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Extensive Literature Review to Investigate the
Dimensions of Business Sustainability
Vincenzo Della Selva
Matteo Mario Savino
University of Sannio
Volume 22, Number 3
September 2016, pp. 273-302
The attainment of business and production targets without sacrificing future
generation needs is a critical and highly debated research area at present
time. Numerous studies were conducted on sustainability under different
perspectives. This study is focused towards a critical overview of past and
present works on sustainability to define the possible future trends in this field.
Le extensive literature review allowed to find out the potential research gaps
in business sustainability, highlighting some potential grey areas less explored
or even not studied yet. Based on this critical review, the key drivers of
sustainability have been sorted out and structured trough a new concept of
sustainability wheel. This work, through a structured literature analysis, is
able to propose a new way to link the sustainability drivers, as well as some
potential dimensions and factors which can affect sustainability.
Keywords: Sustainability, Management Systems, Dimensions, Triple Bottom
Line, Sustainability Drivers
Business sustainability is a hot topic at present time. Globally researchers and
business organizations are discussing about this topic. It is widely recognised that
resources are limited and their optimization is important, while extraction of
resources and economic benefits need to take care about environmental and social
needs. Conducting business activities in a better way (economic well-being) could be
attained without destroying social and environment well-being. This is why
sustainability is a current issue of research and discussions. Moreover sustainability
is linked to number of fields such as raw material, products manufacturing,
distribution, packaging, marketing, consumption, logistics, recycling renewable
resources, energy and etc. Sustainability is a wide-ranging field which explains the
importance of quality of life and let us to understand how its three dimensions are
interlinked to each other. There are interrelated links existing among dimensions of
sustainability and each dimension is equally important. Sustainability discusses
about the well-being of humans, environmental factors and economical scenarios.
Time and industrial evolutions have led organizations to consider many important
factors like environmental well-being, safety, social considerations, economic well-
being of communities and future generation‘s needs. Awareness of ecological
hazards has led companies work in an environmental friendly way by acquiring such
equipment‘s, policies and procedures. Moreover, well-being of society is also the
274 International J. of Opers. and Quant. Managemen
most discussed area in order to takeover upcoming challenges and to obtain
economic benefits in sustainable form.
The concept of sustainability was defined by United Nation in 80‘s. Brundthland
and other authors also defined sustainability as the ―meeting of firm‘s direct and
indirect stakeholders, employees, clients, pressure groups, communities‘ needs
without compromising its ability to meet the need of future stakeholders as well‖
(Dyllick & Hokerts 2002). In 1987, World Council for Economic Development
(WCED, 1987) defined sustainability as “meeting of current needs without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. Thus, to meet
industrial developmental sustainability, the three areas (social, economic and
environmental) should be watched carefully.
Corporations which are leading organizations and their employees are struggling
hard to have sustainability in their organizations, recognizing its importance
(Dunphy et al., 2003; Fergus and Rowney, 2005). For this reason, social sector is
gaining importance for companies to contribute in sustainability (Holliday et al.,
2002). Moreover companies are working hard to interlink specialized recourses with
the environment to maintain long-term capability (Reinhardt, 2000).
Sustainability is becoming a challenge because of gaining more importance day by
day and also because it is a multi-dimensional topic (Langer and Schon, 2003). In
addition business organisations also have realised that just running business in
successful manner is not important, while it is more important to sustain the success
of business without sacrificing future for present gains (Gunasekaran and Spalanzani,
Sustainability is also known as the triple bottom line, which describes a process
through which organization fulfils or obtains its obligations, opportunities and risks
from environmental, social and economic areas.
The triple bottom line explains the management of planet, people and money. It
consists of: i) environment (planet), ii) people (i.e. social) and iii) profit (i.e.
economical or financial). Business sustainability is also closely linked to the
elements which come under the umbrella of corporate governance (CG). The areas
linked to both sustainability and corporate governance are: Corporate Social
Responsibility (CSR), voluntary focuses, social, economic and environmental factors
(Ahi and Searcy, 2013). CSR and sustainability are considered to be used as
synonym to each other in corporate perspective (Van Marrewijk, 2003). Therefore,
the reason for considering corporate sustainability and CSR similar, is because they
have common points and common key factors.
