Supply Chains Competitiveness In Sustainable Economic


According to numerous literature, supply chain management constitute all the activities that are associated with the flow and transformation of goods from the raw materials stage through the end-user, at the same time encompassing associated information flow (Cetinkaya et al., 2011). The modern world is witnessing the increased emphasis on sustainable supply chain management which in its operation requires sustainability criteria of social, environmental, and economic be met while maintaining competitiveness through meeting customer needs (Cetinkaya et al., 2011). The emergence and growth of sustainable supply chain management have drastically led to profound integration of different aspects of sustainability, which at the same time may be affected. Moreover, sustainability in supply chain management has led to the entire process of supply being affected from the initial stage of processing of raw materials to the consumption where the consumer finally gets the opportunity to consume the product.

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For the supply chain to be more sustainable, emphasis has largely been contributed by numerous factors such as the increasing outsourcing by many firms, the growing watchdog-group activities, and increasing government and international regulatory bodies’ requirements (Cetinkaya et al., 2011). Indeed, outsourcing has become the norm in the contemporary business environment, mainly due to the benefits associated with it such as cost reduction, lean organization structure, and specialization among others. Other reasons may be associated with the need among the majority of companies to reduce costs and waste, obtain the ability to manage risks, desire to create a distinguishing reputation, and reinforce shareholder value (Wang 2010).

The essence of the sustainable supply chain can be linked to increased globalization and trade liberalization taking place across the world. As a result, companies and organizations are looking for global strategies that are superior and those that satisfy customer demand while at the same time operating within the increasing regulatory compliant regime. Therefore, it can be observed that competitive advantage in the modern world as envisioned by numerous organizations lies in enhanced sustainable supply chains that reflect economic, environmental, and socially achievable goals. Moreover, success in today’s business depends largely on organizations adopting superior supply chain planning and execution (Wang 2010). To investigate the increasing role of the sustainable supply chain in modern economic arrangement, this research proposal will be guided within the tenets of the research thesis that, firms that can design, adopt and implement effective sustainable supply chains strategies, have the likelihood of increasing and enhancing their competitiveness in the national, regional and international market fronts.

Statement of Problem

The need for supply chains to function and operate within the sustainability needs of the economy, social and environment is increasing in the modern world, and this can be evidenced in many strategic plans in numerous companies and organizations (Linton, Klassen, and Jayaraman, 2007). At the same time, long-term trends taking place in the global world are posing challenges to organizations about supply chain management and at the same time have forced organizations to enhance their strategic management goals (Linton, Klassen, and Jayaraman, 2007). The increasing trends include the globalization of the world taking place and the increasing competition in the business world today. Moreover, other related trends taking place include growing demand for security, environmental protection, and resource scarcity, and the need for organizations to enhance reliable, flexible, and cost-efficient business systems that can support customer differentiation (Linton, Klassen, and Jayaraman, 2007). As such, the modern world can be described to pose numerous challenges to supply chain managers and other stakeholders where they have to operate within dynamic and complex supply chains, which at the same time remain largely unpredictable.

Modern supply chains are largely dependent on freight transport and this has led to continued and increased demand for freight transport. The increased demand is due not only to the increasing demand for physical products but also to many supply management decisions. Therefore, it can be seen that supply chains in the modern world are becoming sophisticated and within this sophistication, there is a need to be more responsive, more reliable, and more efficient than often lead to increased transport requirements. In this way, supply chain managers are supposed to identify and understand the new sustainability issues present in their companies and the wider business environment. As globalization, competition, and internationalization of businesses become issues of the modern world business environment, there is going to be the need for organizations to identify and adapt to sustainability demands that create sustainably, and long-term customer-focused supply chains (Linton, Klassen, and Jayaraman, 2007). This calls for the development and promotion of sustainable supply chain strategies, which can create a sustainable competitive advantage for the organization.

