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Sustainable Logistics and Supply Chain Management: Authors Q&A

4th May 2017 | David B. Grant, Alexander Trautrims, Chee Yew Wong

The authors of Sustainable Logistics and Supply Chain Management answer some of the key questions that led to a second edition of their highly cited textbook

Sustainable Logistics and Supply Chain Management (9780749478278)

What changes in the industry necessitated this second edition?

The dynamics around sustainability are very fluid with new ideas, research and technologies appearing almost daily. Hence, it was important to ensure our book remains up-to-date and relevant. Features in this second edition go deeper into cleaner production, reverse logistics and sustainable management than the previous edition.

As an example of such fast-moving dynamics, since the second edition of the book was ‘put to bed’ for printing the new President of the United States issued an executive order at the end of March 2017 to repeal President Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. That factor, which may be significant for global sustainability efforts going forward, is not in this second edition. However, I have posted a link to Bloomberg’s report on the matter on LinkedIn.

How much research was involved in updating the book? How long did it take to compile it all before putting the book together?

All three authors are researching various aspects of sustainability and are involved with companies or non-profit organisations (NPOs) about the same, and so we keep pretty much abreast of the academic and practitioner literature, and maintain electronic files and internet links for our research and teaching. As a result, the research and compilation stage for each of us is likely less than for an author who is not active in these areas.

You argue that globalization has had a big impact on the logistics industry. Can this impact be entirely good or bad?

It can be both. Globalization can enhance economies in developing nations and allow the unbundling of production and consumption. However, massive shifts in global logistics over the past 30 years have been a catalyst for change, particularly the growth of container shipping from 50 million twenty-foot equivalent containers a year in the early 1990s to over 350 million today.

On the other hand, various corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues in globalization have seen worker abuses in developing nations and an increase in various environmentally unfriendly results from increased fuel use, pollution, emissions, etc.

In the book, you mention the benefits and detriments of outsourcing logistics and supply chain management (SCM) activities to third-party logistics companies (3PL). Thinking of XPO Logistics and their recent issues with Asos’ warehouse workers, can you provide some best practice guidelines to have a transparent relationship with logistics contractors?

There need to be better relationships, working practices and communication among firms, along with some government oversight and/or enforcement to ensure that zero-hours contracts or the ‘gig economy’ are not used a means for companies to abuse workers regarding pay or working conditions. As another example of recent events that did not make this edition, Channel 4’s Dispatches recently ran a series about small fashion manufacturers in Leicestershire paying much less than minimum wage.

However, I also believe consumers have a role to play here: as long as consumers want more and better quality products at cheaper prices in a very competitive retail sector, firms will consider such practices in order to ensure their own economic sustainability. When we reflect on the ‘horsegate’ scandal a few years ago, what on earth did consumers think they were getting when they paid less than £2 for a family-size meat lasagne to cook or microwave at home? Families likely can’t make their own lasagne at home for that amount of money after purchasing the ingredients.

So, while companies have been eager and willing to buy products cheap, pile the high and sell lots of them, to paraphrase Tesco’s founder, at what point does another form of CSR and GSR (government social responsibility) come into play? For example, why aren’t consumers and governments demanding that there also be a deposit charged on glass and plastic bottles in the UK to encourage recycling? Why did it take the UK government years to enforce a charge on plastic carrier bags to encourage recycling and reuse of bags to reduce waste? Most major food retailers have had good quality, reusable bags for sale for much less than £1 for some time, yet it was only in late 2015 that the charge came on. In a year, plastic bag use and waste has been reduced by almost 90 per cent - quod erat demonstrandum...

What do you envision are the biggest threats to sustainable logistics and SCM activities? The biggest gatekeepers to companies adopting sustainable logistics and SCM approaches?

There needs to be a level playing field concerning sustainability for all companies and NPOs, as well as consumers and governments. Referring to the comment on consumers above, if a company unilaterally introduces sustainability practices and measures for any of its operations, it may find itself at a competitive disadvantage compared to companies who do not have to nor choose to go down that route and possibly alienating consumers. While there is a triple bottom line of society, the natural environment and the economy, underneath that there should also be a triple bottom line in harmony for companies/NPOs, consumers and government.

About the authors: Professor David B. Grant is Professor of Logistics at Hull University Business School, UK and Professor of Supply Chain Management and Social Responsibility at Hanken School of Economics, Finland. He has over 175 publications and is on the editorial boards of numerous journals.

Dr Alexander Trautrims is a Lecturer in Supply Chain and Operations Management at Nottingham University Business School, UK. His research focuses on sourcing, compliance and supply issues in supply chains.

Professor Chee Yew Wong is Chair of Supply Chain Management at Leeds University Business School. He has over nine years of industrial working and consultancy experience in operations, purchasing, production, inventory and distribution management.

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Logistics, Operations & Supply Chain Management

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