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Many of today’s environmental and social issues are rooted in unsustainable patterns of economic and industrial development.

Because of that, driven by regulation and market factors, and with the overall goal of building a competitive advantage, corporates are developing new diversified corporate sustainability approaches.

Business sustainability is defined in reference to the triple-bottom-line (TBL) where the economic, social and environmental dimensions of business are simultaneously taken into account. This calls for completely re-thinking the way business is designed and conducted not only at the company level, but also at the supply chain level.

Our research, based on international case studies, shows that in order to implement and control sustainability strategies and initiatives (with the ultimate goal of improving sustainability performance) companies establish complex governance mechanisms and structures to manage relationships with their supply chain actors.

Ultimately, business leaders are radically changing the structure of their value/supply chains and rethinking their business models to make themselves more sustainable.

Findings from our research include the characterisation of three sustainability profiles, namely sustainability leaders, sustainability practitioners and traditionalists.

  • Sustainability leaders – characterised by a triple bottom line approach to business which extends to Sustainable Supply Chain Management (SSCM).
  • Sustainability practitioners – characterised by a myopic approach to business sustainability with a limited focus to one or two triple bottom line dimensions, and isolated SSCM initiatives.
  • Traditionalists – characterised by traditional approaches to business that do not necessarily include explicit TBL and SSCM initiatives, but might present sustainability elements.

Empirical evidence emerging from our cases depicts a scenario where management is challenged by addressing new issues that impact on both business strategy and operations. Results suggest that the more ambitious the corporate sustainability approach is, the greater the challenge for management and the potential impact on business.

Interesting evidence confirmed by our research is that firms engage with sustainability at different levels, but only sustainability leaders are more likely able to develop a competitive advantage in business.

Read the Original Article

Formentini, M. and Taticchi, P. (2016). Corporate sustainability approaches and governance mechanisms in sustainable supply chain management. Journal of Cleaner Production, 112, 1920-1933.

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Paolo Taticchi

About Paolo Taticchi

Professorial Teaching Fellow in Management and Sustainability and Executive Director of Global Student Experience
Dr Taticchi was Executive Director of Global Student Experience, leading the Global Experience team. He left Imperial in 2020.