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Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management

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Sustainable procurement: Building legitimacy in the supply network

Florence Crespin-Mazet a, Emmanuelle Dontenwill b,n
Euromed Management Toulon, Campus de la Grande Tourrache, F-83000 Toulon, France
EMLYON Business School, 23 avenue Guy de Collongue, F-69130 Ecully, France

a r t i c l e i n f o abstract

The challenges introduced by sustainable development deeply affect purchasing and supply manage-
Keywords: ment practices and therefore foster a change in the rms supply network. After a literature review on
Sustainable procurement supply network management, sustainable sourcing and legitimacy, this paper presents the results of an
Sustainable supply network in-depth case study of a gardening distributor which adopted a sustainable strategy. The analysis
Non-business actors illustrates how the rm conquers its legitimacy in sustainable development through the evolution of its
Legitimacy supply network. The paper highlights three types of legitimacy product legitimacy, corporate
legitimacy and cause legitimacy and reveals the different roles of business and non-business actors
in the rms extended sustainable supply network.
& 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction an increasing body of research and publications on sustainable

procurement (Walker and Phillips, 2009). As mentioned by Krause
Based on the Brundtland Commissions rst denition, sustain- et al. (2009: p. 18), a company is no more sustainable than its
able development is dened as development that meets the needs of supply chain. A recent study carried out by Ernst and Young
the present without compromising the ability of future generations to (Saviac et al., 2010) based on the interviews of 100 major
meet their own needs (WECD, 1987: 8). In the eld of business, it companies highlights the central role of the purchasing function
requires the conciliation of prot objectives; respect for the envir- in the integration of sustainable development principles across all
onment and the satisfaction of all the rms stakeholders i.e. the the rms functions. Similarly, a study carried out by Orse and
actors affected by the activities of the organizationcustomers, Ecovadis (Daudin and Kadjar, 2010) with 125 international
employees, suppliers, subcontractors and the local community companies reveals that 64% of the rms interviewed rank sustain-
(Freeman, 1984). The pressure exerted by the general public and able procurement as a strategic priority in their global responsible
by customers (Klosterman and Cramer, 2006; Campbell, 2007), the and sustainable strategy. The choice of suppliers appears critical
new government regulations and legislation (Boiral, 2006) as well as in the implementation of a sustainable sourcing strategy as new
the desire to gain a competitive advantage drive rms to position supply chains and new coordination modes with suppliers are
themselves towards social and environmental stakes (Walke et al., required to develop innovative solutions. In most sectors, the
2008) in an effort to improve their image and to gain increased integration of sustainable development stakes thus calls for a
legitimacy (Schrivastava, 1995). Apart from these external drivers, deep change of practice in the supply chain and fosters a change
two main internal factors push rms to implement green supply in the rms supply network (Pagell et al., 2010).
practices: the personal commitment of managers and investors and This is not an easy process as the implementation of sustain-
the desire to reduce costs by minimizing waste and pollution able procurement raises new risks and practical paradoxes (Carter
(Walker et al., 2008). In this context, De Burgos Jimenez and and Rogers, 2008). As a consequence, not all rms respond
Cespedes Lorente (2001) suggest adding sustainable development similarly to the need for sustainable development. Several stra-
to the rms competitive priorities. As mentioned by Savitz and tegies can be identied (Handeld et al., 1997) ranging from
Weber (2006:14): sustainability is now a fundamental principle of green washing practices to more in-depth practices based on
smart management. stronger convictions and values (Greer and Bruno, 1996). This
The purchasing function plays a strategic role in helping a rm paper focuses on this second type of authentic strategy and raises
reach its sustainable development objectives as acknowledged by the central issue of legitimacy. In spite of an increasing amount of
research work and articles, there is still a strong need to
empirically study the implications of the integration of such a
Corresponding author. Tel.: 33 4 78 33 78 06; fax: 33 4 78 33 79 26.
strategy on the rms practices and supply network (Carter
E-mail addresses: orence.crespin-mazet@euromed-management.com and Rogers, 2008). Using the theoretical framework of supply
(F. Crespin-Mazet), dontenwill@em-lyon.com (E. Dontenwill). networks developed by the IMP School of Thought (Gadde and

1478-4092/$ - see front matter & 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Please cite this article as: Crespin-Mazet, F., Dontenwill, E., Sustainable procurement: Building legitimacy in the supply network.
Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management (2012), doi:10.1016/j.pursup.2012.01.002
2 F. Crespin-Mazet, E. Dontenwill / Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management ] (]]]]) ]]]]]]

