Antecedents of sustainable supply chain initiatives: Empirical evidence from the S&P 500

Published date01 March 2020
AuthorRose Sebastianelli,Nabil Tamimi
Date01 March 2020
Bus Soc Rev. 2020;125:3–22.
Received: 9 July 2019
Accepted: 29 January 2020
DOI: 10.1111/basr.12191
Antecedents of sustainable supply chain initiatives:
Empirical evidence from the S&P 500
© 2020 W. Michael Hoffman Center for Business Ethics at Bentley University. Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 350 Main Street, Malden,
MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK.
Department of Operations & Information
Management, Kania School of
Management, University of Scranton,
Scranton, Pennsylvania, USA
Rose Sebastianelli, Department of
Operations & Information Management,
Kania School of Management, University
of Scranton, Scranton, Pennsylvania 18510,
Prior research on sustainable supply chain management
(SSCM) has almost exclusively focused on environmental as-
pects (GSCM—green supply chain management) and the study
of its external drivers and consequences. Framing our study
within the “strategy-conduct-performance” paradigm, we con-
sider the focal firm's role in the implementation of sustainable
supply chain initiatives, social as well as environmental. We
use data on the S&P 500 Index retrieved from Bloomberg, in-
cluding variables for two relevant focal firm strategies: (a) re-
ducing the environmental footprint of the supply chain and (b)
reducing social risks in the supply chain (SRSS). Hierarchical
logit modeling is carried out to examine the sequential im-
pact of governance board characteristics and the focal firm's
adoption of related internal policies and practices on the likeli-
hood of implementing these initiatives along the supply chain.
Controlling for industry, firm size, and resources, we find that
board structure and diversity influence the implementation of
sustainable supply chain initiatives by increasing organiza-
tional commitment to environmentally friendly and socially
responsible policies and practices. Consequently, empirical
evidence exists for the importance of strategic factors, namely
a proactive corporate stance on sustainability associated with
governance board characteristics, as antecedents of sustainable
(environmental and social) supply chain initiatives.
governance, supply chain, sustainability, S&P 500
Sustainable supply chain management (SSCM) integrates all three aspects of the triple bottom line
(economic, environmental and social). Carter and Rogers (2008) define SSCM as “the strategic, trans-
parent integration and achievement of an organization's social, environmental, and economic goals in
the systemic coordination of key inter-organizational business processes for improving the long-term
economic performance of the individual company and its supply chains” (p. 368). Periodic reviews of
extant literature provide insight into how research in the field has progressed, the main themes being
addressed, as well as areas in need of study. In reviewing the theoretical frameworks used, Touboulic
and Walker (2015) found the resource-based view of the firm (RBV), stakeholder theory, and institu-
tional theory among the most common. Furthermore, they conclude that SSCM research had focused
primarily on two of the three dimensions, environmental and economic, with a gap in the literature
addressing the “social and human dimension of sustainability” (p. 28).
The RBV of the firm has motivated exploring the competitive benefits resulting from environmen-
tal management and social responsibility. Making the “business case” for being green (or being good)
has been studied (at the firm level) for more than two decades. Although meta-analytic studies have
found a generally positive association with business (economic) performance (e.g., Albertini, 2013),
some suggest that “the corporate social performance and corporate financial performance nexus is a
line of inquiry that remains inconclusive” (Lu, Chau, Wang, & Pan, 2014). The same sort of ambi-
guity persists in studies that examine the link between SSCM and business performance. Some have
found significant relationships between economic performance and Green Supply Chain Management
(GSCM) (e.g., Zhu & Sarkis, 2004), while others have not (e.g., Testa & Iraldo, 2010). A meta-anal-
ysis of empirical studies concluded that while effects were positive overall, it was the smallest for
accounting-based measures (Golicic & Smith, 2013). While prior studies emphasize the consequences
rather than the antecedents of SSCM, Touboulic and Walker (2015) note that “it is unclear whether
economic performance is a result of the adoption of SSCM practices or if companies performing well
have adopted SSCM practices” (p. 26).
Stakeholder theory, in conjunction with institutional theory, has been used to frame research on
the drivers of SSCM, predominately the influence of external pressures from various stakeholders
(e.g., government, competitors, customers, etc.) that push companies to respond. In a review of the
relevant literature in this domain, Meixell and Luoma (2015) found that the influence of pressures may
depend, in part, on whether the sustainability focus is environmental or social as well as on the stage
of progression in SSCM (awareness versus adoption versus implementation), with focal firm capa-
bilities being more influential than external pressures during the implementation stage. Along these
lines, some empirical evidence exists to support a link between the focal firm's prior experience with
internal green practices (e.g., EMSs, Environmental Management Systems) and the implementation
of GSCM (e.g., Darnall, Jolley, & Handfield, 2008) as well as the focal firm's prior experience with
CSR and managing social issues, such as labor conditions and human rights, along the supply chain
(Ali Yawar & Seuring, 2017). The possible impact of a focal firm's internal sustainability policies and
practices on the implementation of sustainable supply chain initiatives underscores the relevance of
strategy literature on this research domain.
Our approach uses the strategy-structure-performance (SSP) paradigm to explore how internal
antecedents (focal firm board characteristics and sustainability policies for internal operations) impact
the implementation of sustainable initiatives (social as well as environmental) along the supply chain.
Defee and Stank (2005) argue that the SSP paradigm be extended to the supply chain to “foster a better
understanding of the elements characterizing strategic decisions that lead to supply chain structural
development and performance” (p. 29). We address three areas that are under-represented in the extant

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