In the corporate context, sustainability focuses on triple bottom line and
acknowledges the long term objectives of firm and needs of its key stakeholders (Ahi
and Searcy, 2013). Companies need to formulate long-term goals and short-term
goals to attain the objectives of a sustainable organization. Stakeholder‘s
representatives present in board of directors can influence management to
concentrate on long and short term goals for obtaining sustainability. Integration of
management and its system with sustainability will also help to obtain sustainable
business. Long-term goals need more attention of key stakeholders, however it is
also required that stakeholders push the management to have an integrated view on
sustainability (Dahlsrud, 2008).
Objective of this paper is to find out research works and discussions relating to
sustainability and its main aspects. In addition, this paper is organised to link and
Nawaz, Della Selva, Savino 275
categorise the aspects and dimensions of corporation‘s sustainability. Moreover, it
also aims to find out the factors which are being reported by different researchers
and their impacts on corporations and how sustainability attainment is considered
important. Then, the study proposes the possible dimensions of business
sustainability and their key drivers.
1.1 Research Questions
Based on the literature in the field of business sustainability, it is found that there are
some discrepancies in the searched area which need more work to be done to
overcome limitations. In addition the managerial aspects have versatile dimensions
but literature is limited as per its wideness. This field is really wide and need a lot to
be explored and analysed. To this aim, the following research questions are
RQ1: What is the view of Researchers in the Field of Business Sustainability?
The aim of this research question is to review the literature in the field of
sustainability and to find out what and how much has been done till now.
RQ2: How Many Research Areas are Covered in Previous Researches and what
are Gaps in Covered Research Areas?
This research question aims to understand how many areas are discussed in previous
works. The objective is to find out the factors which are being reported by different
researchers and to highlight the areas which are not yet discussed in the context of
RQ3: What are the Internal and External Key Drivers of Sustainability?
This question will enable us to find out the potential drivers of sustainability which
influence it internally and externally. This means that there are some internal drivers
which push organization to promote sustainability activities. Similarly there are some
factors which are external forces, and let organization to adopt sustainability
RQ4: Which could be the Potential Dimension of Sustainability and how these
are Covered in Previous Researches?
This question will enable us to find out potential dimensions and also propose some
new factors which can strongly affects the sustainability. Furthermore we want to
find out how many researches has been conducted on these potential dimensions.
2. Research Methodology
There are number of reasons for conducting literature review such as extraction of
information, development of conceptual framework, developing policies and so on.
Literature review could be narrative or systematic. In this paper we follow the
narrative approach. In many articles, books, proposals, thesis, etc., the literature
review is on a specific topic and it enables the reader to understand the topic by
bridging the gap between scattered articles. Moreover it also provides theoretical
support, suggestions and justification of other researchers. Fink (1998) defined a
literature review as ‗‗a systematic, explicit, and reproducible design for identifying,
evaluating, and interpreting the existing body of recorded documents‘‘. Moreover,
276 International J. of Opers. and Quant. Managemen
the objective of literature is also to summarize and to identify guidelines of existing
researches, and to develop theory and conceptual contents (Harland 2006; Meredith,
Figure 1 is showing the used methodology. In the first step we selected research
papers. In the second step we divided all papers in to different categories according
to the research fields. In the third step we analysed and extracted information; then in
the fourth step we finalize the outcomes. From the fourth step we categorized and
divided information in to two types i) gaps identification and ii) proposing new
dimensions. Finally we came out with future directions for research.
Figure 1 Research Work Flow
Figure 2 Number of Published and Indexed Publications
Figure 2 shows the works indexed in Scopus and published in Science Direct
starting from 1999 to date. We have analysed the statistics of two research databases
to get an overview on how many researches were published in the past on this topic.
