Supply Chains Sustainability and Its Challenges

Executive Summary

The natural environment supports human activities and business functions. However, business organizations and human beings have engaged in exploitive activities in the recent past. The targeted articles outline a number of strategies and ideas that can be embraced to support the concept of environmental sustainability. This discussion outlines a number of issues that have forced supply chain managers (SCMs) to embrace the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Pressure is high from civil societies, policymakers, and environmentalists for business organizations to engage in sustainable practices (Abbasi & Nilsson, 2012). Since supply chain remains a critical function in every profit-making organization, the issue of sustainability should be taken seriously in an attempt to achieve the most desirable outcomes. The paper goes further to describe the major obstacles affecting the adoption and implementation of sustainable supply chains. SCMs should use their competencies and embrace sustainable technologies to support the best CSR initiatives.

Convergent of Supply Chains and Sustainability

Many organizations are working hard to engage in sustainable business practices. The supply chain process is also benefiting from the concept of sustainability. The concept is driven by customers, public interests, and competitive opportunities (Al Khidir & Zailani, 2009). The discussion below outlines the major issues associated with the convergent of supply chain and sustainability.

Pressures and Incentives

Industrial and human actions have led to numerous environmental problems. Policymakers and governments use laws to ensure companies engage in sustainable practices. The competitive rivalry in different industries is pressuring many firms to engage in sustainable practices. Consumer demands have reshaped the nature of this journey. Many companies are promoting sustainable operations and supply chain processes in an attempt to fulfill the needs of their customers (Christopher & Gaudenzi, 2015). These stakeholders have continued to present new incentives for sustainability in supply chain networks. For instance, educationists and environmentalists have presented meaningful concepts that can support the performance of many supply chains.

These incentives encourage companies to train their employees, support their needs, and offer adequate incentives to suppliers in an attempt to establish positive relationships (Anderson & Skjoett-Larsen, 2009). Experts are currently encouraging business leaders to audit the performance of different suppliers (Anderson & Skjoett-Larsen, 2009, p. 75). Consequently, companies that embrace such strategies record positive results. The global community has been skeptical because of the issue of globalization. The wave of globalization is supporting inappropriate practices and supply chain procedures that might affect the integrity of the global environment. This issue encourages more companies to embrace sustainable strategies in order to remain competitive.

Contingency factors influencing CSR in supply chains

Several contingency factors have been observed to influence corporate social responsibility (CSR) in supply chains. To begin with, organizational managers “have been focusing on the increasing level of competition between supply chains” (Anderson & Skjoett-Larsen, 2009, p. 75). This internal factor has encouraged many firms to develop sustainable supply chains capable of supporting the welfare of different stakeholders. The nature of competition in the business environment is another contingency factor known to influence CSR in different supply chain networks. Many firms have decided to establish strategic partnerships with different stakeholders and suppliers (Christopher & Gaudenzi, 2015). This strategy is embraced in an attempt to create the most desirable competitive edge.

Environmentalists, non-profit organizations, and public agencies have presented their views in an attempt to address the problem of environmental degradation. The supply chain has been targeted because it affects the sustainability of the natural environment. This force is encouraging more corporations to align their supply chains with CSR (Van Wassenhove, 2008). Government policies, mandatory reporting, and corporate greening are useful strategies that continue to dictate the inclusion of CSR in supply chains (Van Wassenhove, 2008).

Recommendations for sustainable supply chains

The best approach towards having sustainable supply chains is ensuring that the corporate strategy of a business is guided by specific CSR concepts. By so doing, companies will ensure the sourcing processes, manufacturing procedures, and supply chain paths adhere to the concept of sustainability (Christopher & Gaudenzi, 2015). This strategy will minimize the social footprints of the targeted company and eventually result in sustainability. Positive management systems “should be encouraged from an economic perspective” (Van Wassenhove, 2008, p. 9).

Al Khidir and Zailani (2009) support the use of fact-based decision making in order to ensure the supply chain process meets the required expectations. Green accounting is another powerful approach that should be embraced by SCMs. The strategy will ensure every supply chain is practical and sustainable. Appropriate management strategies should be “adapted in an attempt to provide the backbone for handling environmental and social issues” (Van Wassenhove, 2008, p. 9). Such measures can make it easier for supply chain managers to develop a sustainability mindset.