Hakansson, 2001), this paper aims at understanding how a rm acknowledged in the literature (Carter and Rogers, 2008): envir-
developing a sustainable development strategy manages to build onmental stewardship (preservation of natural resources, waste
its legitimacy in this eld through its procurement strategy and minimization, reduced emissions); social equity which relates to
practices. It highlights the relevance of the network approach of the rms purchasing social responsibility (such as cultural
sustainable purchasing integrating not only direct and indirect diversity, human rights and safety) and economic performance.
suppliers in the rms value creation processes but also non- The integration of these criteria in supply management has led to
business actors (Hadjikhani and Thilenius, 2005) such as labeling a variety of concepts (see Walker et al., 2008 for a complete
organizations, technical experts, ecological foundations, the gov- review). Recent contributions adopt a supply chain perspective
ernment, the media, as well as standardization and regulatory (Carter and Rogers, 2008) or supply network perspective (Young
agencies. Developing cooperative ties with these non-business and Kielkiewicz-Young, 2001).
actors comes across as a key success factor to develop the rms
resources and legitimacy in sustainable development. The paper
suggests analyzing this strategic legitimating process (Sine et al., 2.2.1. Impact of sustainability issues on purchasing practices
2007) at three levels: the technical level (offer legitimacy), the The literature highlights that the inclusion of environmental
rm level (corporate legitimacy) and the societal level (cause and social factors on top of economic factors generates more
legitimacy). It concludes on the evolution of the purchasers role complex decision-making processes for the purchaser (Handeld
in the context of sustainability, which might increasingly involve et al., 2002; Carter, 2004). Firstly, purchasers need to go beyond
identifying and engaging with these new stakeholders. nancial metrics and to monitor new sets of risks such as
This paper is structured as follows: presentation of the con- employees security, pollution, waste of resources (Carter and
ceptual framework based on the existing literature, methodology, Rogers, 2008), the impact of their activities on local communities
presentation of the case study, case ndings, discussion and (Ghai and Vivian, 1995), or the risks of a negative impact on their
concluding comments informing a future research agenda. corporate image (Foerstl et al., 2010). Secondly, the purchasers
traditional supplier management systems based on supplier
portfolio models (Kraljic, 1983; Gelderman and Van Weele,
2. Literature review 2005) often prove difcult to apply in the pursuit of sustain-
ability. Such models are ill-adapted to account for the numerous
2.1. From procurement and purchasing to supply network uncertainties of a rapidly changing environment with new factors,
management new labels and new actors appearing in the market (Foerstl et al.,
2010). This is all the more difcult as condentiality issues often
Over the last decades, the importance of purchasing as a eld limit the purchasers access to suppliers information and in
of strategic interest has been growing due to several factors: particular to the sharing of ideas for improvement (Wycherley,
increased market globalization, escalation of purchasing costs, 1999). To cope with these new uncertainties, several studies
total quality management (Sheth and Sharma, 1997), as well as emphasize the need to work more closely with suppliers
the growth of outsourcing strategies (McIvor, 2000). As a con- (Theyel, 2001; Vachon and Klassen, 2008), relying more exten-
sequence, the traditional emphasis on optimizing single transac- sively on cooperation and partnerships (Hartman et al., 1999),
tions has progressively shifted towards a long term view of joint development activities (Carter and Carter, 1998), as well as
procurement relying more heavily on suppliers as value genera- innovation with suppliers and other external partners in a long
tors able not only to provide resources and technology but also to term perspective (Walker and Phillips, 2009; Baraldi et al., 2010).
grow the companys revenues (Gadde and Hakansson, 2001). Buying rms are thus incited to proactively revisit their supplier
Forming close relationships with suppliers is then a means for a selection decisions to elevate sustainability (Krause et al., 2009: p.
given company of gaining access to their suppliers resources so 22). In summary, sourcing strategies have evolved:
as to develop their activities (Araujo, Dubois and Gadde, 1999).
Under this perspective, the key issue for the purchaser is no  From a dominant focus on the current price to a total cost of
longer to manage the ow of goods and services into the ownership focus including the effects of resource depletion
organization but to manage the supply process (Cousins and and the generation of by-products (Linton et al., 2007).
Spekman, 2000). The development of a network of external  From the procurement of standardized inputs to joint-value
resources i.e. supplier network then becomes a key mission for creation methodologies (Carter and Carter, 1998) in a reverse
the purchasing rm. Buying rms need to identify suppliers that, marketing process (Blenkhorn and Banting, 1991) where the
due to their characteristics and capabilities, may leverage their buyer organization works cooperatively with suppliers.
own resources and activities and foster their ability to deliver  From dominantly quantiable and nancial performance
superior value to customers (Dubois and Pedersen, 2002; Brito metrics to more qualitative metrics such as social welfare or
and Roseira, 2003). More recently, some IMP scholars have working conditions (Carter and Rogers, 2008).
extended this network view to a broader range of relationships
by focusing on the inuence of non-business actors on a rms
activities (Hadjikhani and Thilenius, 2005). Our paper is more
specically concerned with such a broader supply network 2.2.2. Impact of sustainability issues on supply network
perspective. Sustainable procurement often involves several changes in the
structure of the supply network and the content of the relation-
2.2. Towards sustainable supply network management ships developed between its members: Network evolution can be
manifested in new actors entering the network, in actors initiating
Sustainable procurement can be dened as the pursuit of changes in some relationships, in resources getting recombined and
sustainable development objectives through the purchasing and in activities being performed in new ways (Baraldi et al., 2010: 5).
supply process (Walker and Phillips, 2009). One of the rst issues Similarly, Andersson and Sweet (2002) show that the develop-
when implementing sustainable procurement is to identify the ment of sustainable solutions requires to work with a reduced
various components of sustainability (Krause et al., 2009: p. 20). number of suppliers (Vachon and Klassen, 2006) and to connect
The factors of the triple bottom line (Elkington, 1998) are now more closely the previously separated networks.

Please cite this article as: Crespin-Mazet, F., Dontenwill, E., Sustainable procurement: Building legitimacy in the supply network.
Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management (2012), doi:10.1016/j.pursup.2012.01.002
F. Crespin-Mazet, E. Dontenwill / Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management ] (]]]]) ]]]]]] 3

Several authors also highlight the inuence of new types of

actors or stakeholders that can inuence, positively or negatively,
the rms capacity to engage in sustainable development with
potential inuence on its purchasing strategy (Stafford and
Hartman, 1996; Berger et al., 2004; Perez-Aleman and
Sandilands, 2008, Kourula, 2010). Among them, NGOs (Non-
Governmental Organizations) seem to gain an increasing impor-
tance due to their capacity to represent the society and manifest
broader social movements (Teegen et al., 2004). While the
literature has often stressed the coercive inuence of NGOs on
businesses (Yaziji, 2004), several authors see an evolution
towards more partnerships (Teegen et al., 2004; Perez-Aleman
and Sandilands, 2008). Stafford et al. (2000) show how some
environmental NGOs develop collaborative partnerships with
businesses offering them environmental, scientic and legal
expertise to support their environpreneurial initiatives (p. 122).
These green alliances help the rm access the resources of other
societal actors through a strategic bridging process. Fig. 1. The conceptual framework.