Identification of research
Proposing possible new
Dividing research papers and
Analysing research papers
Exploration of information
Selection of Literature
Nawaz, Della Selva, Savino 277
By looking the line graphs of both databases we find the high increase of the interest
on sustainability in those years.
Figure 3 shows the growth of the papers dealing with sustainability indexed in
Scopus and published in Science direct. In the context of this review, initially around
200 papers were analysed. The bar chart shows number of publications reviewed for
each category. There are some issues, such as time, having less publications. In
contrast, there are some factors showing higher numbers of papers, such as direct and
indirect factors. In this work, all drivers were pointed out to be considered, but not
explained in details.
Figure 3 Fields of the Publications Reviewed
3. Literature Analysis
Managers and Academics are trying to find out the way to ensure the sustainable
growth of business. Sustainability is defined by many researchers, and in different
dimensions. Sustainability is a vague terminology in nature, thus it is discussed in
number of ways. Researchers have defined it differently, so it becomes an hard task
when organisations want to overcome the issue of sustainability in practice.
Consequently, many debates are in progress to cover these contexts. For the best
business practices and their sustainability, it is important to attain integration of
systems and industrial collaboration. Furthermore, business sustainability is a step-
by-step regulation by developing and enabling the principles of sustainability
through a proper management system (Azapagic, 2003).
Schrettle, et al., (2014) demonstrated the reasons why firms are engaging in
sustainable activities. In addition, decisions of sustainability are motivated and
progress to adopt new technologies, integration in management system which
changes and past performances.
The sustainability activities are conducted on the basis of past performances. If
these performances did not meet the objectives, than management will need to take
such initiatives to change the strategy to maintain companies grow in a sustainable
way (Ferrier's., 2001). Few researches reported that there are some companies which
consider the strategies relating to sustainability and try to concentrate more on them.
Yet, some researchers focused on other issues than strategies (Mintzberg etal., 1976;
9 12 12
27 26 29
Environment Social Economic
Corporate Governance CSR Supply chain
Drivers Indirect factors Behavior
Culture Time corporate sustainability
278 International J. of Opers. and Quant. Managemen
Eisenhardt and Zbaracki, 1992). The strategic process exists in decision making for
provisions of source commitment and significant actions (Mintzberg etal., 1976).
Top management takes critical decisions to maintain sustainability and its objectives
(Eisenhardt and Zbaracki, 1992). Moreover, sustainability activities enhance
coordination, quality optimization of organizational work in relation to supply chain
management and leadership in organization (De Brito et a., 2008).
Business activities and practices are changing day by day and this change in business
practices lead to change the way of conducting business. Business practices
transformation is directed towards industrialization. Moreover, the consumption
patterns also changed, the rapid increase in utilization of various resources led
organization to obtain economies of scales. This trend also resulted into more
consumption of raw material and energy resources. Consequently, these trends
become the key drivers for environmental change. Thus, it resulted in adverse
consequences to society and environment. For addressing such issues, organisations
are working and are trying to develop and apply such procedures, policies and
system to incorporate the issues relating to environmental, social and economic
(Crane,2000; Dunphy et al.,2007; Linnenluecke and Griffiths, 2010). Presently, the
debate on these issues is growing and many researchers are working on
sustainability. It is also found that this problem is entrenched by the unsustainable
growth of business and industries (Hahn and Scheermesser, 2006). Due to the
complexity of sustainability issues, it has been misunderstood in some cases.
Moreover this misunderstanding is creating deficiency of completeness (Lozano,
2008). Many authors have overlooked the social issues because of being more
inclined towards the environmental issues (Salzmann et al. 2003; Costaza, 1991;
Rees, 2002). Sustainability is considered as the alternative paradigm to social and
economic ideas. Sustainability is a holistic and complicated approach to understand
because of its dimensions which are equally important and interlinked.
The mostly used concepts are mainly categorised into three dimensions i)
Economic, ii) Social, and iii) Environmental (Sharfman and Fernando, 2008).
Elkington, (1994) also discussed about three main pillars of sustainability economic,
environmental and social which effect the growth of business.
