Power and Diffusion of Sustainability in Supply Networks: Findings from Four In-Depth Case Studies

  • Osama A. Meqdadi
  • Thomas E. Johnsen
  • Rhona E. Johnsen
Original Paper


This paper investigates how coercive and non-coercive power impacts on the successful diffusion of sustainability within supply networks. The paper reports on four in-depth case studies of the development of sustainability initiatives, each case based on data collection from focal companies and suppliers. The four case studies are based on 38 semi-structured interviews in total and supported by secondary data. The case studies indicate that both coercive and non-coercive power impact suppliers’ engagement in sustainability initiatives and its wider diffusion in supply networks. However, where the use of coercive power facilitates diffusion to immediate suppliers, the use of non-coercive (reward and expert) power leads to sustainability diffusion beyond the dyadic level into wider supply networks. The study provides rich insights into understanding sustainability diffusion in supply networks and the perceptions of multiple supply network actors on the role of different types of power on the diffusion process. We elaborate existing theory and formulate propositions to guide future research into the role and coexistence of different types of power in diffusing sustainability in supply networks.


Diffusion Power Supply network Sustainability 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


  1. Amaeshi, K. M., Osuji, O. K., & Nnodim, P. (2008). Corporate social responsibility in supply chains of global brands: A boundaryless responsibility? Clarifications, exceptions and implications. Journal of Business Ethics, 81(1), 223–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Benton, W. C., & Maloni, M. (2005). The influence of power driven buyer/seller relationships on supply chain satisfaction. Journal of Operations Management, 23, 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boons, F., Baumann, H., & Hall, J. (2012). Conceptualizing sustainable development and global chains. Ecological Economics, 83, 134–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Boyd, D. E., Spekman, R. E., Kamauff, J. W., & Werhane, P. (2007). Corporate social responsibility in global supply chains: A procedural justice perspective. Long Range Planning, 40(3), 341–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carter, C. R., & Rogers, D. S. (2008). A framework of sustainable supply chain management: Moving toward new theory. International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, 38(5), 360–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carter, C. R., Rogers, D. S., & Choi, T. Y. (2015). Toward the theory of the supply chain. Journal of Supply Chain Management, 51(2), 89–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Choi, T. Y., Dooley, K., & Rungtusanatham, M. (2001). Supply networks and complex adaptive systems: Control versus emergence. Journal of Operations Management, 19(3), 351–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cox, A. (2001). Understanding buyer and supplier power: A framework for procurement and supply competence. Journal of Supply Chain Management, 37(2), 8–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cox, A. (2004). The art of the possible: Relationship management in power regimes and supply chains. Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, 9(5), 346–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dahl, R. A. (1961). Who governs? Democracy and power in an American city. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Delmas, M. A. (2002). The diffusion of environmental management standards in Europe and in the United States: An institutional perspective. Policy Sciences, 35, 91–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. DiMaggio, P. J., & Powell, W. W. (1983). The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields. American Sociological Review, 48, 147–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dubois, A., & Gadde, L.-E. (2002). Systematic combining: An abductive approach to case research. Journal of Business Research, 55, 553–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dwyer, F. R. (1980). Channel-member satisfaction: Laboratory insights. Journal of Retailing, 56, 45–65.Google Scholar
  15. Eisenhardt, K. (1989). Building theories from case study research. Academy of Management Review, 14(4), 532–550.Google Scholar
  16. Eisenhardt, K., & Graebner, M. (2007). Theory building from cases: Opportunities and challenges. Academy of Management Journal, 50(1), 25–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Emerson, R. M. (1962). Power-dependence relations. American Sociological Review, 27(1), 31–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Etgar, M. (1978). Selection of an effective channel control mix. Journal of Marketing, 42, 53–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fadeeva, Z. (2004). Promise of sustainability collaboration—Potential fulfilled? Journal of Cleaner Production, 13, 165–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ford, D., Gadde, L.-E., Håkansson, H., & Snehota, I. (2003). Managing business relationships. London: Wiley.Google Scholar
  21. Frazier, G. L., & Rody, R. C. (1991). The use of influence strategies in interfirm relationships in industrial product channels. Journal of Marketing, 55, 52–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Frazier, G. L., & Summers, J. O. (1986). Perceptions of interfirm power and its use within a franchise channel of distribution. Journal of Marketing Research, 23, 169–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Freeman, R. (1984). Strategic management—A stakeholder approach. London: Pitman.Google Scholar
  24. French, J. R. P., Jr., & Raven, B. (1959). The bases of social power. In D. Cartwright (Ed.), Studies of social power (pp. 150–167). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research.Google Scholar