2.3. Supply network and legitimacy

Baraldi and Bocconcelli (2001), we have dened two main types
Through the implementation of a sustainable procurement of resources: (1) tangible resources (technical and physical
strategy, the rm will attempt at modifying the structure of its resources); and (2) intangible resources such as information,
supply network, hence accessing to new resources including knowledge and relationships.
legitimacy (Yaziji, 2004; Bengtson and Hadjikhani, 2010). Accord-
ing to Suchman (1995: 574), legitimacy is a generalized perception
or assumption that the actions of an entity are desirable, proper, or These three antecedent variables inuence the legitimacy of
appropriate within some socially constructed system of norms, the rm in the eld of sustainable development.
values, beliefs, and denitions. As seen previously, the rm might
have to reference new suppliers, to dereference old ones, to Legitimacy in sustainable development. Based on Suchmans
bridge with new actors (including non-business actors), and even denition (1995), we dene the rms legitimacy in sustain-
to bring together previously unconnected actors to acquire this able development as the general assumption by the suppliers
legitimacy. The way these network resources are combined and stakeholders that the actions of the rm are authentically
interfaced inuences the rms position in the network and respecting the three components of sustainability i.e. environ-
consecutively, its strategic identity. This position can be dened mental stewardship, social equity and economic performance.
as the role that the rm has for other organizations that it is Our central proposition states as follows: the rms legiti-
related to, directly or indirectly (Mattsson, 1984). The rms macy in sustainable development is positively related with the
position has a direct impact on its perceived strategic identity level of legitimacy of the actors forming its supply network.
in the broader economic environment and can be associated to a
lower or higher level of legitimacy in the eld of sustainable
development. 3. Research method

2.4. The conceptual framework 3.1. Case study design

It therefore seems relevant to study how a rm develops its In order to analyze how the rm built its legitimacy in the eld
legitimacy in sustainable development through its purchasing of sustainable development through its supply network, we
practices from an industrial network perspective (Ford et al., adopted a single case study design enabling to capture into
2003). Our framework is thus directly adapted from the ARA details the transformations operated by the rm over time. A

model developed by the IMP School of Thought (Hakansson and single case study design is an appropriate design under ve main
Johanson, 1992). This model conceptualizes the process and circumstances and ve rationales (Yin, 2003: 39): (1) the critical
outcomes of interaction and suggests that the content of a case to test a well-formulated theory; (2) the extreme or
business relationship can be described in terms of three inter- unique case; (3) the representative or typical case (i.e. typical
connected factors: Actors, Activity, and Resources. Applied to our project or situation); (4) the revelatory case when the inves-
research objectives, this model leads to the following conceptual tigator has the opportunity to observe and analyze a phenomenon
framework (Fig. 1) made of three antecedent variables (actors of previously inaccessible to scientic investigation even if the
the rms supply network, activities and resources) inuencing phenomenon under scrutiny is common; (5) the case carried
the rms legitimacy in sustainable development (outcome). out over a long period specifying how certain conditions change
over time. The present research corresponds to the fourth and
Actors of the supply network: characterized by their identity fth rationales. In 2005, at the time of the case study, the eld of
(individual, organization), mission and type (business actor sustainable procurement in mass distribution in France was
versus non-business actor). rather novel and considered as strategic to obtain a competitive
Activities: the type of actions that the actors of the rms advantage. In a domain where green washing tactics were
supply network undertake to fulll their mission; their level of frequent, it was particularly difcult to access to board meetings
commitment to these actions. where the sustainable development strategy and its implementa-
Resources: the resources that they control to fulll their mission tion were being condentially discussed and nalized. The choice
and implement their strategy. Based on the contributions of of this research design seemed particularly adapted to understand

Please cite this article as: Crespin-Mazet, F., Dontenwill, E., Sustainable procurement: Building legitimacy in the supply network.
Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management (2012), doi:10.1016/j.pursup.2012.01.002
4 F. Crespin-Mazet, E. Dontenwill / Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management ] (]]]]) ]]]]]]

