Sustainability frameworks in supply chain operations


Supply chain has gained importance in the current world of business. With the advent of globalisation and competitive advantage being key aspects of organisational existence, it is essential to look into sustainability of the same. The research paper aims to focus on the need for this sustainability and how supply chains, if made so, can make a difference to the sustainability of the planet.


In the world of business there are two inevitable factors - globalisation and outsourcing of products and services. These factors have increased the complexities of a supply chain. It is a fact that most business organisations carry forward operations for profit- making in order to have a competitive advantage over other concerns. Over the past few decades the need to look at the bigger picture has risen. The need to undertake sustainable development (SD) in its working and not only the financial aspect is considered utmost important. Sustainable Development, as suggested by many experts is the process of sustaining and preserving resources for future generations to utilise keeping in mind human development. As stated by Norman and Macdonald (2004) in Markley and Davis (2007), sustainability in supply chains can be achieved by delivering sustainable development and fulfilling economic, environmental and social benefits. This has been profoundly used and termed as 'the triple bottom line' or 3BL. Economic factors include competition, profit making and increased selection of local suppliers. Environmental factors include issues of global warming, air, land and water pollutants, health and safety issues as well as the ozone layer depletion. Socially, an organisation has to meet ethical and cultural requirements, serve employment opportunities and highlight on management and organisational behaviours. The 3BL factors are working towards a greener tomorrow and protecting environmental factors as well as stakeholders needs.

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It has been recorded that although the past two decades have witnessed immense research on the subject of sustainable supply chains, there is still much research to be undertaken by means of cultural, social and ethical issues. Seuring et al (2008) reported that in the journal of cleaner production, a total of 191 papers have been academically written on the topic of sustainability, environmental and social factors, out of which environmental issues were covered in 140 of them, hence further scope for research on the entire 3BL and the supply chain. The environmental hazards of global warming have taken huge leaps by creating awareness across the world- be it organisations or individuals. There are many organisations that have programmes educating on existing environmental hazards but most of them are without knowledge on the dangers they cause during supply chain operations. The research on sustainability and sustainable supply chains being in its introductory stages and the increasing necessity to maintain a green world has triggered the choice of topic undertaken in this research proposal.


Sustainability framework in supply chain operations- How does a sustainable supply chain affect the world? Well, this is a key question which must be answered by every supply chain. The main aim of supply chain sustainability is to reduce waste pollutants, enhance recycling and increase green procurement. The thirst to compete by increasing product ranges and services through improved technology serves business and profit making but unfortunately, does not consider the side- effects and hazards the process can cause to human health and environment. Cook (1996) and UNEP (1994) in Linton et al. (2007) have passed legislations on reduction of chemicals with depletion of ozone layer potentials. Also given in Linton et al. (2007) by Ball (2004), Corey (2005) and Bodansky HYPERLINK ""et alHYPERLINK "". (2004) is the recent research undertaken by academicians to highlight the alarming issues of global warming. These legislations in countries are proactively adopted by organisational supply chains but many other organisations enhance sustainable development and procurement for stakeholder's benefits, communities, environmental purposes, competitive advantage and other internal and external factors. Walker and Brammer (2009), report that before adoption of sustainable procurement in a supply chain, it must understand the legislations, policy requirements and concepts filed on them. Due to high financial needs for socially viable and green responsible methods of production and heavy resistance to change by employees and management in operational working, it is indeed a herculean task to follow legislations. Linton et al (2007) state that in a supply chain, product design must ensure environmental safety, additional heat and waste products can be used for other purposes like conditioning, etc and products must be reused, recycled, refurbished or disposed off. In contrast with other literatures, stating that sustainable procurement can be high costing, they oppose that sustainability can be cost effective as it involves recycling and adds positive or neutral value to products. Leuss (2009) reports that there has been minimal research undertaken on supply chain public procurement more than private sectors and suggest that supply chain members must involve extending the supply chain by means of integrated information flows and operations. To ensure sustainable supply chains, Murray (2000), stated that the Belfast City Council introduced "Green Supplier of the Year" award to sustainable supply chains, thus encouraging organisations to be more sustainable. Quak and de Koster (2007) propose that along with economic benefits, the supply chain must also tackle social and environmental issues like carbon reduction, congestion and pollutants. Ian Pearson, former Minister of State for Climate Change and Environment at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Alcock (2008) stated that an organisation must consider its carbon statement as much as financial statements as most investors demand information of organisations and supply chains based on its carbon footprint. With the increase of transportation, industrial revolution, energy power plants and human activity, a rise in carbon emissions has caused global warming. The results are extinction of organisms, climate change making the planet unsustainable. Talking about the issue of resources, the Brundtland Report states that many countries exploit natural resources and consider local suppliers for economical benefits (Hutchins and Sutherland, 2008). This causes an extinction of resources for future generations thus requiring supply chains to be more sustainable. The main challenges of sustainable development recorded in literatures are cost factors, resistance to change operational working and lack of awareness and necessity for being sustainable.


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The above reasons and factors accompanying sustainable supply chains have nonetheless caused a necessity to probe into the matter at once. The research topic undertaken summons the need for not one particular type of research but a blend of an exploratory and descriptive approach. As stated earlier, sustainability, sustainable supply chains, issues, challenges and its effects on the environmental, social and economic aspects have been researched only for the past two decades. Thus an exploration into the literatures and a study on the sustainable procurement of British Aerospace Systems, UK and its supply chain will be undertaken to get a better insight on the steps it takes to accomplish sustainability and promote green procurement. Interviews with operational and supply chain practitioners of the organisation will be conducted to gain a realistic idea on the processes. A combination of quantitative and qualitative research by analysing past statistical records of BAE systems and looking into key problems and solutions faced by them in maintaining sustainability will also be undertaken. Based on former research as well as exploration of current business and supply chain scenarios can help making sustainability framework of supply chains highly legible. The importance and awareness to be created in fields of carbon footprints, pollutant and waste reduction, global warming, ozone layer depletion, etc can be recorded by means of monitoring key aspects of BAE systems. The research findings may also end in further study to be undertaken on the topic of sustainability as there is no complete solution to the problem.


With the rise in attention to preserve mankind and its resources, sustainability has gained importance in the recent past. Although, legislations have been passed by governments and environmental friendly bodies and the media trying to create awareness of the same, in reality it has been ignored. Supply chains across the world can make a difference to the economic, social and environmental well- being by being sustainable. Economic values are the primary reason of business activities and growth in supply chains to make them more competitive has been stressed upon (Aras and Crowther, 2009). But one forgets that the smaller the supply chains are sustainability becomes more possible. The need for further research academically and via expertise is to enhance sustainability in supply chains so as to make the world continually resourceful for generations to come. The research will also help in continuous improvement of organisations as well as the 3BL as results can provide solutions to better environmental, social and economic benefits. As for ethical considerations, the study can only prove benefits not only to better supply chains substantially but also to better social and environmental issues that have been ignored for decades. The records say that at the rate at which the industrial world is affecting the planet, there will be no place to live in for future generations by 2100. Hence it is in the hands of the people to involve themselves to contribute to a better tomorrow.