a top-level element pi will consist of
the element itself and any other elements within the same level which the element may
reach, such as components of a strongly connected subset. The antecedent set for a
top-level element will consist of the element itself, elements which reach it from lower
levels, and any elements of a strongly connected subset involving pi in the top level.
As a result, the intersection of the reachability set and the antecedent set will be the
same as the reachability set if pi is in the top level. Note that if the element in question
were not a top-level element, the reachability set would include elements from higher
levels, and the intersection of the reachability and antecedent sets would differ from the
reachability set. Therefore, an element pi is top-level element if:
R pi R pi > A pi
Once the top-level element is identified, it is separated out from the other elements.
Then, the same process is repeated to find out the elements in the next level. This
process is continued until the level of each element is found (Tables V-VI). These levels
help in building the digraph and the final model.

Table IV.
Final reachability matrix

Enablers

10

Driver
power

1. Information sharing
2. Strategic planning to implement sustainable
practices in SC
3. Consumer concern towards sustainable
practices
4. Collaborative relationships
5. Metrics to quantify sustainability benefits
in a SC
6. Regulatory framework
7. Support to partners in the SC
8. Top management commitment
9. Awareness about sustainable practices in SC
10. Availability of funds
Dependence

1
1

1
1

1
0

1
1

1
1

1
0

1
1

1
1

1
0

1
1

10
7

0
1
0
1
1
0
6

0
1
1
1
1
0
8

0
1
0
0
1
0
3

0
1
0
1
1
0
6

1
1
1
1
1
1
10

0
1
0
0
1
0
3

0
1
1
1
1
0
8

0
1
0
1
1
0
6

0
1
0
0
1
0
3

0
1
1
1
1
1
9

1
10
4
7
10
2

Formation of ISM-based model


From the final reachability matrix, the structural model is generated. If the relationship
exists between the enablers j and i, an arrow pointing from i to j shows this. This
resulting graph is called a digraph. Removing the transitivities as described in the ISM
methodology, the digraph is finally converted into the ISM model as shown in Figure 1.
Matrix of cross-impact multiplications applied to classification (MICMAC) analysis
The objective of the matrix of cross-impact multiplications applied to classification
(MICMAC) analysis is to analyze the driver power and the dependence power of the
variables (Mandal and Deshmukh, 1994). In a MICMAC analysis, variables are
classified into four clusters. The first cluster consists of the autonomous enablers that
have weak driver power and weak dependence. These enablers are relatively
disconnected from the system, with which they have only few links, which may be
strong. Second cluster consists of the dependent enablers that have weak driver
power but strong dependence. Third cluster has the linkage enablers that have strong
driving power and also strong dependence. These enablers are unstable in the fact that
any action on these enablers will have an effect on others and also a feedback on
themselves. Fourth cluster includes the independent enablers having strong driving
power but weak dependence. It is observed that a variable with a very strong driving
power called the key variables, falls into the category of independent or linkage
enablers. The driving power and the dependence of each of these enablers are shown
in Table III. In this table, an entry of 1 along the columns and rows indicates
Enabler
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10

Iteration
ii
iii
iii
iv
iv
iv
v
v
v

Reachability set
1,
2,
1,
1,
5
1,
2,
1,
1,
5,

2,
5,
2,
2,

4,
7,
3,
4,

2, 3,
5, 7,
2, 4,
2, 3,
10

Enabler
10
2
7
1
4
8
3
6
9

Antecedent set

5, 7, 8, 10
10
4, 5, 7, 8, 10
5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11
4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
10
5, 7, 8, 10
4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

1,
1,
3,
1,
1,
3,
1,
1,
3,
1,

3,
2,
6,
3,
2,
6,
2,
3,
6,
2,

4,
3,
9
4,
3,
9
3,
4,
9
3,

6, 8, 9
4, 6, 7, 8, 9
6, 8, 9
4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
4, 6, 7, 8, 9
6, 8, 9
4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Reachability set
10
2, 7,
2, 7,
1, 2,
1, 2,
1, 2,
1, 2,
1, 2,
1, 2,