the evolution of the purchasing practices and the consecutive they involve key sustainable development stakes (pollution,
dynamics within the supply network (Eisenhardt, 1989). deforestation, waste management, supplier relationships);
In a single case study, the purposive choice of the case requires they contribute to an important share of the distributors turnover
a specic attention so as to express the phenomenon with and they are representative of the rms market positioning
intensity (Miles and Huberman, 1994). In our case, this was strategy.
ensured through the authentic sustainable development strategy
of the rm selected (Martinet and Payaud, 2008). We had
3.4. Data analysis
originally selected two companies for the study one haulage
contractor and one gardening distributor but after a preliminary
Data collected on these three product categories have been
investigation, Botanic was the only rm meeting our research
analyzed and ordered based on our conceptual framework
requirements in terms of authenticity of their strategy. Botanic
following Miles and Hubermans recommendations (1994). Sev-
actually represents a very rich case for three main reasons. Firstly
eral analytical categories have been identied based on our
as a mass distributor, its sustainable development positioning
research objectives and conceptual framework: (1) the actors
directly depends on its purchasing strategy to design the store
involved in the supply network (business, non-business); (2) their
product assortment (no in-house production). Secondly, its sus-
activities; (3) their resources; (4) their impact on the construction
tainable development strategy directly questions its core business
of Botanics legitimacy in sustainable development. We built
and challenges its practices and habits. Thirdly, our study focused
within-case-ordered-effects matrices based on these categories
on the development stage of the rms sustainable strategy,
(Miles and Huberman, 1994) as exhibited in Table 1.
enabling us to collect rich material on this particular context
and the changes that it generated in the rms supply network.
The main goal was to obtain a thorough understanding of the
4. Case study: the implementation of sustainable
change processes at play.
procurement at Botanic
3.2. Data collection methods
Created in 1995, Botanic is a gardening product distributor
with more than 2000 employees, 60 stores, and a turnover of 290
We have adopted an action-research strategy where we went
million Euros in 2007. The rm is owned by two families coming
beyond the mere role of an observer to actually contribute
from the horticultural milieu. Since its origin Botanic has exhib-
to animating meetings and facilitating the actors reections
ited the genes of sustainable development. They have launched
(David, 2000). This corresponds to the role of procedural inter-
various initiatives favouring the preservation of nature. But these
mediation (Chanal et al., 2001). The data collected through this
actions are scattered and left to the individual initiative of the
procedure have led to detailed minutes and research notes.
employees. In 2004, the C.E.O decides to position sustainable
Following Eisenhardts recommendations (1989), we have com-
development at the heart of their strategy to be in accordance
pleted them by in-depth individual face-to-face interviews
with new societal expectations. The rst step consists of a deeper
(Grawitz, 2001), secondary data analysis and several points of
understanding of sustainable development by the Board of
immersion so as to report a complete case. Each interview has
Directors so as to dene the main strategic orientations. All the
been recorded and fully transcribed. The set of data collected
activities and functions of the rm (purchasing, transportation,
between 2004 and 2007 was therefore obtained from 4 main
store design, etc.) are screened accordingly and given new
In 2005, the CEO ofcially launches this new strategy and hires
 The active contribution to 29 internal meetings (155 h).
a sustainable development manager. Numerous reections and
 12 semi-structured face-to-face interviews including 6 purc-
actions follow these early stages. A new purchasing strategy is
formalized. It consists of selecting and developing quality pro-
 The study of more than 70 internal documents and press
duct offers which value the know-how produced under condi-
tions respecting the individuals and their natural environment
 The attendance at various internal meetings and seminars
and when used by the customer contribute to preserving the
related to sustainable development (14 days of full immersion
garden ecosystem and to promoting healthier lifestyles for the
in the company).
people and the planet (internal document). The implementation
of this policy raises various problems depending on each product
Our data collection protocol respects the three requirements
recommended by Van De Ven (1992) to ensure quality and
reliability. Through our presence from the origin of the sustain-
able development strategy, we have avoided two major biases: 4.1. The case of chemical fertilizers
memory problems and ex-post rationalization from the intervie-
wees (Forgues and Vandangeon-Derumez, 1999). We have pro- They represent the most emblematic example of Botanics
ceeded to numerous points of data collection and have deeply commitment to sustainable development. According to the WWF,
immerged ourselves in the eld (Girin, 1990) over a three-year gardening represents 8% of the total French pesticide consump-
period. tion and 25% of river pollution. Botanic had to set these products
aside as a priority for action. In 2005, the sustainable develop-
3.3. Within case sampling ment manager ordered a toxicological study from MDRGF (acti-
vist association acting against the use of pesticides), so as to
This piece of research partially exploits the important set of obtain an objective assessment of the toxicity level of the
data collected on the transformations operated in the distributors fertilizers sold in their stores. They scanned 137 molecules
supply network. Our rich case actually involved three subunits through a research method approved by a famous toxicologist
of analysis (embedded single case designYin, 2003): chemical from the National Science Research Institute and concluded that
fertilizers, teak wood garden furniture and potted plants. 80% of the molecules were toxic. Soon after, the CEO decided to
These product categories have been selected for three reasons: denitely withdraw all these products from their shelves and to

Please cite this article as: Crespin-Mazet, F., Dontenwill, E., Sustainable procurement: Building legitimacy in the supply network.
Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management (2012), doi:10.1016/j.pursup.2012.01.002
Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management (2012), doi:10.1016/j.pursup.2012.01.002
Please cite this article as: Crespin-Mazet, F., Dontenwill, E., Sustainable procurement: Building legitimacy in the supply network.

Table 1
Case-ordered-effects matrix: evolution of Botanics supply network: the resource, activities of each actor of the network and their impact on the distributors legitimacy.

Key sustainable development Evolution of the supply network: Resources Activities Outcome in terms of legitimacy
issues for each case actors in the revised supply network

Chemical products including Business actors: TangibleProduction facilities: Production of chemical fertilizers Product legitimation through the withdrawal
Toxic molecules  Stoppage of the business capacity to rapidly deliver a large in large quantities for mass of all chemical fertilizers from the shelves
Sold in the stores relationship with multinationals range of products in large markets
specialized in chemical production quantities.
which were previously suppliers of Intangible: expertise in the
chemical fertilizers for gardening. conception and production of
chemical products for gardening.
Marketing awareness of their

F. Crespin-Mazet, E. Dontenwill / Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management ] (]]]]) ]]]]]]

brands among nal customers (high
share of voice).

 Reinforcement of the relationship Intangibleexpertise in the Production of fertilizers Product legitimation

with suppliers of existing conception and production of adapted to ecological ) Statement of Botanics positioning in sustainable
environmental-friendly fertilizers. products for ecological gardening. gardening development through a complete ecological product range
 Development of relationship with TangibleCapacity to complement Production of fertilizers excluding any chemical product.
new suppliers of ecological the range of eco-friendly fertilizers. adapted to ecological
fertilizers. Intangible: expertise in the gardening
conception and production of
products for ecological gardening.