The Existing Gap in Sustainability Theory and Implementation

Business experts use powerful theories and frameworks to support the implementation of sustainable practices in supply chains. Unfortunately, the number of corporations embracing such strategies is extremely low (Alzawawi, 2014). This gap makes it impossible for many societies to record desirable environmental and social results. The major issues encountered in the field are presented below.

Challenges affecting the implementation of sustainability in supply chains

Several challenges are making it impossible for many companies to develop sustainable supply chains. The first one is the issue of financing (Alzawawi, 2014). Many customers require cheaper and eco-friendly products. However, companies have to incur numerous costs in an attempt to produce such products and services. Modern scholars have failed to present new approaches towards integrating technology in supply chains. Companies tend to employ different workers in order to achieve their objectives. Many supply chain managers (SCMs) lack the required knowledge and expertise to develop sustainable systems (Alzawawi, 2014).

The organizational structure of a company can affect the effectiveness of its supply chain. The structure will dictate the manner in which the employees embrace and implement the idea of sustainability. Some regulations “fail to address the expectations of different stakeholders in a specific supply chain thus resulting in conflicts of interest” (Christopher & Gaudenzi, 2015, p. 64). Consequently, the situation makes it impossible for different companies to focus on the targeted sustainability goals. Supply chains are usually characterized by two or more business partners (Anderson & Skjoett-Larsen, 2009). The commitment of one player might not be similar to that of another business partner. Such a scenario will undermine the sustainability efforts undertaken by a specific company.

Role of sustainable technologies

One of the best solutions towards addressing the above challenges is the use of sustainable technologies. Companies should invest in sustainable technologies whenever developing their supply chains and operations. This process will ensure the technology supports the targeted CSR agenda. For example, solar power can be used to power different machines and processing plants. Such technologies can be used to produce recyclable materials (Alzawawi, 2014). The end-users will be encouraged to recycle their products. The approach will eventually address the issue of environmental obliteration.

The use of IT systems in a supply chain will reduce its environmental footprint or impact (Alzawawi, 2014). Computers can execute numerous tasks without polluting the natural environment. Companies embracing the use of online marketing have managed to record positive results. The supply chain process is streamlined in an attempt to add value to the targeted customers. Modern technological systems can be used to support the planning and implementation phases. This strategy can make the targeted supply chain more sustainable.

Imperatives of supply chain and operations management

The leaders in an organization make conclusive decisions that can result in positive business performance. Business corporations should ensure their operations and SCMs understand the importance of sustainability. The supply chain manager (SCM) should identify the existing gaps and implement the best approaches towards maximizing the targeted outcomes. The supply chain manager should be aware of the organization’s corporate strategy (Alzawawi, 2014). Firms that embrace the CSR agenda will ensure sustainability is part of their corporate strategies. The operations and supply chain processes will therefore be characterized by specific practices that can result in sustainability.

Such managers should examine the benefits of sustainable supply chains. The net move is to ensure the major stakeholders and players in the supply chain focus on effectiveness of the supply chain. The sustainability of every supply chain depends on the strategies embraced by the SCM (Abbasi & Nilsson, 2012). Such managers should pursue new competencies and embrace sustainable technologies in order to drive the best CSR initiatives. Companies that develop sustainable supply chains will record positive CSR outcomes and eventually realize their business objectives.


Abbasi, M., & Nilsson, F. (2012). Themes and challenges in making supply chains environmentally sustainable. Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, 17(5), 517-530.

Al Khidir, T., & Zailani, S. (2009). Going green in supply chain towards environmental sustainability. Global Journal of Environmental Research, 3(3), 246-251.

Alzawawi, M. (2014). Drivers and obstacles for creating sustainable supply chain management and operations. Web.

Anderson, M., & Skjoett-Larsen, T. (2009). Corporate social responsibility in global supply chains. Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, 14(2), 75-86.

Christopher, M., & Gaudenzi, B. (2015). Managing risks in sustainable supply chains. Sinergie: Italian Journal of Management, 33(96), 57-74.

Van Wassenhove, L. (2008). Corporate responsibility and operations management. INSEAD: Working Paper, 1(1), 1-13.