Article Critique of Pagell & Wu

11 Pages   |   2,655 Words

Article Critique
Building a more complete theory of sustainable supply chain management using case studies of ten exemplars

Table of Contents

Introduction. 2
Summary. 3
Critique. 4
Topic of the Study. 4
Rhetorical Structure. 4
Problem Definition. 4
Literature Review.. 5
Research Design. 6
Sampling Plan. 7
Data Analysis. 7
Conclusion. 8
References 8 The article titled ‘Building a more complete theory of sustainable supply chain management using case studies of 10 exemplars’ is authored by Mark Pagell of York University and Zhaohui Wu of Oregon University. The article deals with the issue of inculcating sustainability in existing business practices of growing organizations. Authors have focused on the important question of creating a sustainable supply chain management in the research article. The approach towards the research question is to unravel the best practices pertaining to sustainable supply chain among growing organizations through live case studies, rather than merely creating a theoretical model. Primary research method adopted in the article is in-depth qualitative interviews with relevant persons in each organization in the sample. Findings of the article pointed out certain practices which were against the conventional understanding about sustainable business practices among management and supply chain circles. Authors also suggested that practices which lead to excellent sustainable supply chain management are also termed as good practices in traditional supply chain management; therefore, there is little dichotomy between economic interest of the business and its sustainability goals. The following critical review takes a balanced view of the research methods employed in the article, the importance of the topic and quality of the research design. Strengths and weaknesses of sampling plan and literature are also pointed out in critical review. The benchmark for the analysis is the acceptable theoretical practices of qualitative research. The research article pertains to the issue of inculcating sustainability in supply chain of business. The topic of the article is applicable to contemporary business environment .The text is well-organized, clear, and easy to read. The researchers declares that implementation of sustainbility is no longer a choice, rather it is necessary. Contribution from some article in literature review is found to be superfluous. Value of sustainable practices have long been established in business texts and it didn’t need to be included in the literature review. The research uses semi-structured interviews are utilized as the source of data collection for primary research.  Verification of collected data is carried out by taking a tour of the production facility to verify the information by observation. The research design consists of data coding as a part of qualitative data analysis. Authors main point in the analysis is that qualities of innovation are linked to inculcation of sustainability within supply chain of contemporary organizations.

