1. Lars Prause
  2. Michael Hauschild SPARK! lecture
  3. Friday, 08 January 2016

I would like to share some interesting perspectives on sustainability, which really inspired me this semester in university. I think that the topic of truly sustainable systems (from a business research perspective) fits quite well to the content of Michael Hauschild, but in order to avoid confusion, I decided to start a new discussion-thread. However, I would like to present in this thread some issues of research especially in the topic of Sustainable Supply Chain Management (SSCM).

There is paper of Pagell and Shevchenko (“Why research in sustainable supply chain management should have no future”, Journal of Operations Management, 22, 265-289, 2014), which we discussed in the lecture of Purchasing. It is about truly sustainable supply chains and discusses its meaning and why it does not exist. As Mr. Hauschild said in the clip, talking about the Lifecycle Assessment (LCA), there is always an environmental harmful output in the lifecycle of a product/service.

--> Let’s dig deeper into that statement. Ask yourself: What does it mean to be truly sustainable and why is there no truly sustainable product/service?

The authors define true sustainability as:
“To be truly sustainable a supply chain would at worst do no net harm to natural or social systems while still producing a profit over an extended period of time; a truly sustainable supply chain could, customers willing, continue to do business forever.”

The authors claim that research has often focused on the synergistic and familiar while overlooking trade-offs and radical innovation. Furthermore, they state that research is not able to develop truly sustainable chains due to the following five crucial issues:

1. Harm reduction is not harm elimination:
Extant research has mainly focused on making unsustainable supply chains and business models less unsustainable. e.g. “An extremely lean automobile supply chain that creates no environmental harm in the production of vehicles is still creating a product that uses a significant amount of nonrenewable resources in its lifecycle”

2. A limited stakeholder view – the primacy of profits:
“The “does it pay to be sustainable?” question contains a normative assumption that profits are the ultimate assessment of supply chain performance and that managers and shareholders are the most important stakeholders in a supply chain.”

3. A focus mainly on the familiar when examining the practices associated with SSCM:
Creating sustainable chains will likely require changes in both what and how of providing value and a rethinking of what value means. This will require changes in both practices and supply chain business models.

4. The limits of empiricism as most of us (=researcher) presently practice it:
Researchers define rigor in numerous ways. But descriptions of high-quality empirical research often include a large sample size that is representative of an overall population and the use of (previously) validated measures. (…) But studying average results provides limited insight, especially into how to achieve outcomes that are not average or how to create a supply chain that is different from the present unsustainable norm. Efforts to insure rigor and the fact that empirical research tends to be backward looking limit our understanding of how to create truly sustainable supply chains.

5. Measuring Supply Chain Impacts:
Two limitations: (1) Current measures do not capture the entire supply chain, instead, they focus on a limited set of impacts on mainly the focal firm. (2) By focusing on impacts, measures often place an artificial upper limit on performance.
--> Good is the enemy of great!
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Thank you for the interesting post Lars! I personally find the first point--harm reduction is not harm elimination-very critical for looking at truly sustainable systems. It is good that these days more people are becoming aware of sustainability and demanding it from business, but we must be careful as this also means being green is more commonly faked by companies to win the consumers over.
They use many different marketing tactics to appear as being more sustainable, and play off of the success of other honest companies. Even when they are improving their business operations, it doesn't make the product good for the environment as they try so intensely to do! Just like your example with lean car manufacturing, that sure is nice and profit driven for the company with less waste created, but it still means people are buying and burning fossil fuels-- yet they paint a picture in the mind of the consumer that they are doing something good.. so clever and misleading.
Even this "clean diesel" engine or mixed biofuels... they still have a negative impact! A truly sustainable system may require more behavior changes and giving up some features, something people will struggle with.
  1. João Santiago
  2. 4 years ago
  3. #78
Hi Lars and Paul,

I'm just a beginner in this site and actually in the "Green Energy" field. So I start by showing my humility here.
I was scrolling down for interesting subjects and I like this one.
It seems that the "establishment" always will find ways to continue with their greedy laziness! I've been searching in the past months a lot over renewable energies and there's so much we can do to improve the current world environmental situation, while saving money!!
I also think that sometimes the "less bad" is important too. That's what I think about biofuels, they still have a negative impact on the environment, but they surely are a better option that I find we should promote at least till we find/develop better options (hydrogen, etc.). What do you think about this Paul?
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A sustainable supply chain can help a business to be more efficient and effective, it can also help the business to attain more success. Supply chain management is very important especially to manufacturing companies. Supply chain is becoming more and more competitive today because of the technology and fusing it with new technology can make the job more easy and can be done easily.
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