Research Questions

Research projects succeed due to the presence of clearly defined and achievable research questions. Research questions in this manner act as the guidelines in which research projects aim to progress and achieve objectives that have been set. Therefore, research questions are not like ordinary questions but are more and somehow inquisitorial in that they expect an answer (Andrews 2003). Moreover, research questions must be answerable in that they should have some achievable objectives in form of answers. In this regard, this research project will be premised on the following research questions:

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  • What is sustainable supply chain management?
  • How well can sustainability issues be integrated into supply chains management?
  • How competitive are organizations that promote sustainable supply chains in the marketplace?
  • What should organizations do to enhance and increase the sustainability of their supply chains?

Objectives of the Research Questions

The objectives of this research project are premised and linked to the research questions that the investigation will be carried on. As a result, research objectives include evaluating and ascertaining the role of supply chain management in a new global world, as well as how sustainability concept has gradually crept into supply chains. At the same time, another objective of the study will be to identify and ascertain clearly how sustainability issues have been integrated into supply chains management. The third objective is to outline and postulate how organizations can achieve competitiveness in the global market when they develop and implement sustainable supply chains. Lastly, the research will be more interested in identifying the best ways organizations can enhance and increase their sustainability of supply chains.

Significance of the Study

The globalization forces demonstrated through increased competition, regulation, customer service, and quality, and profitability and growth goals have combined to exert pressure on organizations to develop superior strategic management systems that have the capacity and ability to deliver effectively in the competitive environment. As a result, undertaking in-depth research in the emerging area of sustainability of supply chains management is requisite in the modern world. Some of the benefits to be derived from this research study include adequate understanding of concepts related to sustainability in supply chains management, developing a conclusive body of knowledge (literature) which can be of great benefit to future research work, and even policy formulation in various supply chains departments across industries and firms. Another benefit is ingrained in the ability of the research findings to clearly show how firms in the modern global environment are enhancing their competitiveness, profitability, and growth through sustainable supply chains management. Therefore, the significance of this research project makes it paramount and necessary to undertake a detailed research project.

Literature Review

Sustainable development and more so, sustainability became prominent concepts especially after the establishment of Brundtland’s report in 1987 and since then, the two concepts have progressively been incorporated and integrated into governmental policies and corporate strategies across the world (Brito, Carbone and Blanquart, 2008). Sustainable development largely postulates that the current generation should utilize the available resources most efficiently with greater care to ensure the future generation gets a chance and opportunity to utilize similar resources (Stentoft, Haas, Mikkelsen, and Zachariassen, 2010). As a result, Brundtland’s report became the basic framework upon which United Nations (UN) Agenda 21 was established. The sustainable development concept has three major areas that include economy, environment, and social, whereby, economic development in the new globalized world should be undertaken with keen and greater emphasis on the social and environmental aspects (Pohl and Tolhurst, 2009).

Competitive advantage and strategy have become the new aspects that modern world businesses strive to create and achieve. As a result, there are concerted efforts by organizations to facilitate competitive strategy in the most holistic and long-term planning, and the aim is always to find a distinctive way of competing to guarantee profitability within limited resources and straining business environment (Kersten, Blecker and Jahn, 2011). Organizations today aim to perform better than their rival firms, and to achieve these objectives, different firms have been developing and creating competitive strategies that reflect the goals of different stakeholders and shareholders of the firm entity. Achieving competitive advantage integrates three major aspects of demand, originating from customers and target groups; supply aspects involving competitors, employees, suppliers, and so on; and lastly, the general environment that incorporates regulations, society, natural resources, and many more (Kersten, Blecker and Jahn 2011). The three aspects have gradually become avenues with which the modern world business environment reflects and is characterized. Moreover, it has been established that the three factors have become increasingly complex, and change over time; as a result, they influence the behavior manifested in the marketplace and among different players. As this becomes the issue in the modern world, there is emphasis directed to firms’ management that there is a need for the creation and implementation of strategies that satisfy both shareholders and stakeholders.