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The critical analysis carries out a holistic review of the entire article with respect to theory and practice of qualitative research design. Various aspects of the article are dealt in the following critique.
Topic of the Study The positive aspect of the article is the choice of topic and the problem statement. There is a continuously growing interest among business circles regarding sustainable practices in different functional areas due to growing awareness about environmental degradation. Interestingly, all organizations accept the need for adoption of sustainability in business practices, however, very have actually managed to implement some aspect of sustainability in their functioning. For this reason, it is highly important to carry out research on business sectors and business organizations which are leaders in this area. Such measures will communicate practicality of sustainable business practices to management circles, which is the need of the hour. Therefore, the topic is both current and relates to an emerging area of business practices which require practical precepts to follow.
Rhetorical Structure The rhetorical structure of the article is logical argumentation. Authors have used scientific methods to convey the findings of the result and refrained from using biased or leading phrases during the analysis or problem definition phase. The text is also well-organized, clear, and easy to read. Facts narrated by the authors are referenced properly, which depicts accuracy of narration and objectivity.
Intended audience for the article is business managers and management theorists. The tone of voice, vocabulary and sentence structure conforms to the general reading habits of the intended target audience. The suitability of narration style to the target audience is a strength of the article.
Problem Definition Problem statement defined in the article is beyond traditional cost-benefit analysis of adoption of sustainable practices in business. In past, extensive amount of research has been carried out regarding the advantages and disadvantages of sustainable business practices including supply chain. The drawback of such approaches is that in almost all cases the economic costs to the business are greater than advantages, and this sends a message across to business managers that sustainable practices are more of a theory rather than actual practices. It should be recognized that sustainable business practices will only make economic sense once majority of organizations, whether for-profit or non-profit, adopts these practices in their functioning. The need of the hour is set precepts in sustainable practices, which is the problem statement of the article. Pagell and Wu (2009) recognize the fact that study of implementation of sustainability in supply chain practices is far more important than cost-benefit analysis of these practices. Prior to stating the problem statement, Pagell and Wu (2009) declares that implementation of sustainbility is no longer a choice, therefore, it is far more important to study contemporary practices in supply chain. Interestingly, even when there is widespread acceptance of the fact that it is time to act, there is no coherent set of practices available to serve as benchmarks. It is noticeable that problem statement has two prominent themes: (i) what is the different in sustainable and traditional practices? and (ii) are there common themes in these differences?  The problem statement could have also included the component of the relation of business philosophy and values with adoption of sustainable practices for the ten organizations which are part of the study. One major question within management circles is to know which organizations are more likely to exhibit leadership in the area of adoption of sustainable practices. There is a strong possibility that the vision and values of an organization relates to this trait. The research problem could have confirmed this hypothesis very easily.
Literature Review The two authors have built up on previous researches done in the area of supply chain management and sustainablitly, as much as it was possible. Majority of work by previous researchers had focused on examining the societal and environment outcomes of sustainable practices, rather than finding common themes in the practices. The question posed by the Pagell and Wu (2009)  is to find out what is different about exemplar organizations, which is rather a different dimension to the topic. One positive aspect of literature review analysis in the paper is that researches related to both the concepts of supply chain practices and integration of these practice with sustainability are addressed. This makes it quite lenghty, yet comprehensive literature review. At some point during the literature analysis, the authors have rather mocked the view of researchers that sustainability efforts should be adopted without giving consideration to profitability. They have rightly pointed out that the term sustainability implies that the efforts should be continued in the long-run, which is only possible when firms are profitable to continue with their efforts to make their supply chain aligned with environmental factors. Some of the researches include in literature analysis are as old as the year 1994. The information provided by these researches is significantly outdated and superfluous. Literature review is quite comprehensiv in itself, therefore, Pagell and Wu (2009) would have been better off by not making these researches part of the literature review. For instance, the contribution from article by Shrivastava which was carried out in the year 1994, merely points out the importance of sustainability. Importance of sustainable practices have long been established in business texts, so it only put redundant information within the literature review. Similarly, Klassen and Whybark narrates importance of the mentality of top management in sustainability initiatives, which has become a cliché and common sense knowledge within management circles. Nevertheless, the positive aspect of literature review is the fact that measurement and design are separated in the literature review. Overall, the literature review is quite lenghtly because it has included information which does not need to be mentioned in this day and age. Nevertheless, the literature review has, at least,   
Research Design Semi-structured interviews are utilized as the source of data collection for primary research. This form of qualitative research is rather appropriate for process-finding researches, where detailed information about a process is required rather than finding the facts (Seidman, 2006). Semi-structured interviews are also beneficial because they include an element of arrangement in the thought of the interviewer and provide a direction for the discussion to continue. Also, by not being completely structured, such forms of research design brings to light very rich information related to the problem area of the study. The only drawback of this research design is the need for considerable resources for analysis of detailed information. Factual information can be readily processed through spreadsheet programs, however, interveiw data is analyzed through length process of transcription of each interview and then bringing out common themes from the discussions (Munhall and Chenail, 2008).