  25. Gadde, L.-E., & Håkansson, H. (2001). Supply network strategies. London: Wiley.Google Scholar
  26. Green, K., Morton, B., & New, S. (1998). Green purchasing and supply policies: Do they improve companies’ Environmental performance? Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, 3(2), 89–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Grimm, J. H., Hofstetter, J. S., & Sarkis, J. (2014). Critical factors for sub-supplier management: A sustainable food supply chains perspective. International Journal of Production Economics, 152, 159–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Håkansson, H. (1982). International marketing and purchasing of industrial goods: An interaction approach. London: Wiley.Google Scholar
  29. Håkansson, H., & Ford, D. (2002). How should companies interact in business networks? Journal of Business Research, 55, 133–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Håkansson, H., & Snehota, I. (1995). Developing relationships in business networks. London: International Thomson Business Press.Google Scholar
  31. Halinen, A., Salmi, A., & Havila, V. (1999). From dyadic change to changing business networks: An analytical framework. Journal of Management Studies, 36(6), 779–794.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hall, J. (2000). Environmental supply chain dynamics. Journal of Cleaner Production, 8, 455–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Harland, C. M. (1996). Supply chain management: Relationships, chains and networks. British Journal of Management, 7, 63–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Harrison, D., & Easton, G. (2002). Patterns of actor response to environmental change. Journal of Business Research, 55, 545–552.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hausman, A., & Johnston, W. J. (2010). The impact of coercive and non-coercive forms of influence on trust, commitment and compliance in supply chains. Industrial Marketing Management, 39(3), 519–526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Havila, V., & Salmi, A. (2000). Diffusion of change in business networks: An empirical study of mergers and acquisitions in the graphic industry. Journal of Strategic Marketing, 8, 105–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hertz, S. (1998). Domino effects in international networks. Journal of Business-to-Business Marketing, 5(3), 3–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hoejmose, S. U., Grosvold, J., & Millington, A. (2014). The effect of institutional pressure on cooperative and coercive ‘green’ supply chain practices. Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management, 20, 215–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hopkinson, G. C., & Blois, K. (2014). Power-base research in marketing channels: A narrative review. International Journal of Management Reviews, 16, 131–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hunt, S. D., & Nevin, J. R. (1974). Power in a channel of distribution: Sources and consequences. Journal of Marketing Research, XI, 186–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ireland, R. D., & Webb, J. W. (2007). A multi-theoretic perspective on trust and power in strategic supply chains. Journal of Operations Management, 25, 482–497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Jain, M., Khalil, S., Johnston, W. J., & Cheng, J. M.-S. (2014). The performance implications of power–trust relationship: The moderating role of commitment in the supplier–retailer relationship. Industrial Marketing Management, 43, 312–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Järvensivu, T., & Törnroos, J.-A. (2010). Case study research with moderate constructionism: Conceptualization and practical illustration. Industrial Marketing Management, 39, 100–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Johnsen, T. E., Miemczyk, J., & Howard, M. (2016). A systematic literature review of sustainable purchasing and supply research: Theoretical perspectives and opportunities for IMP-based research. Industrial Marketing Management, 61, 130–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Jones, T. M., Felps, W., & Bigley, G. A. (2007). Ethical theory and stakeholder-related decisions: The role of stakeholder culture. Academy of Management Review, 32(1), 137–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Ketokivi, M., & Choi, T. (2014). Renaissance of case research as a scientific method. Journal of Operations Management, 32(5), 232–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Krause, D. R., Vachon, S., & Klassen, R. D. (2009). Special topic forum on sustainable supply chain Management: Introduction and reflections on the role of purchasing management. Journal of Supply Chain Management, 45(4), 18–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lacoste, S., & Blois, K. (2015). Suppliers’ power relationships with industrial key customers. Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 30(5), 562–571.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Leek, S. (2012). Comments on applying a network level in environmental impact assessments. Journal of Business Research, 65, 256–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Maloni, M., & Benton, W. C. (2000). Power influences in the supply chain. Journal of Business Logistics, 21(1), 49–73.Google Scholar
