Article Review – Balancing Priorities: Decision-making in Sustainable Supply Chain Management

The article seeks to explore how businesses cope with short-term pressures while implementing newly modelled supply chains that are fitting for competitive and demanding business environments of the modern era. The specific research problem being addressed is the balance between short-term profitability and long-term environmental sustainability in supply chain management. The authors, Wu and Pagell (2011), present various schemes that elucidate how managers in supply management make decisions and manage the balance between short-term and long-term objectives. They also supplement this piece of knowledge by identifying four major bearings that facilitate the understanding of the decisions that organizations make when balancing economic, environmental, and social elements in the triple bottom line framework.

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            The authors begin by introducing the current status of supply management and the need for businesses with older supply management models to examine their supply chains in response to various interconnected environmental and economic challenges that commonly occur in the modern business environment. Nowadays businesses are compelled to achieve their goals while reducing environmental impacts. Nevertheless, in order to balance the two, managers must make many tradeoffs, which impose a form of strain in the parties involved in decision-making. Wu and Pagell (2011) clearly explain the challenges that virtually very organization must confront when attempting to strike an equilibrium between environmental issues and sound business practices. Their claim is that the current business is so dynamic, uncertain, and complex that organizations must prepare to face numerous information uncertainties and adapt to changing decision parameters. The problem statement agrees with the title, and seems to be of educational significance. I find it particularly visible to the average reader because one requires a few readings in order to establish why the study was necessary. The article asserts that existing research is deficient in knowledge related to business models and decision-making processes that underlie sustainable supply chain management.

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            In the literature and theoretical background section, the authors cite clear review of literature to explore the balance of economic and environmental priorities as well as decision-making under uncertainty. These two themes accurately reflect the message that the title of the article conveys. The authors dissect them in a thorough manner to expose the complexity involved in the process of balancing priorities and making decisions in modern-day supply management. They uncover the triple bottom line approach with regard to the balance of economic and environmental priorities and then proceed to introduce the uncertainties that arise during the process of making tradeoffs between the two elements. To create a framework for the study, the authors appropriately cite references and logically connect facts. Statements are clear and concise as they contribute to the overall understanding of the subject and to the reasoning behind the problem statement.

            The research utilizes grounded theory building approach which I find appropriate for the context of the study. This theoretical approach operates inductively, contrary to the hypothetic-deductive approach, allowing the researchers to construct theory through analysis of data. Indeed, Wu and Pagell (2011) commence their study by stating a question before proceeding to collect qualitative data from the sampled organizations. It is important to note that their methods are limited to their resources and capabilities as the area of study is relatively new. Thus, they also adopt the principles of theory building by use of case studies to ensure that their methodology follows a concrete and credible format. The sampling procedures adopt a theoretical approach as well, in which Wu and Pagell (2011) focused on exemplars in sustainable supply management with regard to organization’s environmental decision-making processes. The selection modes are well justified and aspects such as company size are vindicated. Finally, the ultimate sample utilized in the study contains eight candidates consisting of local, global, and multinational supply chains. I agree with the researchers that the consideration of different company sizes, ownership types, and industries enables the generalization of the findings.

            Although the article does not feature any explicit hypotheses because of the nature of the study, the research question “how do organizations balance short-term profitability and long-term environmental sustainability when making supply chain decisions under conditions of uncertainty” guides the research with reference to data collection and analysis tools.  In particular, the data collection procedure makes use of semi-structured interview protocols that target multiple respondents from different functional areas including top management, R&D, purchasing, product and process design, marketing and logistics, and “sustainability.” Based on the type of study, I find the data collection methods in harmony with the research objectives because they amass data on all areas covered by the research question. The data analysis procedure is also coherent. Before carrying out the cross-case analysis between all the organizations, the researchers individually code the data, make comparisons, and perform within-case analysis to comprehend individual business models that each organization adopts as well as the environmental initiatives within each corporate environment. In sum, the methods used to gather data in the study were clear. The researcher have also adequately covered and explained the instruments and development, as well as provided data in table and narrative format.            

The findings are well sectioned, organized, and reported objectively. In their analysis, Wu and Pagell (2011) find that organizations face numerous information uncertainties when making environmental decisions. They are further forced to tackle these uncertainties by establishing and adopting simple rules (Wu and Pagell 2011: 580). The environmental posture also plays a role in determine the trade-offs that organization face when making decisions. Overall, explanations to these findings are categorized into sections in a manner that corresponds to the data being sought in the research question. The discussion of the findings and the concussion sections accurately report the data and formulate the implications in a logically coherent manner to answer the question. Overall, the researchers have followed their research plan precisely and delivered the results in accordance with the objectives of the investigation.

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