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Forum: Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives for Sustainable Supply Networks

Cover images courtesy The Sustainability Consortium

Collection launched: 08 Feb 2016

Kevin J. Dooley, Sustainability Transitions Associate Editor, Department of Supply Chain Management, Arizona State University; Chief Scientist, The Sustainability Consortium


The purpose of this Forum is to address the sustainability transition challenge: How are multi‐stakeholder initiatives being used to create sustainable supply networks?

The Forum seeks to coalesce an interdisciplinary perspective around governance, planning, coordination, decision-making, and collective action in multi-stakeholder sustainable supply network initiatives. The Forum invites all forms of communiqués – Research Articles, Reviews, Practice Bridges, Policy Bridges, and Commentaries. We particularly encourage submissions from practitioners who are engaging in real change and can share with others what they have learned. Submissions can address the following or similar research questions:

  • How and why do multi-stakeholder sustainable supply network initiatives emerge and what is their impact?
  • How are such initiatives effectively governed?
  • How does decision-making and social collaboration occur in such initiatives, and how is conflict managed and resolved?
  • What is the role of participation by the public or civil society organizations in such initiatives?
  • What is the role of private governance relative to public governance of sustainability issues?
  • How do institutions, power, or culture impact such initiatives?
  • How do different stakeholders prioritize such initiatives?
  • How are data and analytical methods used in such initiatives?
  • What are the major barriers towards emergence of collective action?
  • What different theoretical perspectives can be used to study such initiatives, and what similar and different insights emerge from these different theoretical lenses?

We welcome contributions from any relevant disciplinary perspective. Relevant concepts and theories include adaptive co-management; communication theory; complexity science; critical theory; decision theory; environmental governance; industrial ecology; institutional theory; public participation; resiliency theory; social learning; social network theory; stakeholder theory; supply chain governance; and sustainable supply chain management.

The Forum is motivated by our need to develop systems that support sustainable production and consumption, and supply networks provide the holistic context to drive change. Goal 12 of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals states the need to “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”. This is needed because the material economy creates a significant portion of the negative environmental and social load on Earth and society. These impacts are distributed across the life cycle stages of goods and materials that we produce and consume, and are the result of supply networks of production that yield a final product or service and its consumption and disposal. In order to produce and consume more sustainably, organizations have been working to improve their product designs and production operations. In the past, these actions have been uncoordinated amongst members of a supply network, and have been limited in their engagement of different types of stakeholders.

Multiple forces are causing this situation to change. First, there is increased pressure on retailers and final manufacturers from investors, civil society, and government to be held responsible for the environmental and social performance of their supply network. Second, society is demanding more transparency from businesses and wants to be involved in the governance of sustainability issues that impact them. Third, manufacturers have already made many of the simpler eco-efficiency improvements that were possible through individual action; the remaining challenges are more complex and require collective action by actors across a supply chain. Finally, final manufacturers realize the significant supply risk associated with their suppliers far upstream from them and are sensitive to improving environmental and social performance of these suppliers and the well being of the surrounding communities.

These new forms of supply network collaboration are often inclusive of multiple types of stakeholders, are collaborative amongst competitors, and can span the scope of the supply network and often multiple industry sectors. Since the issues being addressed are often highly contentious because they involve trade-offs, the processes of collaboration that are used can determine success or failure of the initiative. The purpose of this Forum is to study the manner in which these multi-stakeholder supply network sustainability initiatives are governed, how decision-making is coordinated amongst stakeholders, and how collective action is formulated and taken.

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