Multiple theoretical application in sustainable supply chain management
Using stewardship theory, we can advance traditional organizational theory approaches to the buyer—supplier relationship to reflect more accurately what is happening in SSCM practice (Cole, 2017). Agency theory has been useful in explaining the information asymmetry and opportunism in typical buyersupplier exchanges (Zsidisin and Ellram, 2003). However, business sustainability lends itself to other theories (Rezaee, 2018) such as institutional/ legitimacy theory, signalling/disclosure theory and stakeholder theory as well as stewardship theory. For green supply chain management specifically, several relevant theories have shown potential for application, for example, ecological modernization, informational, institutional, resource-based review, complexity resource dependence, social network, stakeholder and transaction cost economics theories (Sarkis et al., 2011).
Using more than one theory is encouraged, and common practice in SCM research (Ambrose et al., 2010; Fayezi et al., 2012). For SSCM, existing theories in supply chain management are not adequate enough and more theories need to be developed to conceptualize what is occurring in sustainable supply chains (Touboulic and Walker, 2015). Additionally, the application of further theories typically used in other disciplines to help us understand the intricacies of the new relationships that are forming in SSCM should be attempted (Cole, 2017). Therefore, not only the inclusion of stewardship behaviours but also multiple theoretical applications in SSCM are needed. Stewardship theory can contribute a supply chain perspective which encompasses many stakeholders and focuses on the achievement of long-term improvements for financial and non-financial sustainability (Rezaee, 2018).
Contemporary issues in stewardship application
Dubbed “angel agents,” Cole (2017) suggested that suppliers can act as stewards of the sustainable supply network; a context characterized by multi-tiered suppliers and transparency issues, not to mention modern day turbulence and disruption. Stewardship behaviours can be attributed to highly collaborative supply chains symbolized by sustainability goal alignment, where buyers are especially renowned for working with suppliers, such as Ford Motor Company, Toyota and 3M corporation. Hence, agency theory is outdated in some more modern, collaborative workplace environments and stewardship theory is a more suitable and applicable organizational theory for collaborative partnerships pursuing sustainability agendas. In SSCM, agents are often not costly villains in the exchange, who are acting in self-interest, but rather stewards of the network. This is a controversial proclamation for transaction cost economists whose main objective is to avoid risk and implement control mechanisms to mitigate it. Encouraging stewardship suppliers will also pay off in ways that some collaborative models will not. For example, a critical mass (participations of many buyers and sellers) is not required before any benefits are realized as stewardship theory can be applied to the dyad at the simplest level. Beyond this, it can be practised in a large network or small supply chain. Yet sustainability goals and endeavours for each organization are not static, and methods for maintaining common values and their mutual importance over time along the supply chain need further understanding.
It has been suggested that members of a collectivist culture would work to establish an organizational structure that is conducive to the development of stewardship relationships (Davis et al., 1997). An example would be in East Asian collectivist cultures. For instance, the Chinese culture lends itself to a stewardship approach because Chinas collectivistic culture is characterized by individual goals being subordinated to collective (organizational) goals. Although the culture is very different in Japan, forms of collective goals over individual ones also stand as seen in large, national companies like Toyota. This theory holds because the utilities of collectivism-oriented people are based on organizational achievement (Caldwell and Karri, 2005; Eddleston et al., 2010). However, there are issues associated with applying stewardship theory to entire organizations, never mind entire cultures. Even for organizational application, the stewardship result may be an outcome of several factors or decisions and is characterized by complexity beyond the boundaries of the firm (Waldkirch and Nordqvist, 2016)
There is a buzz around accountability and responsibility in sustainable supply chains, especially when it comes to damaging practices such as environmentally degrading production processes or end of life disposal. For example, companies using non-recyclable plastic packaging are coming under increasing pressure to engage in extended producer responsibility initiatives. This means that after a consumer has used the product from the packaging, the producer or retailer has an obligation to take the packaging back and dispose of it. Another challenge to a more formal stewardship arrangement, whereby suppliers take some accountability for lower tiers, is the possible infrastructure needed to make the arrangement effective. Similarly to how collaboration challenges often come down to more than just openness or having proper incentives in place, lacking an effective process for IT support could prevent the ability for a supplier to hold a stewardship role. Resource
Stewardship behaviours in sustainable supply chain management 67 provision for the supplier steward to hold such a role may be impossible, and future business leaders may need training in sustainability stewardship (Cole and Snider, 2019)-