Research Co-Operation: Supply Chain Sustainability, with the Fisher College of Business of Ohio State University

The term „sustainability“ has evolved to an omnipresent buzzword in the past decade. However despite the inflationary use of the term, we still lack a precise and general definition. The best known definition is by the “Brundtland Comission” from 1987:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations General Assembly (1987), “Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future.” Transmitted to the General Assembly as an annex to document A/42/427 - Development and International Co-operation: Environment.)

This definition however cannot be easily translated into the context of management. In order to come to an operational definition, further concretion is necessary. A main attempt in this direction is the so called Triple Bottom Line Concept. This concept includes and consolidates the three dimensions of sustainability: economical, ecological and social (Norman, W. and MacDonald, C. (2004), “Getting to the bottom of ‘triple bottom line’”, Business Ethics Quarterly, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 243-62.). The common understanding of sustainability often neglects the economical aspect and thus sustainability is often misunderstood to be just “doing the right thing”. In sharp contrast to this understanding, various research has shown that sustainability makes actually very straight forward business sense – In fact, behavior that only responds to ecological and social aspects, can be considered inefficient and thus will not be sustainable in the long run (Robert N. Stavins, Alexander F. Wagner, and Gernot Wagner (2003), “Interpreting sustainability in economic terms: dynamic efficiency plus intergenerational equity,” Economics Letters 79, no. 3 (June 2003)).

Figure 1: Source: Johann Dréo, 2006

Figure 1 shows the three dimensions of sustainability and their intersections. According to this concept, behavior can only be considered sustainable iff all three aspects are accounted for and have been balanced. Naturally, as conflicts of interest can occur between the three dimensions, sustainability can be considered the Pareto-optimal solution to the incurring trade-off.
The integration of a sustainability perspective into the business model of corporations is crucial. Especially the field of supply chain management, sustainability creates great potential to optimize the added value with respect to the triple bottom line. In this context the topics of: co-operation, green logistics, supplier management and standardization of footprint measurement are of key relevance.

The Institute of Business Logistics and General Management is conducting research in this field under the academic supervision of Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kersten in co-operation with the Fischer College of Business (Ohio State University). Main focus of the research project is the integration of sustainability in supply chain management. More specifically, the aspects of co-operation across the supply chain with respect to sustainability initiatives and the obstacles to put sustainability into practice in companies will be addressed. The study will be conducted, following the Grounded Theory approach. For the study, we will undertake in-depth interviews with companies in the USA and Europe to gather impressions and experience from practitioners and aggregate this information to theory. So far we have conducted numerous interviews with well-known companies and are currently simultaneously conducting more interviews and also aggregating first results.       

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