  51. Meehan, J., & Wright, G. H. (2012). The origins of power in buyer–seller relationships. Industrial Marketing Management, 41, 669–679.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Meqdadi, O., Johnsen, T. E., & Johnsen, R. E. (2017). The role of power and trust in spreading sustainability initiatives across supply networks: A case study in the bio-chemical industry. Industrial Marketing Management, 62, 61–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Miemczyk, J., Johnsen, T. E., & Macquet, M. (2012). Sustainable purchasing and supply management: A review of definitions and measures at the dyad, chain and network levels of analysis. Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, 17(5), 478–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  55. Molm, L. D. (1997). Risk and power use: Constraints on the use of coercion in exchange. American Sociological Review, 62(1), 113–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Nyaga, G. N., Lynch, D. F., Marshall, D., & Ambrose, E. (2013). Power asymmetry, adaptation and collaboration in dyadic relationships involving a powerful partner. Journal of Supply Chain Management, 49(3), 42–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Nyaga, G. N., Whipple, J. M., & Lynch, D. F. (2010). Examining supply chain relationships: Do buyer and supplier perspectives on collaborative relationships differ? Journal of Operations Management, 28, 101–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Öberg, C., Huge-Brodin, M., & Björklund, M. (2012). Applying a network level in environmental impact assessments. Journal of Business Research, 65(2), 247–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Pagell, M., & Wu, Z. (2009). Building a more complete theory of sustainable supply chain management using case studies of 10 exemplars. Journal of Supply Chain Management, 45(2), 37–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Pagell, M., Wu, Z., & Wasserman, M. E. (2010). Thinking differently about purchasing portfolios: An assessment of sustainable sourcing. Journal of Supply Chain Management, 46(1), 57–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Payan, J. M., & Nevin, J. R. (2006). Influence strategy efficacy in supplier–distributor relationships. Journal of Business Research, 59, 457–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Pullman, M. E., Maloni, M. J., & Carter, C. R. (2009). Food for thought: Social versus environmental sustainability practices and performance outcomes. Journal of Supply Chain Management, 45(4), 38–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Raven, B. H. (2008). The bases of power and the power/interaction model of interpersonal influence. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 8(1), 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Reuter, C., Foerstl, K., Hartmann, E., & Blome, C. (2010). Sustainable global supplier management: The Role of dynamic capabilities in achieving competitive advantage. Journal of Supply Chain Management, 46(2), 45–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  66. Seuring, S., & Müller, M. (2008). From a literature review to a conceptual framework for sustainable supply chain management. Journal of Cleaner Production, 16, 1699–1710.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Spence, L., & Bourlakis, M. (2009). The evolution from corporate social responsibility to supply chain responsibility: The case of Waitrose. Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, 14(4), 291–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Stuart, I., McCutcheon, D., Handfield, R., McLachlin, R., & Samson, D. (2002). Effective case research in operations management: A process perspective. Journal of Operations Management, 20(5), 419–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Tate, W. L., Ellram, L. M., & Gölgeci, I. (2013). Diffusion of environmental business practices: A network approach. Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management, 19, 264–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Touboulic, A., Chicksand, D., & Walker, H. L. (2014). Managing imbalanced triadic buyer–supplier–supplier relationships for sustainability: A power perspective. Decision Sciences, 45(4), 577–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Touboulic, A., & Walker, H. L. (2015). Love me, love me not: A nuanced view on collaboration in sustainable supply chains. Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management, 21, 78–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Vaaland, T. I., & Håkansson, H. (2003). Exploring interorganizational conflict in complex projects. Industrial Marketing Management, 32(2), 127–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Vachon, S., & Klassen, R. (2006). Extending green practices across the supply chain—The impact of upstream and downstream integration. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 26(7), 795–821.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Voss, C., Tsikriktsis, N., & Frohlich, M. (2002). Case research in operations management. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 22(2), 195–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Walker, H. L., & Preuss, L. (2008). Fostering sustainability through sourcing from small businesses: Public sector perspectives. Journal of Cleaner Production, 16, 1600–1609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Wernerfelt, B. (1984). A resource-based view of the firm. Strategic Management Journal, 5, 171–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Wilhelm, M. M., Blome, C., Bhakoo, V., & Paulraj, A. (2016). Sustainability in multi-tier supply chains: Understanding the double agency role of the first-tier supplier. Journal of Operations Management, 41, 42–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Wilkinson, I. F. (1979). Power and satisfaction in channels of distribution. Journal of Retailing, 55, 79–94.Google Scholar
  79. Wycherley, I. (1999). Greening supply chains: The case of the body shop international. Business Strategy and the Ethics, 8, 120–127.Google Scholar
  80. Zhao, X., Huo, B., Flynn, B., & Yeung, J. (2008). The impact of power and relationship commitment on the integration between manufacturers and customers in a supply chain. Journal of Operations Management, 26(3), 368–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Osama A. Meqdadi
    • 1
  • Thomas E. Johnsen
    • 2
  • Rhona E. Johnsen
    • 3
  1. 1.ESC-Rennes School of BusinessRennesFrance
  2. 2.Gianluca Spina Chair of Supply Chain ManagementSchool of Management, Politecnico di MilanoMilanItaly
  3. 3.Business and SocietyAudencia Nantes School of ManagementNantesFrance

Personalised recommendations