The Sustainability of International Supply Chains: Aspirations and Practicality

Authors: 
Clift, R. - Presenter, University of Surrey


Sustainability has come to be interpreted widely in terms of three ?pillars? or constraints: techno-economic, environmental or ecological, and societal. Sustainable development then means improving quality of life for all, within these constraints ? in the words of Professor Tim Jackson, ?Sustainability is the art of living well within ecological limits? where ?living well? implies ethical behaviour as well as comfort.

These principles should be applied to international supply chains from a perspective which sees social and economic benefit along with pollution and resource use as resulting primarily from consumption rather than production. This leads to the idea that the sustainability of supply chains should be assessed by examining the distribution of positive benefits and negative impacts along the supply chain. The economic dimension can be addressed by Value Chain Analysis and the environmental dimension by Life Cycle Assessment; juxtaposing the results from VCA and LCA immediately gives useful insights into the sustainability of supply chains. Tools for assessing the distribution of social benefits along a supply chain are still in development but are equally important in a market where consumers and, even more significantly, retailers require suppliers to demonstrate Corporate Social Responsibility.

This approach to assessing sustainability has been explored by examining some specific supply chains. The results show both the possibilities and the challenges of attempting to improve the sustainability of international supply chains.

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