10
10
4, 7,
4, 6,
4, 7,
3, 4,
3, 4,
3, 4,

8,
7,
8,
7,
6,
6,

10
8, 9, 10, 11
10
8, 10
7, 8, 9, 10
7, 8, 9, 10

Antecedent set
1,
1,
1,
1,
1,
1,
3,
3,
3,

2,
2,
2,
3,
3,
3,
6,
6,
6,

3,
3,
3,
4,
4,
4,
9
9
9

4,
4,
4,
6,
6,
6,

6,
6,
6,
8,
8,
8,

7, 8, 9, 10
7, 8, 9
7, 8, 9
9
9
9

Intersection set
1, 4,
2, 7
3, 6,
6, 8,
5
3, 6,
2, 7
1, 4,
3, 6,
10

Sustainable
supply chains

521

Level

8
9
9
I
9
8
9

Table V.
Iteration i

Intersection set
10
2, 7
2, 7
1, 4,
6, 8,
1, 4,
3, 6,
3, 6,
3, 6,

8
9
8
9
9
9

Level
II
III
III
IV
IV
IV
V
V
V

Table VI.
Iterations ii to v

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16,3

Metrics to quantify
sustainability benefits in a SC

Availability of funds

522
Collaborative relationships

Figure 1.
ISM-based model for
information risk
mitigation in a supply
chain

Strategic planning to
implement sustainable practices

Support to partners

Consumer concern
towards sustainable
practices

Top management
commitment

Information sharing

Awareness about
sustainable practices in a
SC

Regulatory framework

the dependence and driving power, respectively. Subsequently, the driver powerdependence diagram is constructed which is shown in Figure 2.
In our case, there are no variables in the autonomous cluster which indicates no
variable can be considered as disconnected from the whole system and the management
has to pay an attention to all the identified enablers of sustainability in supply chains.
In the next cluster, we have independent variables like consumer concern towards
Driving power
3, 6, 9

10
9
8

1, 4, 8

7
6
5

2, 7

4
3

10

Figure 2.
Driver power and
dependence diagram

Dependence

10

sustainable practices, awareness about sustainable practices in SC, and regulatory


framework, which have high-driving power but little dependence. These enablers play
a key role for integrating sustainability in a supply chain. The next cluster consists of
those variables that are termed as linkage variables and include collaborative
relationships, information sharing, and top management commitment, which is
influenced by lower level variables and in turn impacts other variables in the model.
Information sharing about sustainable practices would commit the management to
develop supply chain wide policies. Strategic planning to implement sustainability in a
supply chain would facilitate funds allocation specifically to implement sustainable
practices. The last cluster includes variables like availability of funds, metrics to
quantify sustainability benefits in a supply chain. In this cluster, particularly, the
metrics to quantify sustainability benefits has the least driving power and have highest
dependence and form the top-most level in the ISM hierarchy. It represents the variable
that is the resultant action for effective integration of sustainability in a supply chain.
Its strong dependence indicates that it requires all the other enablers to come together
for effective implementation of sustainability practices. But it is important as it is
finally required by the supply chain to measure the effectiveness of sustainability in the
supply chain.
Discussion
Numerous companies operating in the developing world have seen their reputations
tarnished and their competitiveness reduced when they implement sustainability codes
with a short-term outcome approach that overlooked their supply chain linkages with
base of pyramid suppliers (Perez-Aleman and Sandilands, 2008). In this context, the
model developed in this paper provides the opportunity to understand the enablers of
sustainable practices in supply chains. It is clear that awareness about sustainable
practices is very important as it would lead to undertake efforts to adopt sustainability
across supply chains. In a supply chain as we move downstream, we find Tiers I-III
suppliers particularly lacking the will to adopt sustainable practices. They generally
work on the principles of cost minimization to their own organization without
sufficient regard to overall supply chain profitability. The task of management is to
place high priority on those enablers that form the base of ISM model because it is
these variables who would drive other enablers for promoting sustainable practices in
a supply chain.
Sustainable supply chains require awareness about sustainable practices like
ethical sourcing (Roberts, 2003), green purchasing (Rao and Holt, 2005), environmental
purchasing (Min and Galle, 1997), and logistics social responsibility (Carter and
Jennings, 2002). The model developed in this paper also in line with the previous
research findings, as awareness about various sustainable practices forms the base of
the model implying that it is the most important enabler of sustainable supply chain
management.
Sustainability encourages companies to do things differently, leading to innovation
and ultimately sustainable business growth. Pioneers, such as Marks & Spencer and
Unilever, are actively demonstrating that sustainability initiatives can be an effective
way of improving efficiency and enhancing employee and customer loyalty
(Nieto, 2009). But, understanding sustainability from a supply chain perspective is
important as today supply chains have become more integrated and dependent on