Supply chains in different firms have become the new fronts through which competitive advantage can be achieved, and as a result, they have become an essential strategic resource in achieving strategic goals (Waters, 2010). The importance of the supply chain in creating competitive advantage can be linked to a modern pattern where customers are slowly shifting from emphasizing price to more aspects of supply chain and distribution. As this becomes the issue, emphasis is now on sustainable supply chain management, which has become the key competitive advantage in many companies and significant ways determines the social, economic, and environmental impacts to the firm (Waters 2010). This in turn influences largely the stakeholders and shareholders. Subsequently, a sustainable supply chain strategy can be said to represent one of the success factors in achieving sustainable development and an effective sustainable supply chain strategy has to demonstrate the following characteristics.

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First, it has to be aligned and integrated to the broader goals of the corporate and competitive strategy of the company (Waters, 2010). Next, it has to reflect and consider demand, supply, and other related conditions present in the environment. Third, it should incorporate environmental, social, and economic aspects in a well-outlined action plan. Lastly, it should build increased shareholder and stakeholder value, especially regarding customer satisfaction (Waters, 2010).

As international trade increase and direct investment across the world increase, the essence, and role of supply chains in creating new opportunities and enhancing competitive advantage for various organizations is going to be more pronounced (Finkbeiner, 2011). As explained in the Agenda 21 framework, organizations in the globalized world have a duty to play in ensuring they develop and implement sustainable initiatives as part of their contribution to sustainable development. At the same time, responsibility ingrained in regulation and legislation today constitute major reasons why firms and different organizations are greatly embracing sustainability issues in the production, distribution, and consumption of products. Nevertheless, sustainability initiatives are gradually becoming the major avenues companies have discovered to leverage competitive advantage over their rivals through either adopting appropriate socially and environmentally practices or executing pressure on governments and regulatory agencies to increasingly restrictive measures that act as entry barriers to competitors (Wilhelm 2009).

Research Methodology

The purpose of this research project is to investigate and ascertain the competitiveness of supply chains in sustainable economic. This section will therefore explain the research methodology that will be utilized. The methodology for this research project was chosen in correlation with the research questions and purpose of the research (Strauss and Corbin, 1998). The target population for the study includes those stakeholders who are actively involved in processes of supply chains management across industries and businesses. Active involvement is defined as those stakeholders who are directly involved in influencing supply chain systems in their different organizations. However, the working population for this research project includes those stakeholders from the target population that is prepared to participate in the questionnaire process (Babbie, 2010). The research methodology for the proposed research includes a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis: the quantitative section will involve the analysis of the responses obtained from the questionnaire surveys and the qualitative section will be based on a critical analysis of the responses obtained from the direct interviews

The sampling methodology to be adopted is non-probabilistic and this will involve using the theoretical sampling method (Andrews and University of Central Florida 2006). The reason for the adoption of this sampling methodology is ingrained in the need to derive deeper understanding instead of just having probabilistic generalizability (Flick 2009). At the same time, the research in its nature is more exploratory and descriptive which requires that a relatively long survey be undertaken to gain a deeper understanding of study concepts (Bless, Higson-Smith, and Kagee 2006). Therefore, a genuine response from respondents is necessary and this will be done through establishing productive rapport with the respondents in the initial stages of the research. The research will utilize mail, email, and the internet in disseminating research questionnaires (Lenssen 2006) and a sample size of 120 stakeholders will be used in the study. As a result, the research project estimates to receive 80% response from the respondents, which will be appropriate in drawing conclusions and recommendations for the study.

The research process will involve getting views and positions of different supply chain stakeholders. This will include conducting interviews among the different stakeholders. To carry out the interview process, key steps will be followed: informal discussions will be incorporated, followed by company visits. The intention will be to get views concerning the sustainability of supply chains and how they can derive and leverage competitiveness in the business world. Key respondents will be drawn from manufacturers, retailers, and supply chain managers. Moreover, 15 semi-structured questionnaires will be developed and administered to the identified respondents to fill. Questionnaires were built to collect information regarding the competitiveness of sustainable supply chains, as well as how such supply chains can be developed among different organizations. As a result, the concentration was largely on sustainability. Data to be collected will be analyzed using Microsoft Excel, 2010 version. Various pivot tables will be used for cross-tabulation and other statistical data will be accomplished using different Function tools within Excel (Bryman and Cramer 2001).