Non-Business actors: Mostly intangible: Support in the denition of Product legitimation through the technical caution of
Development of new relationships with Technical expertise and knowledge new purchasing criteria independent experts
non-business actors: in ecological gardening. Audit of the rms existing Corporate legitimation (company recognition as legitimate in
 Individual independent experts. Their extended network in product offer and new the eld)
 NGOs and militant organizations: ecological gardening. suppliers Cause legitimation: the relationship to activist organizations
MDRGF, Ortie & Cie, N. Hulots Their direct ties to the media and to Lobby at governmental level positioned Botanic as one of the defenders of the ecological
foundationy the government (source of power) inuence on the legal cause which is shaping the general publics opinion towards a
Their reputation and renown among framework more ecological world.
the general public (N. Hulot). Raise of the general public
Their image of integrity. awareness

Teak-wood garden furniture Business Actors Mostly tangible: Exploitation of forests and Product legitimation through the referencing of labels or the
Forest destruction Referencing of new product Ownership of teak wood forests in wood transformation origin of the wood purchased
suppliers of teak wood having the Indonesia and Africa. Id. Corporate legitimation in the supply network through the
FSC (Africa) or the TFT label (mostly Local network of wood suppliers. support granted to the European supply chain
in Indonesia)development of new Ownership of larch and locust wood
business relationship. Dereferencing in Europe. Lack of offer.
of other suppliers (stoppage of
Referencing of and support to
European wood suppliers (larch,
locust). Project to help revive this
European supply chain.

Development of new relationships Mostly intangible: Dening standards Product legitimation

with Non-business actors Expertise Auditing teak wood suppliers Corporate legitimation
Third Party Certiers (FSC, TNT). Knowledge of practices from the in each region: Cause legitimation through the support to NGOs
WWF, Friends of the Earth. eld. Labeling of wood producers against forest destruction
Large networks of actors with very and suppliers
strong ties and intimate knowledge Consulting,
of actors. recommandations
Image of integrity.

6 F. Crespin-Mazet, E. Dontenwill / Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management ] (]]]]) ]]]]]]

exceptional support granted to the weakest horticulturalists replace them with exclusively natural products. As a conse-
Corporate legitimation in the supply network through the

quence, the supply network evolved as follows:

 Dereferencing of major suppliers of well-known products such as

Product legitimation towards end customers and

Destructor, an American chemical weed, and Fertiline (disguised

Corporate legitimation due to the consistency

Product legitimation towards end customers

names), a very popular product in France massively advertised

on TV. Such a decision involved major commercial risks.
 Reinforcement of the relationships with existing suppliers
offering natural solutions (growth of their business volume).
 Referencing of new suppliers offering natural products. Sup-
pliers having a wide range of products were given priority as
well as suppliers certied by a renowned label to ease up the

in the supply network

of Botanics approach
selection process, reduce reputational risk and provide a
guarantee for the consumers.
 Involvement of outside experts in the validation of the new
ecological offer. These experts came from very well known
environmental NGOs or associations and brought both their
acknowledged technical expertise as well as the caution of
authenticity of the rms sustainable development approach.
 Membership of Ortie & Cie, a collective organization (lobby)
Auditing plant producers for

promoting natural products for plant protection towards the

Production of potted plants
Production of conditioning

labeling and accreditation

government. This action aimed mainly at counter-balancing

the pesticide producers lobby. As summarized by Botanics
Dening standards

CEO: Botanic became a member of Ortie & Cie to ofcially ask

for potted plants

the State to recognize natural plant protection products and to

commit to pesticide reductiony.

These actions illustrate how Botanic mobilized new actors and

embedded itself in a modied supply network to ground its new
positioning and defend its cause. This involved going beyond the
strict business arena and creating a supportive environment for
lack of nancial resources (critical

its approach.
Intangible: technical expertise.

Mostly intangible: Technical

Tangible: ownership of land;

horticultural supply chain.

4.2. The case of teak wood garden furniture

Network of producers the
Reference in sustainable
expertise in sustainable
nancial situation).

At the environmental level, the exploitation of teak wood leads

Image of integrity.
Mostly tangible

to the massive destruction of primeval forests generating climate



change, loss of vegetal and animal biodiversity and endangering

local communities which depend on these resources. But at the
marketing level, this product was meeting a growing demand on
the French market. Initially, Botanic wanted to reference Eur-
opean wood such as larch or locust wood to replace teak wood
and reduce transportation externalities. However, the corre-
having the MPS labels: mostly small
Reinforcement of relationship with

rms in a small nancial situation.

relationships with horticulturalists

sponding supply chains were drifting due to globalization. In

conditioning: co-development of
a limited number of suppliers of

Support to the weakest ones

order to reference such wood in the required quantities, Botanic

relationship with MPSa labeling
Reduction of purchases from

organization in the horticultural

Development of a new business
new conditioning solutions.
indirect suppliers of plastic

needed to support their revival: a project was created to this end

through volume and price
Development of business

where social benets would cumulate with environmental ben-

ets but at the cost of increased prices and the uncertainty about
Non-Business Actors

customers reaction to this premium. However, this solution could

Business Actors

not satisfy the distributors short term requirements. The pur-


chaser of this product category thus looked for labels referencing

supply chain.