Sustainable
supply chains

523

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524

partners capabilities. Further, the rapid proliferation of internet and its wide
acceptance has provided opportunities to select suppliers without the limitation of
geographical boundaries. These supply chain partners work under different
regulatory frameworks and cultural environments. So the issue of sustainability
warrants proper understanding of the mechanism to integrate sustainability across the
seamless supply chain. Approaches like close loop supply chain, life-cycle analysis are
still maturing in industrializing countries, where evolving financial institutions do not
value the extra environmental and social benefits that cleaner production processes
provide (Geldermann et al., 2007). Thus, it is imperative for organizations to carefully
understand sustainability and the impact it would have on its profitability as well
as on more important issues like brand image in the long run.
As supply chains spread globally, and multinational companies (MNCs) source from
developing countries, foreign companies interact closely with the local small-scale
producers but virtually all the discussion about codes of conduct and sustainability
standards focuses on the MNC performance related to their adoption at the corporate
level, voluntary enforcement, and auditing processes (Perez-Aleman and Sandilands,
2008). The present research highlights that for sustainability initiatives to succeed there
is an urgent need to give importance to issues like information sharing and collaborative
relationships. Along with this top management commitment to sustainable practices is
imperative.
An organizations sustainability initiatives and its corporate strategy must be
closely interwoven, rather than separate programs that are managed independently of
one another (Shrivastava, 1995). Organizations must explicitly link environmental,
social, and economic goals within a broader strategic perspective to ensure that
environmental and social initiatives occur at the intersection of the triple bottom line
(Carter and Rogers, 2008). So a supply chain needs to develop suitable strategies to
effectively integrate the sustainable practices across the supply chain so as to provide
the competitive advantage in the marketplace. The ISM model developed shows that,
this would not only ensure availability of funds to migrate to sustainable practices but
would also develop a platform to support partners in their initiatives for sustainable
practices.
Limitations and scope for future research
In the present work, ten variables relevant to sustainability in supply chains are
identified with the help of experts. More number of enablers impacting supply chain
risk sustainability may emerge, if experts from some other supply chains are included.
The framework developed depends upon the opinion of supply chain experts from
manufacturing and it may have some element of bias.
Although the ISM model do provide a very useful understanding of the
relationships among the enablers but it does not provide quantification of the impact of
each enabler on sustainability. However, in future, research graph theoretic approach
can be applied to develop a quantitative measure of these enablers. Graph theoretic
approach compliments the ISM methodology as ISM would help develop the hierarchy
and rank the variables while graph theoretic approach provides a quantitative value
for those variables. As ISM model developed in this paper was not statistically
validated, structural equation modelling, also commonly known as linear structural
relationship approach can be applied in future research to test the validity of such

hypothetical model. Using AMOS or LISREL software, we can calculate the path
coefficients and validate the model developed using ISM.
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About the author
Mohd Nishat Faisal is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Management and Marketing,
College of Business and Economics, Qatar University, Qatar. He has 15 years of experience in
academics. He is on sabbatical from A.M.U, India where is a Senior Faculty in the Department of
Business Administration. Formerly, he was National Doctoral Fellow at the Department of
Management Studies, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, India. His research interests are in
the area of decision sciences, supply chain management, small business management, and IT.
His research papers have appeared in journals like Industrial Management & Data Systems,
Journal of Enterprise Information Management, Business Process Management Journal,
European Journal of Industrial Engineering, Waste Management, International Journal of
Services and Operations Management, Supply Chain Forum: An International Journal,
E-Government: An International Journal, International Journal of Management and Enterprise
Development, among others. He is also the recipient of Emerald Highly Commended Award in
2008. Mohd Nishat Faisal can be contacted at: nishat786@qu.edu.qa

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