Two of the interviews were conducted via phone, which is a rather poor source of information. Telephone interviews merely conveys words, however, proper analysis of these words require decoding of bodily gestures and voice tones. This information is lost through this impersonal form of communication (Lindloff and Taylor, 2011).
The most commendable part of research design is triangulation of data collection through observatory research. This was achieved through supplementing interviews by taking a tour of the production facility to verify the information received durin the course of interview and data collection. Triangulation of data is also achieved through informally interviewing workers at the factory floor during the course of the tour. The usefulness of this measure that reliability is built within research by internal verification of information through research design.  It is impressive that none of the interviews were shorter than sixty minutes and some even lasted longer than ninety minutes. This depicts the depth on information collected during the interview process. The information collected in the interview process is definitely detailed. Rigor of data collection is also depicted from the fact that if some piece of information is found to be missing during the phase of transcription, these were noted to be asked later.
Sampling Plan the sampling plan can be termed as quite objective and set on a rigourour criteria. In majority of situations, when research design comprises of interviewing with busy executives, then researchers resort to a convenience sampling. However, Pagell and Wu (2009) seem determined to shortlist only those organization which are the closest match in terms of application of sustainability efforts in their business functioning. This rigor is depicted by the fact that first a list of ten organizations was created after thoroughly searching newspapers and business press for organizations which meet the criteria of being leader in implementation of sustainability efforts in supply chain function. The researchers went to the length of attending presentations at sustainability conferences to short-list participants of the study. It is carefully designed in the research plan to have representation of at least two multinations and also to have representation of firms from diverse industries. The net outcome is that the research respresents points of view of firms from construction and electronics industries to printing and fast food industries. It should be recognized that the sampling plan makes the research highly useful in contemporary business environment because its findings are useful for a highly wide range of companies. A diverse sample plan is also important because in the area of supply chain, firms tend to learn from different industries and no single firm or industry is recognized as having leadership in every aspect of supply chain. Inclusion of firms from different industries complements the dicussion through inclusion of a wide range of firms.
Data Analysis There is one major drawback of qualitative researches. It is a possibility that the bias of interviewers or, more importantly, data analyzer is included in the findings and conclusion of the study (Seidman, 2006). Qualiative reseach leaves considerable room during data analysis phase to interpret data in accordance with preconceived ideas of the research team. This threat to validity and reliability of research is takan care of by Pagell and Wu (2009). The research design consists of data coding as a part of qualitative data analysis. In addition, the coding step is also iterative to bring rigor in the research process.
One possible aspect of data analysis techniques adopted in the article is wasteful of resources in coding data twice. The second step in the coding process does improve validity and reliability but the benefit is comparatively small compared to the effort needed for the second round of data coding. The first step of data coding for categorization and pattern matching is highly usefulness.
Authors main point in the analysis is that qualities of innovation are linked to inculcation of sustainability within supply chain of contemporary organizations. For this reason, the characterstic of an organization of being an innovative solutions finder also increase its suitability to implement sustainability in its supply chain. The second important point of the researchers is against the generally held myth of TQM being linked to sustainability efforts.  The underlying assumptions and biases of the authors are not apparent from any point in the article, which is a positive aspect for its depicts objectivity during the process of the research. Also, all questions raised during the phase of problem definition are answered by the research. Most importantly, logical arguments are followed in deriving findings of the research. I also agree with the reasoning followed by the authors in forming conclusions of the research. The critical review of the article authored by authored by Mark Pagell of York University and Zhaohui Wu of Oregon University is carried out. The title of the article ‘Building a more complete theory of sustainable supply chain management using case studies of 10 exemplars’ is appropriately chosen to depict the problem area discussed in the paper. Overall, there are more positive aspects of research articles than the negative ones. Review of the article revealed that the text is well-organized and easy to read for the intended audience of the research paper, which is management theorists and business managers. This is because usefulness of sustainable practices have long been established in business texts and there was no need to include them in literature review. Very appropriate use of semi-structured interviews for data collection design in accordance with the topic and context of the study. Triangulation is also a part of the research design through observational and informal interviewing techniques. The list of positive also include use of data coding as a part of qualitative data analysis.
The only negative aspect of the article was inclusion of obsolete articles in literature review analysis. The contribution from some articles in literature review was superfluous. In conclusion, the article was well written to objectively deal with a contemporary issue of high importance. 


Lindloff, T. and Taylor, B. (2011) Qualitative Communication Research Methods, California: Sage Publications.
Munhall, P. and Chenail, R. (2008) Qualitative research proposals and reports: a guide, London: Jones and Bartlett.
Pagell, M. and Wu, Z. (2009) 'Building a more complete theory of sustainable supply chain management using case studies of 10 exemplers', Journal of Supply Chain Management, vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 37-57.
Seidman, I. (2006) Interviewing as qualitative research: a guide for researchers, New York: Teachers' College Press.

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