3.1.1 Economical Dimension
The primary objective of companies is to increase the wealth of shareholders. So to
increase the economic well-being, companies try to engage sustainability activities.
Companies need sustainability in service, operations and manufacturing to fulfil their
present and future needs to capture the market and to remain in markets (Quintal et
al., 2011). The impact on economic development of environmental possibilities
stands on theory of performance frontier (Schmenner and Swink, 1998). For
sustainable business development, manufacturing plants concentrate on pillars of
comparative capabilities and dimension of sustainability. Moreover firm‘s
profitability is reduced by high risk in the management of the environment
(Sharfman and Fernando, 2008).
Past authors demonstrated the positive relationship between management
entrenchments, social performance, corporate social responsibility expenditures and
firms risk (Preston and O‘Bannon, 1997). The sufficient cash flows for maintain the
Nawaz, Della Selva, Savino 279
liquidity level in an organization and generating returns in long-run, are considered
economical diminution of sustainability (Steurer and Konrad, 2009; Vachon and
Oikonomou et al. (2012) argued systematic risk of companies, and social
environmental concerns are positively related in Standard & Poor‘s firms (Salama et
al., 2011). These authors demonstrated also the negative relation among social and
environmental dimensions of systematic risk in S&P 500 firms.
The primary objective of business is to earn profit and to maximize the wealth of
shareholder. Different researchers have explained the economical dimension and its
relationship with social and environmental pillars. After analysing research papers on
sustainability, it was found that all papers were discussing the economic term in
relation to social and environment, but no one comes up with strong and convincing
arguments. All papers discuss about the importance of triple bottom line in general,
without providing strong argument that can let consider the importance of
sustainability as more beneficial activity under economical perspective. If
researchers are not explaining importance of adoptability of sustainability and its
practical applications, than sustainability will remain more in theories than practices.
For this reason, researchers need to provide valid and strong grounds for business
entities, so they can get thirst of acquiring such means to adopt sustainability.
Business organizations need to understand how they can practically adopt triple
bottom line. Some affecting factors or catalyst agents are required to highlight the
importance of sustainability with reference to economic benefits. Moreover it is also
required to provide some guidelines to business about how to improve business and
how to obtain sustainability.
In general, it is difficult for business organizations to formulate some strategies to
adopt sustainability as vital ingredient of success. So, it is important for researcher to
identify some practical facts that could be implemented, revised and updated as per
requirement of time, industry and other factors affecting business.
3.1.2 Environmental Dimension
Healthy environment means to have a better and healthy life. To maintain
environment in better condition is important to act or conduct business in an
environmental-friendly way. To keep organizations to follow eco-friendly activities
certain standards are defined by international certification bodies. Hence, the
environmental standards ISO 14001 also influences the organizations to conduct
business in accordance with the rules of international standards.
It was found that, for the organizations that follow ISO 14001 rules, performance
is positively impacted in comparison to other companies (Schoenherr, 2012).
Environmental sustainability explains the practicing and implementing rules of
environmental safety to maintain business in the future, because it will impact on
economical and operational performance. Environmental activities helps emerging
nations to improve performance and reduce costs, performance frontier theory also
state the same phenomena (Schmenner and Swink, 1998).
Resource based view with the initiative of environmental management activities
can lead to valuable recourses and under which possibility these could become useful
(Barney, 1991; Wernerfelt, 1984, Savino et al, 2015). Companies can attain and
enhance competitive advantage and operational performance by investing in
environmental activities (Melnyk et al., 2003; Pagell and Gobeli, 2009; Yang et al.,
280 International J. of Opers. and Quant. Managemen
2010, Savino et al 2007; Savino et al, 2014). Recourse utilization in order to attain
current goals of organization without sacrificing future needs for present (Linton
etal., 2007). Moreover the environmental sustainability is considered to be obtained
by utilization of natural resources that generate optimum output by emitting less
waste material (Vachon and Mao, 2008). Among sustainability pillar, environmental
pillar is acquiring more concentration. In emerging economies the concept of
environment is getting more attention because several researches confirms the
relationship between operational performance and environmental management
(Schoenherr, 2012). Now companies have identified the new domain of business
priorities to be more focused on welfare of future and current generation. Not only
considering the success of business entity but for long term success and
sustainability economic, social and environmental factor are important (Gunasekaran
and Spalanzani, 2011).
