Circular Supply Chain Management: Conceptualisation and Empirical Investigation of Performance and Barriers in China

Farooque, Muhammad
Zhang, Abraham
Liu, Yangping
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This thesis conceptualises a new frontier in supply chain sustainability research, namely Circular Supply Chain Management (CSCM), which integrates the Circular Economy (CE) concept in Supply Chain Management (SCM). Building on the newly-established CSCM definition, this thesis investigates the performance outcomes of CSCM and its implementation barriers. The thesis comprises three sequential and interrelated studies/manuscripts contributing to the CSCM perspective, as described below.

The first study/manuscript presents a comprehensive, integrated view and a unified definition of CSCM. It conducts a structured literature review of 261 articles and provides a classification of CSCM research into two broad categories, i.e., at SCM and/or value chain level, and at SCM functional level. Future research directions are discussed for advancing this important and emerging research domain. More research is called for in the areas of design for circularity, procurement and CSCM, biodegradable packaging for CSCM, circular supply chain collaboration and coordination, drivers and barriers of CSCM, circular consumption, product liabilities, and producer’s responsibility, and technologies and CSCM.

The second study/manuscript examines the impact of CSCM on firm performance, including the contextual role of eco-industrial parks (EIP). A conceptual model is developed, based on the Natural Resource-Based View (NRBV), Contingent NRBV and the literature on CSCM. A statistical analysis of the survey data collected from 255 Chinese manufacturing firms establishes the following results: Firstly, CSCM, when exercised as a unified strategy, has a significant positive effect on environmental, cost, and financial performance. However, quite surprisingly, there is no statistically significant improvement in resource circularity performance, which may be due to the modest progress towards CE in China. Secondly, firms located within EIPs demonstrate higher levels of CSCM adoption when compared to firms located outside EIPs. Thirdly, the contextual factor of being located within an EIP does not moderate the CSCM-to-firm performance relationship, which suggests that performance is driven by practices rather than firms’ locations.

The third study/manuscript identifies and systematically analyses the causal-effect relationships among barriers to integrating CE in SCM. For this purpose, the paper develops a theoretical framework grounded in multiple organisational theories. The study uses 105 responses from Chinese food supply chain stakeholders and applies a fuzzy decision-making trial and evaluation laboratory (DEMATEL) method to examine the causal-effect relationships among the identified barriers. Overall, the results reveal two key causal barriers: weak environmental regulations and enforcement, and lack of market preference/pressure. Lack of collaboration/support from supply chain actors is identified as the most prominent barrier. Based on these results, important managerial and policy implications are drawn. A systemic sustainability collaboration among key food supply chain players needs to be established, focusing on increasing economic and environmental gains. Moreover, designing and launching an extensive promotion campaign using a variety of media sources should also be considered, in addition to strengthening CE and environmental education in the schools.

This thesis makes multiple theoretical contributions. It is among the first to define CSCM and map the current state of research, providing a comprehensive, integrated view of the field. This thesis further contributes by developing new constructs, namely CSCM, which consists of four operational practices (i.e., circular product design, circular procurement, cleaner production, and end-of-life product and waste management), and resource circularity performance. These constructs are developed through extensive review, and their measurement items are validated by academic and industry experts. The studies/manuscripts presented in this thesis use and validate several organisational theories in the CSCM research context. Manuscript 2 links CSCM with Natural Resource Based View (NRBV) of the firms and contingent NRBV to develop a conceptual model. Manuscript 3 develops a theoretical framework of barriers to integrating CE in SCM. It contributes by identifying resource dependence theory, institutional theory and stakeholder theory as the most relevant theories that may be focused in the CSCM barriers research.

The practical contributions of this thesis include the provision of a reference point to SCM practitioners on how to implement CE/CSCM at the firm and supply chain level. The positive and significant CSCM-to-performance link provides clarity to SCM practitioners in implementing CSCM. Firms operating inside an EIP demonstrate higher levels of CSCM adoption but being located inside an EIP itself does not moderate the CSCM-to-firm performance relationship, suggesting that performance is driven by practices rather than firm location. Based on the study results, all manufacturing firms, irrespective of their locations, are advised to develop systemic collaboration for CSCM, as its implementation offers numerous opportunities for organisational gains in supply chains. Moreover, the identification of barriers serves an important purpose, that of helping managers and policymakers in developing appropriate strategies and in prioritising relevant barriers in the short and long run. This research suggests developing systemic sustainability collaboration among key food supply chain players in China, with an explicit focus on improving economic and environmental impact outcomes. The Chinese government needs to improve and enforce environmental regulations and to better educate the public on environmental protection.

Circular economy , Sustainability , Circular supply chain management , Sustainable supply chain , China , Eco-industrial parks , Manufacturing industry , firm performance , Fuzzy DEMATEL , Barriers
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