sustainable teak suppliers but faced several uncertainties on the

reliability and adequacy of these labels. At rst, the easiest
solution seemed to reference the FSC label (Forest Stewardship
Council)a well respected label in the eld of responsible
forestry. Unfortunately, a considerable amount of illegal trafc
of FSC in Indonesia forced the label to withdraw from
Relationships with suppliers

Indonesiaa key supply region for Botanic. The manager in

Non-recyclable packaging

charge then identied TFT (Tropical Forest Trust: a less demand-

Production conditions

ing label than FSC) and questioned other NGOs such as the WWF
about its reliability and seriousness. This process enabled to
reference TFT and to start a relationship with them. As a
Potted Plant

consequence, Botanics supply network evolved thanks to the

partnership with the labels (TFT in Indonesia, FSC elsewhere)
which gave Botanic indirect access to their own resources and
more specically to their supply chain of referenced and qualied

Please cite this article as: Crespin-Mazet, F., Dontenwill, E., Sustainable procurement: Building legitimacy in the supply network.
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wood suppliers in Indonesia and in remote regions. It would have

been extremely lengthy and difcult for Botanic to identify and
qualify these producers on its own. Hence, the strategic bridging
with non-business actors helped Botanic by pre-referencing
qualied suppliers in the sustainable supply chain.

4.3. The case of potted plants

Potted plants raised three main sustainability issues: their

conditions of production, their packaging into non-recyclable
plastic containers (pots) and the relationships with horticulturists
that were often in a critical nancial situation. Botanic was
promoting ecological gardening but most of the plants sold in
the stores (45% of its turnover) did not respect ecological
production rules. To solve this problem, Botanic identied and
developed an exclusive partnership with a Dutch labeling orga-
nization in the horticultural supply chain called MPS. Their goal
was that 100% of their plant suppliers be labeled. The organiza-
tion had only gathered 32 members in France since its creation
7 years before. The partnership with Botanic could generate 300 Fig. 2. Botanics renewed supply network.
new members. The sustainable development approach also called
for the withdrawal of all plastic containers that could not be
recycled. The purchaser rst looked for biodegradable natural as a strategic legitimating action for Botanic (Sine et al., 2007). As a
material enabling the gardener to directly plant in the ground but mass market distributor, Botanic previously had no legitimacy in the
the new conditioning deleted itself on the shelves. Over time, eld of sustainable development. In order to conquer this legitimacy
Botanic co-developed a solution with its suppliers based on the and avoid being accused of green washing practices, Botanic used a
old technique of compressed clods. network approach developing links with legitimate actors in the
The horticultural supply chain also raised specic relational sustainable development milieu, sometimes even contributing to
issues due to its bad nancial situation (several suppliers close to shaping this milieu. The fact that these legitimate business and
bankruptcy). Botanic agreed to give them volume and price mostly non-business actors agreed to cooperate with Botanic
guarantees to compensate for specic efforts in ecological product indicated that they had legitimated the distributor. It hence mod-
developmenta very unusual practice in the eld. With these ied its strategic identity in the network. Moreover, Botanic also
small suppliers, Botanic clearly adopted a partnerial logic. beneted from the network of these new actors thus saving time
and effort to access their valuable and idiosyncratic resources. Based
on our case study, we have identied three forms of legitimacy in
5. Analysis and key ndings sustainable development supported by these supply network rela-
tionships that we dene as follows:
The three product categories analyzed exhibited a variety of
purchase situations highlighting several transformations in the Product legitimacy i.e. the legitimacy of the rms offer
structure and management of the supplier network: (1) develop- regarding sustainable development criteria in particular
ment of partnerships with suppliers so as to co-design solutions regarding environmental stewardship and social equity.
in line with sustainable development principles; (2) support to Corporate legitimacy i.e. the legitimacy of the rm in its
weaker actors in the supply chain based on their commitment sustainable development claim and strategic positioning.
to comply to the rms sustainable development approach; Cause legitimacy i.e. the legitimacy of sustainable develop-
(3) development of new cooperation patterns with non-business ment values for the society and hence for the rms target
actors. Fig. 2 presents a simplied representation of this renewed audience.
supply network.
As shown in Fig. 2, this network entails four main types of
actors: 5.1. Product legitimacy

 Product suppliers (business actors). 5.1.1. Suppliers: co-development of new ecological products
 Labeling organizations such as TNT, MPS, FSC or AB the role of The new purchasing criteria led Botanic to modify the struc-
which is to qualify offers and guarantee the compliance of ture of its supplier network and its relationship with suppliers
supplies to ecological and social specications. through several actions. Firstly, by ending some supplier relation-
 Individual experts bringing their technical knowledge in eco- ships such as the American and French suppliers of chemical
logical gardening and whose role is mainly to contribute to fertilizers. Secondly, by developing the business volume with
ecological specication design. existing suppliers already meeting the new requirements. Thirdly,
 Activist or militant organizations such as Ortie & Cie, MDRGF, by referencing new suppliers such as suppliers of ecological
or Nicolas Hulots Foundation, which have a direct link to the fertilizers. Fourthly, by entering into close partnerships with
media and the power to inuence the government (lobby) and new or existing suppliers willing to co-develop innovative pro-
the general public. ducts meeting their goals (to compensate for the lack of sufcient
and adequate offers). A good illustration is given with the
Botanic developed different relationships with these actors that horticultural supply chain. Botanic agreed to commit to certain
led to a range of activity links (from simple business transactions price and volume levels so as to encourage producers to cultivate
with suppliers to extended partnerships with suppliers and non- plants in compressed clods which drastically reduced their con-
business actors). The development of these relationships can be seen ditioning. This conrms the ndings of previous authors such as