Environmental dimensions is the most debated area as a part of sustainability. At
present time, depletion of resources and renewable resources are widely discussed
areas, particularly for energy sector (Savino et al, 2014, Savino, Apolloni, 2007).
Numbers of rules and standards are being followed and used by business. Yet, a lack
was found in integration of these dimensions with economic and social ones. It is
also required to define the importance individually, and also to integrate it with other
dimensions. The main question is: even if environment dimension is the most
discussed area, why it still needs to be defined more? The answer to this question is
that some people consider social and environmental as the same factors. This
highlights the fact that environment is different from social factor and both are
equally important to be disused and considered separately. Moreover it is also found
that there is a lack of research in relation to the integration with other dimensions.
Environmental affects varies industry to industry so there is also need to analyse this
dimension in industrial context.
3.1.3 Social Dimension
Social dimension of sustainability addresses the importance to improve quality of
life. Businesses operating in society, if not working towards social benefits, cannot
gain their goals in long-term. So this dimension is focused by researchers to identify
the importance and benefits earned by organizations. Corporate social activities
impact company positively because they help organisation to create goodwill among
stakeholders and reduce negative impact on cash flows by mitigation of negative
events (Godfrey et al., 2008). Social dimension is attained by improving
organizational activities related to health, preserving skills in creativity activities and
capabilities for future and current resources (McKenzie, 2004). The social dimension
are positively affecting those companies which are listed in S&P500 (Bouslah, et al.,
2013). Boutin-Dufresne and Savaria (2004) and Lee and Faff (2009) found social
dimensional improvement brings change in the performance of organization and
index improves and possess negative relation with operational risk. Moreover,
negative relationship was found between aggregate measures of social performance
(Luo and Bhattacharya, 2009). The proper management of social and environmental
issues impact on companies‘ overall performance and the social performance has
negative relationship with firm‘s risk. Few researches argued that management can
use the wealth of shareholders on the corporate social responsibilities (CSR) which
may benefit their personal gains (Barnea and Rubin, 2010).
Nawaz, Della Selva, Savino 281
Cespa and Cestone (2007) show that social responsibilities can be used by
management as a tool to build up better relationship among stakeholders and
shareholders. As a result, it can reduce the chance of unwanted replacements and
takeovers. When social responsibilities are well performed by corporations, they
result in social performance (Carroll, 1979, 1999; Wood, 1991; Waddock and
Graves, 1997). Furthermore, the CSR is the issues getting more importance day by
day and it is believed that the future success of corporations will rely on it (Lacy et
al., 2010). Impact of social performance on idiosyncratic are also observed by Bauer
et al. (2009). Few researchers tried to find out relation between financial
performance and social performance of firms, but they did not found any consensus
about the improvement or reduction in social performance due to financial
improvement (Margolis and Walsh, 2003; Orlitzky et al., 2003; Mattingly and
Berman, 2006; Baron et al., 2011). Social dimension is equally important as
economic and environment, there are multiple relations of social dimension with
both economic and environmental dimensions but social dimension is not discussed
in its true spirit. Still plenty of work is required to be conducted. In social
dimensions, ethical issues are not highlighted similarly the human element and its
importance towards the business and sustainability is not well defined. Each industry
has its own requirements it is required to be identified in better way so to improve
the social aspect for business.
3.2 Integrated view of Sustainability
Integration among management systems is important for effective and efficient
working of organizations (Savino, Mazza, 2015). Similarly, it is important to define
the integration importance of sustainability pillars. Explaining this factor is
fundamental to answer the question on how these pillars may be essential each for
the other one and why they needs to be together to feed each other for attainment of
sustainability. After reviewing the literature on the sustainability dimensions it was
observed that no clear work was available on the integration importance of these
three dimensions of sustainability. The works available in previous researches were
on individual importance of dimensions. This integrated view of sustainability may
enable us to understand the importance of the fact that each dimension is linked to
each other and helps to improve sustainability of business organizations.
