Academic journal article Journal of Supply Chain Management

Special Topic Forum on Sustainable Supply Chain Management: Introduction and Reflections on the Role of Purchasing Management

Academic journal article Journal of Supply Chain Management

Special Topic Forum on Sustainable Supply Chain Management: Introduction and Reflections on the Role of Purchasing Management

Article excerpt


Many large manufacturing and service organizations have adopted environmental management systems and devoted resources to assure fair and equitable treatment of their employees around the world. Due in part to pressure from various stakeholder groups, many of these organizations have also recognized the importance for their suppliers to implement similar environmental and social practices (Sharma and Henriques 2005). Suppliers that are sensitive to environmental and social issues in their operations can provide the buying organization with an increased efficiency, a reduced likelihood of supply disruption and safeguards to the organization's image. Therefore, it is not surprising that the business research community has been active on the topic of sustainable development in supply chains over the recent years (Jayaraman, Klassen and Linton 2007; Carter and Rogers 2008; Seuring, Sarkis, Muller and Rao 2008).

Sustainable development and supply chain management are two concepts that, independently, have generated a lot of research over the last decade but remain widely defined (Chen and Paulraj 2004; Sharma and Henriques 2005); that became particularly clear during the editorial process as submitted manuscripts varied greatly in terms of scope and definitions. Such a diversity was predictable as the topic of sustainability in the supply chain took a number of labels in the literature including green supply chain (Bowen, Cousins, Lamming and Faruk 2001; Vachon and Klassen 2006), socially responsible purchasing (Carter and Jennings 2002; Carter 2004) or closed-loop supply chain (Seitz and Peattie 2004; Guide and Van Wassenhove 2009) just to name a few.

Another important outcome of the editorial process is the realization that a company is no more sustainable than its supply chain--that is, a company is no more sustainable than the suppliers that are selected and retained by the company. This assertion became the primary premise underlying this paper. A direct implication of that premise is that boundary-spanning functions such as purchasing are central to a company's sustainable development efforts. Interestingly, the Journal of Supply Chain Management finds its roots in purchasing research. Hence, this paper provides an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between purchasing management and sustainable development. Concentrating on purchasing allows us to clearly delineate the domain of reflection for this paper while contributing to the discussion of the linkages between sustainable development and supply chain management.

Building on the framework provided by the seminal work of Kraljic (1983), this paper focuses on the strategic integration of sustainable development into purchasing management. In subsequent sections, we revisit Kraljic's article on how "Purchasing Must Become Supply Management," and link to sustainable development using the notion of competitive priorities (i.e., cost, quality, delivery, flexibility and innovation) (Ward, Mccreery, Ritzman and Sharma 1998; Krause, Pagell and Curkovic 2001; Rosenzweig and Roth 2004). Next, by introducing the notion of sustainability as a competitive priority, the role of the purchasing function in sustainable supply chain management is discussed. Questions that can serve as the basis for future research are also presented. Finally, we introduce the papers in the special topic forum, and close with concluding remarks.


It is worthwhile to remember that purchasing has received attention in formal, published books and articles as far back as the early-mid 1800s. Already in these early days, purchasing was recognized as the function that reaches outside the boundaries of the firm to acquire goods and services in support of the operations function (Leenders and Fearon 2008). Throughout the years, the purchasing function has demonstrated its stabilizing role by adjusting its strategy to contextual changes such as shortages, price volatility and consumer demand swings (Leenders and Fearon 2008). …

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