Please cite this article as: Crespin-Mazet, F., Dontenwill, E., Sustainable procurement: Building legitimacy in the supply network.
Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management (2012), doi:10.1016/j.pursup.2012.01.002
8 F. Crespin-Mazet, E. Dontenwill / Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management ] (]]]]) ]]]]]]

Pagell et al. (2010) showing that sustainable sourcing strategies issue for the manager in charge of sustainable development. In
induce changes in relevant stakeholder weights granting more this eld, the legitimacy issue is directly linked to that of
weight to suppliers development. credibility and therefore, Botanic deliberately chose to develop
relationships with actors considered above reproach in the eld
5.1.2. Experts: auditing product offers of sustainable development due to their status of non-prot-
Adopting a sustainable sourcing strategy considerably making organizations. In this case, these were mostly activist/
enlarged the scope of the rms purchasing criteria (ecological militant organizations such as MDRGF (on the pesticides issue) or
and social criteria). The purchasers role thus needed to go much Ortie & Cie. The bonds existing between Botanic and these actors
further than simply referencing suppliers and products based on authenticate the distributors approach towards their audience.
price, quality or availability. To integrate these new criteria, This was conrmed by the French national consumer magazine
Botanic purchasers would have needed specic competencies in Que Choisir which ranked Botanic as the best ecological
the eld of chemistry or green gardening. It was however distributor among 22 French distributors (October 2009). The
unrealistic and the solution consisted of creating an expert main resource brought by these non-business actors is their
committee made up of outside experts from various non-business image integrity.
origins renowned in the ecological gardening milieu. This expert
committee brought legitimacy to Botanics offer.
5.3. Cause legitimacy

5.1.3. Labeling organizations: sourcing guarantee In order to meet a sufcient market, Botanics positioning in
In order to cope with the lack of reliable supplier information, favor of sustainable development needed to be legitimated by its
the easiest solution found by Botanic was to rely on renowned target audience. This relied both on a favorable legal framework
and institutionalized labels which could provide an acceptable level and on the receptivity of the sustainable cause by the general
of guarantee in a context of high uncertainty (Handeld et al., 2002). public. To achieve this goal and raise the general public aware-
Labels are dened here as distinctive trademarks identifying a ness, Botanic supported the Ecological Pact defended by Nicolas
product or producer, used to designate its origin, content, or quality Hulot, a very famous TV personality, considered as one of Frances
in terms of compliance to sustainable development standards. They most inuential ecologists (direct link to the media and to the
communicate the distributors commitment while avoiding the government). By partnering with this militant actor, Botanic was
required market research to qualify products (transfer of responsi- freed from any suspicion. However, developing relationships with
bility from the distributor to the certication organization). As it is NGOs or associations was not sufcient to lobby at governmental
difcult to develop a lot of high-involvement relationships with level and Botanic took the risk to become a member of a militant

suppliers (Gadde and Hakansson, 2001), labels gave Botanic the organization to that end.
opportunity to access their network of pre-qualied suppliers Table 1 (case-ordered effect matrix) summarizes the various
through a strategic bridging process (Stafford et al., 2000). However types of actors in Botanics renewed supply network (business
such labels were not always readily available on the market. After and non-business), their activity and resources and their con-
suppliers, purchasers now had to source certication organizations. tribution to shaping Botanics legitimacy in the sustainable
As a pioneer, Botanic had to carefully screen the environment to development milieu.
detect emergent private labels, assess their reliability and identify Accessing the resources of these various supply network actors
the right partners in this jungle of unknown actors. By referencing involved different levels of commitment and risks for Botanic. As
emergent labels such as MPS, Botanic gave them increased visibility summarized by its CEO: Being an activist means facing some
which contributed to shaping the supply network. The development challenges and assuming its consecutive risksy. These commit-
of the relationship with Botanic helped MPS access more clients. ments can be assessed by the specicity of the investments made

by Botanic to develop the relationship with them (Hakansson and
5.2. Corporate legitimacy Snehota, 1995). Fig. 3 identies the various levels of increasing
commitment required from Botanic to develop cooperative rela-
Beyond the legitimacy of its offer, Botanic also had to be tionships with these actors: from the referencing of existing
acknowledged as a legitimate rm in the sustainable develop- labels (a rather common task for purchasers), to the membership
ment milieu. Due to the increasing criticisms reporting opportu- in a militant organizations involving high risks for their corporate
nistic behaviors characterized by green washing practices (Capron image (Foerstl et al., 2010), through the creation of an expert
and Quairel-Lanoizelee, 2004; Agerri et al., 2005; Pasquero, 2008), committee, the co-development of solutions and the contribution
Botanic had to conquer its corporate legitimacya very sensitive to the creation and development of labels. The highest levels of

Fig. 3. Different levels of commitment in the implementation of a sustainable purchasing policy.

Please cite this article as: Crespin-Mazet, F., Dontenwill, E., Sustainable procurement: Building legitimacy in the supply network.
Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management (2012), doi:10.1016/j.pursup.2012.01.002
F. Crespin-Mazet, E. Dontenwill / Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management ] (]]]]) ]]]]]] 9