In Figure 4 we propose the sustainability wheel, in which the three dimensions are
interlinked to each other and they work to obtain sustainability goals. After
reviewing the literature on the dimensions of sustainability it is found that these
triple bottom line factors are linked together and influence each other. The objective
of this figure is to show three dimensions of sustainability in the form of
continuously operating in integrated form, where each dimension is interlinked to the
other one. This integrated view of sustainability presented in this paper is quite deep
and vast with multiple integration importance. Thus, it requires deep study for better
understanding. This influence pushes the economic, social and environmental
activities in a circular ways that shows continuous efforts and link among
dimensions. Economic activities are conducted to benefit society and on other hand
these activates can also affect the environment if they are not conducted in eco-
friendly way. Similarly, that destruction of environment or wastage of resources
affects the society both in economic and environmental way. Ultimately, the society
will suffer in long run and short run.
282 International J. of Opers. and Quant. Managemen
Figure 4 The Wheel of Sustainability
3.3 Research Areas Contributing to Sustainability
A number of research fields are discussed by researchers in a number of contexts, in
order to explain the association of business sustainability with other fields. Many
researchers have dealt with sustainability and its relations towards i)social
responsibilities, ii)governance issues, iii)supply chain management. These areas are
analysed in the following sections along with sustainability drivers and
direct/indirect factors of sustainability.
3.3.1 Corporate Governance
Corporate governance is an important field of study. It is a broad area, which defines
the procedures, rules, regulations, processes through which businesses are operated
in better way. This area also has some connections with sustainability dimensions
such as economic, social and environmental. ECB (2004) defines corporate
governance as a ―process and procedures that enables organisation to be controlled
and directed. Its structure defines the distribution of responsibilities and rights
among stakeholders in organisation such as management, board of director’s
shareholders and other stake holders. These all participants analyse the rules and
procedures for decision making for both short and long term”. Jensen and Meckling
(1976), proposed the theory of agency problem which explains the separation of
ownership and control which creates divergence of interest and shareholders are not
capable to control or check these activities of managers. So, shareholders selects
Board of Directors (BD), whereas these directors are responsible for protecting the
interest of shareholders and monitoring the management role and influence them
(Güler and Crowther, 2008). The duties of BD is to look after the organizational
activities, so effective performance of board of directors lead to high level of
performance of company and attainment of business sustainability. The strategies of
corporations are developed under the framework of corporate governance. The
strategies for sustainability to achieve strategic goals of organization and
development also come under the context of corporate governance (Steyn and
Niemann, 2014). Corporate governance is having importance not only in the world
of business, but in all other sectors of economy and in academia as well. Further the
concept of sustainability explains sustainability in corporations and development;
both concepts are equally gaining the importance in area of research and practices.
