With the proclaimed advent of Industry 4.0 in supply chains, digitalisation is expected to restructure the ways in which buying firms and suppliers in supply chains collaborate, including on sustainability issues. Digital technologies are expected to foster information exchange and facilitate collaboration on sustainability issues between firms. Yet, there is limited empirical evidence explaining the role of Industry 4.0 in the context of sustainable supply chain management. This qualitative, exploratory study examines digitalisation in the electronics supply chain and its implications for sustainable supply chain collaboration (SCC). We focus on environmental sustainability aspects, such as environmental data analysis and energy use in the supply chain. We conducted 18 interviews with representatives from international electronics buying firms and Chinese suppliers to explore a) how digital technologies are currently used in SCC, and b) which opportunities, risks, and obstacles are associated with digitalisation in sustainable SCC. Our results indicate that a broad range of digital technologies on different digital maturity levels (including Industry 4.0 technologies) are used in SCC, but their use for sustainability purposes is still underdeveloped. Digitalisation is expected by most firms to improve sustainability, e.g., using big data analytics for energy management or easing the transfer of sustainability knowledge in the chain (what we call "digital environmental upgrading"). We argue, however, that if firms do not prioritise addressing sustainability through digitalisation in collaboration, digitalisation-related sustainability potentials will either not materialise on the firm-level, e.g., due to data sharing concerns, or will tend to be overshadowed by the negative indirect effects of digitalisation, such as rebound effects. We propose three political and managerial levers to enhance the overall socio-ecological performance of the supply chain.
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- Academic Articles
Kunkel, S., Matthess, M., Xue, B., & Beier, G. (2022). Industry 4.0 in sustainable supply chain collaboration: Insights from an interview study with international buying firms and Chinese suppliers in the electronics industry. Resources, conservation and recycling, 182: 106274. doi:10.1016/j.resconrec.2022.106274.
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- Digitalisation and Impacts on Sustainability