Research procedure timeline

Milestone Description Due date Remarks
1 Stage 1: Area of interest identified 10.12.11
2 Stage 2: Specific topic selected 18.12.11
3 Stage 3: Topic refined to develop a research proposal 20.12.11
4 Stage 4: Proposal written and submitted 28.12.11
5 Stage 5: Collection of data and information 20.02.12
6 Stage 6: Analysis and interpretation of collected data/information 30.04.12
7 Stage 7: Writing up 30.05.12


Sustainability in the supply chain is drastically becoming an area where firms can develop competitive advantage strategies. In adopting sustainable development strategies in the supply chain, firms can identify the most appropriate resources and efficient means of utilization that meet broad-best requirements. In this way, firms can enhance their corporate image and brand in the market, distribution channels are likely to be enhanced, maximum customer satisfaction is likely to increase, cost of operation is likely to reduce, and more so, the company is likely to drastically reduce its risk factors in the environment. In the contemporary business world, competition has intensified, calling for sustainable strategies that would lead to competitive advantage. Therefore, different firms should be encouraged to establish efficient sustainability initiatives that have holistic stakeholder and shareholder participation but more importantly give the company a competitive advantage over the rival competitors in the market. This research project upon its completion will have numerous benefits such as generation of the body of knowledge that will be critical to policymaking, an in-depth understanding of sustainability in the supply chains management, critical evaluation of the industry in the modern world, and how competitiveness is achieved through sustainability initiatives, among many other benefits. Therefore, the research project can be said to be appropriate and necessary now the supply chain management is undergoing a transformation in a globalizing world.

Reference List

Andrews, R., 2003. Research Questions. NY: Continuum International Publishing Group.Web.

Andrews, A. A., & University of Central Florida. 2006. Computer-based instructional systems design tools: Current state and implications for the future. IL: ProQuest. Web.

Babbie, E.R., 2010. The Practice of Social Research. OH: Cengage Learning.

Bless, C., Higson-Smith, C., & Kagee, A., 2006. Fundamentals of social research methods: An African perspective. Johannesburg: Juta and Company Ltd.

Brito, M. P., Carbone, V., & Blanquart, C. M., 2008. Towards a sustainable fashion retail supply chain in Europe: Organization and performance. International Journal of Production Economies, Vol. 114, No. 2, pp. 534-553. Web.

Bryman, A., & Cramer, D., 2001. Quantitative data analysis with SPSS Release 10 for Windows: A guide for social scientists. NY: Routledge.

Cetinkaya, B., et al. 2011. Sustainable Supply Chain Management: Practical Ideas for Moving Towards Best Practice. NY: Springer.

Finkbeiner, M., 2011. Towards Life Cycle Sustainability Management. NY: Springer.

Flick, U., 2009. An Introduction to Qualitative Research. NY: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Kersten, W., Blecker, T., & Jahn, C., 2011. International Supply Chain Management and Collaboration Practices. Germany: BoD – Books on Demand.

Lenssen, G., 2006. Corporate Responsibility and Competitiveness. NY: Emerald Group Publishing.

Linton, J. D., Klassen, R., & Jayaraman, V., 2007. Sustainable supply chains: An introduction. Journal of Operations Management, Vol. 30, p. 8. Web.

Stentoft, J.A., Haas, H., Mikkelsen, O. S., & Zachariassen, F., 2010. Supply Chain Management: Sources of Competitive Advantages. Denmark: Academica Publishers.

Strauss, A.L., & Corbin, J.M., 1998. Basics of qualitative research: techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. NY: SAGE.

Pohl, M., & Tolhurst, N., 2009. Responsible Business: How to Manage a CSR Strategy Successfully. MA: John Wiley and Sons.

Wang, L., 2010. Enterprise Networks and Logistics for Agile Manufacturing. NY:S pringer.

Waters, D., 2010. Global Logistics: New Directions in Supply Chain Management. PA: Kogan Page Publishers.

Wilhelm, K., 2009. Return on Sustainability. IN: Dog Ear Publishing.

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