commitment (cause legitimation and partly corporate legitima- purchasing practices to adopt a new organizational worldview of
tion) require the support of top management to make the purchasing (Bakker and Kamman, 2007: p. 306) based on
corresponding investments and endorse their consecutive risks. sustainable criteria requires a lot of investments (commitment)
and to accept to take risks in an uncertain environment. The
support of top management, representing the highest social
6. Conclusions hierarchy in the organization, gives them the power to inuence
procurement practices (Schrivastava, 1995). In our case, the
6.1. Key ndings and managerial implications individual perception of the top manager regarding sustainable
development (his authentic conviction) strongly inuenced
Our paper has shown how Botanics change of positioning Botanics positioning strategy and effective change of position
towards sustainable development was dependent upon its rela- through the evolution of their supply network. This echoes and
tionships with other actors in the sustainable development milieu conrms the ndings of Bakker and Kamann (2007) indicating
and in particular with non-business actors. Different types of non- that three social factors are relevant to understand how suppliers
business actors have been identied as inuencing the rms relations are managed in practice: the trajectory of the individual
sustainable activities and legitimacy in the eld: labeling organi- (purchaser), the organizational worldview of purchasing and the
zations, technical experts, ecological foundations, the govern- individuals social position in the organization.
ment, the media, as well as standardization and regulatory In terms of managerial implications, these ndings have direct
agencies. While business actors mostly gave Botanic access to consequences on the purchasing function. Firstly, our paper has
tangible resources (products), developing relationships with these illustrated the range of difculties that pushed buyers to modify
non-business actors mostly enabled Botanic to access their their purchasing process (Handeld et al., 2002) such as the lack
intangible resources namely, their technical expertise, their net- of reliable and comparable data on the various supply chains and
work of relationships and their legitimacy. Through their products; the lack of expertise in sustainable development in a
resources and activities, these supply network actors qualied rapidly changing environment requiring to constantly renew
the authenticity of Botanics commitment to sustainable devel- ones knowledge and information; the shortage of offers meeting
opment. It modied Botanics position and strategic identity Botanics sustainable development requirements and recognized
(Mattsson, 1984) giving credibility to its sustainable development as such by established labels; the lack of stability of product offers
claim. This legitimating process (Sine et al., 2007) occured at three and labels; and nally ethical dilemmas that go beyond the strict
levels: the product level (offer legitimacy), the rm level (corpo- scope of their domain of responsibilities.
rate legitimacy) and the societal level (cause legitimacy). Secondly, to cope with these difculties, purchasers increas-
The success of the distributors sustainable strategy thus ingly need to interact more widely and profoundly with suppliers
clearly depended on this extended network of non-business (Dubois and Pedersen, 2002) as well as with individual experts
actors. But inversely some of these non-business actors also and non-prot-making organizations which play a key role in the
depended on Botanic in particular for those which were barely sustainable supply network. Hence, the purchasers role might
emerging and which fully beneted from Botanics resources. Our increasingly involve identifying and engaging stakeholders situ-
paper thus conrms the relevance of the network approach of ated on the fringe of their usual supply network so as to bridge
purchasing integrating suppliers in the rms value creation with their resources and legitimacy. Cooperating with non-busi-
processes (Krause et al., 2009) but extends this notion to a whole ness actors requires different relational patterns from those with
set of new non-business actors that seems particularly relevant in traditional suppliers (Hadjikhani and Thilenius, 2005). As illu-
the eld sustainable procurement. strated in our case study, the interaction with these new stake-
Concerning the posture of the relationship with suppliers, our holders having different missions, values and habits involved
papers conrms that the integration of sustainable development several adaptations and required time to learn to interact, build
into the rms purchasing strategies fosters a change towards trust and make the necessary adjustments (increased commit-
more partnerships and joint value creation methodologies with ment). In sum, a more entrepreneurial mode of sourcing thus
selected actors in this renewed supply network (Hartman et al., seems to be required in such a rapidly changing environment.
1999; Carter and Carter, 1998). Faced with the high heterogeneity Purchasers need to develop new processes and dynamic capabil-
and lack of stability of sustainable supply chains, cooperation ities (Helfat, 1997; Teece, 2007) to evolve towards a true Sustain-
came across as the most adapted mode of coordination with these able Supply Chain Management.
actors (Richardson, 1972). This only concerned a limited number

of actors (Gadde and Hakansson, 2001): the distributor did not
hesitate to enter into more classical forms of transactions with 6.2. Limitations and further research
suppliers whenever the market offered an acceptable, standar-
dized answer (choosing a labeled product for example). Our These ndings were based an exploratory study with a single
research also suggests that it seems difcult to adopt a high level case study design. The case analyzed presented several speci-
of sustainability alone when the rest of the supply chain and cities: a large gardening distributor which is not involved in any
network in which the rm is embedded has not yet made design or production activities and which mostly purchases
signicant steps in that direction. The implementation of a standardized products for mass consumption markets. Hence,
sustainable development strategy therefore seems constrained the conclusions of this research cannot be generalized even
by the right time-to-market and should best evolve with the though some of them conrm previous ndings. Moreover, this
level of maturity of the market. As mentioned by Pagell et al. paper has focused on the upstream side of the supply chain
(2010), a transitory period seems required not only at the rm (supply network). As recommended by Carter and Carter (1998),
level but also at the supply network level to enable corresponding it is also important to analyze the downstream impact of
suppliers to develop the appropriate products and modify their sustainable development on the supply chain. Further research
sourcing practices. could therefore test the validity of these preliminary ndings and
Finally, the case also supports preliminary ndings stating the enrich them with eld research on the downstream part of the
crucial role of top management support to commit the rm to supply chain (demand network). Other research projects could
such a sustainable development venture. Moving from traditional compare these preliminary ndings with other rms engaged in

Please cite this article as: Crespin-Mazet, F., Dontenwill, E., Sustainable procurement: Building legitimacy in the supply network.
Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management (2012), doi:10.1016/j.pursup.2012.01.002
10 F. Crespin-Mazet, E. Dontenwill / Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management ] (]]]]) ]]]]]]

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Please cite this article as: Crespin-Mazet, F., Dontenwill, E., Sustainable procurement: Building legitimacy in the supply network.
Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management (2012), doi:10.1016/j.pursup.2012.01.002