Integrating a Strategic Sustainability Perspective into Eco-Labelling, Procurement and Supply Chain Management

Abstract: Maintaining the current course of the global society is threatening the human civilization. The urgency of the situation, understood from empirical research, has caused many researchers to call for more prescriptive research as a necessary supplement, to better support decision making for sustainability. While policymakers need to direct and stimulate sustainable production and consumption through, e.g., legislation and market phenomena such as eco-labelling, business represents a significant proportion of the necessary resources, capabilities and mechanisms for the innovation needed for a transition towards sustainability. However, while businesses more and more realize the self-interest in working proactively with sustainability, there is a desire for better support for how to do this also from this end. Such support needs to consider a significant shift going on in business; that individual businesses tend to no longer compete as autonomous entities, but rather as supply chains. Thus, no company is more sustainable than its supply chain partners. Therefore, sustainable supply chain management (SSCM) as a business function, and sustainable procurement as a subset thereof, plays an increasingly pivotal role for sustainable development. The overall aim of this thesis is to contribute to sustainable development by studying how three phenomena; eco-labelling, procurement and supply chain management are related to each other and to a strategic sustainability perspective, and to suggest how these phenomena can be integrated with such a perspective to provide better support for decision making and innovation for sustainability. For this purpose, a framework for strategic sustainable development, including a definition of sustainability and generic guidelines to inform stepwise strategic plans towards sustainability, is used as a foundational methodology. The development of new approaches is also based on case studies with eco-labelling and sustainable public procurement bodies, businesses and public institutions. Information is collected by shadowing of criteria development and collaboration processes, interviews and literature studies. While the findings point to a clear rational for all of the phenomena and several strengths in existing schemes and practices, the findings also point to several shortcomings. Sustainability is not defined, and as a result, there is no foundation for strategic and proactive approaches. Furthermore, decisions are not based on considerations of all dimensions of sustainability, the whole life cycle of products, all relevant stakeholders and a long-term perspective. As a result, the full potential of these phenomena for contributing to sustainable development is not utilized. This thesis prescribes enhanced processes for eco-labelling, sustainable procurement and SSCM, and shows how these can support organisations in developing from reacting individually on known sustainability-related problems to acting proactively and collaboratively in supply chains, in a coordinated and economically viable way, on society’s remaining gap to the full scope of ecological and social sustainability.