These both concepts have given innovative way for conceptualization of
Nawaz, Della Selva, Savino 283
responsibilities possessed by organizations (Steyn & De Beer, 2012). Many
researchers also focused on the conceptualization of responsibilities for organizations
and reconstructing the traditional concepts for responsibilities after the experience of
big organizations scandals such as Worldcom, Tyco and Enron (Parmar, Freeman,
Harrison, Wicks, De Colle, & Purnell, 2010). Social functions of organizations are
also explained by researchers regarding the fact that corporate responsibility acts
may go beyond the self-interests of organisations (Heath, 2006). Governance in
corporations and sustainability allows organisations to work in society (Elkington,
Business organisations have to be seen by society as good citizens by practicing
social, environmental responsibilities in order to meet the expectations of
stakeholders, attainment of trustworthiness and reputation of organization (Steyn,
2003, 2007, and 2009; Brammer et al., 2006). Corporate governance is an important
element for strategy formulation. The implementation of the BD can play an active
role in monitoring the strategies. As the BD is elected by shareholders and
stakeholders voting, they can place Directors for sustainable practices or those
elected directors can influence and monitor the management in context of sustainable
practices. An active role of BD can lead organizations to become more ethical and
responsible citizen of society. Moreover sustainability and corporate governance
need to be studied more in relation to improvement of sustainable future and present
3.3.2 Corporate Social Responsibilities
The BD is responsible for the performance of management and by monitoring their
active part in implementation of Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR),
organizations can enhance their CSR, ethical practices and performance (Zahra,
1989; N.Al-Malkawi, Pillai, and Bhattti, 2014). CSR is considered refining of formal
and informal contribution of social, environmental, ethical and governance
conditions of area of operations but remaining careful to cultural, religious and
historical context (Visser et al., 2007). Many researchers have associated
environmental practices with corporate social responsibilities in the area of reversal
logistics (Tsoulfas et al., 2002; Georgiadis and Vlachos, 2003; Presley et al., 2007).
Moreover, environmental analysis is conducted for the betterment and it is concluded
that the improvement in recovery procedure is attained by life cycle analysis in
reversal logistics (Tsoulfas et al., 2002). Presley et al. (2007) mentioned issues and
influences relating to dimensions of sustainability in logistics (Georgiadis and
Vlachos, 2003). Comprehensive framework of supply chain management with CSR
can be developed by organisations of various industries (Malony and Brown, 2006;
Ciliberti et al., 2008). Cespa and Cestone (2007) argued that management can use the
social responsibilities for building better relationship among shareholders and can
reduce the chance of unwanted replacements and takeovers. When social
responsibilities are well performed by corporations they result in social performance
(Carroll, 1979, 1999; Wood, 1991; Waddock and Graves, 1997). The social roles of
enterprises are strategy development, public relations and sustainability attention,
these roles help to achieve the non-financial goals of organizations (Benita and
Lynne 2014). CSR already serves the purpose of wellbeing of society and it can help
to promote this wellbeing in more persistent way.
284 International J. of Opers. and Quant. Managemen
3.3.3 Supply Chain Management
Organisations are also focusing on the life cycle of their decision and supply chain
management (SCM) system. SCM is getting highlighted because it includes the flow
of information and material flow across the multiple functions of the chain (Jain et
al., 2009). Bansal, (2010) considers sustainability as flexibility of organisational
activities by integrating triple bottom line systems. In wider way the sustainability of
business indicates the flexibility of organisation which is connected with social,
economic and environmental to obtain better position to react the shocks which are
of both type external and internal. Supply chain is an important element of the
organization because it takes product from raw material to end-users. For these
reasons it is considered important for the implementation of sustainability and its
development (Ashby et al., 2012). Andic, et.al, (2009) argument that after the
implementation of green demands the profit is a mean but not objective for
organization in order to maintain sustainability. The sustainability achievement
should be long term and continuous process.
Ahi and Searcy (2013) conducted a comparative study to analyse the definitions of
green SCM and sustainable SCM. Table 1 is showing those researches who dealt
with SCM focusing on various features. These researchers have covered the multiple
factors affecting SCM and green SCM in relation to sustainability.
Among the research works reviewed, we found that mostly work is with
environment. Number of researches were conducted; Yet, it is witnessed that social
dimension is not considered sufficiently in research work. Similarly, economic factor
is prime objective of business and it is also less focused. Furthermore, we believe
that it is also required to work more on all three dimensions as combined factor to
attain the results of sustainability. Another gap found, is that the sustainable SCM
need to be defined in better ways as per industry. Each industrial supply chain has its
own requirements and risks. Sustainability towards risks and opportunities need to be
4. Research Gaps
After literature review, it was found that the most part of the research was conducted
in the field of sustainability but still there is plenty of room left which needs more
attention. There are some grey areas which are research gaps some are less focused
and some are even not yet explored.
4.1 Direct and Indirect Factors
Sustainability of organizations and their business is affected by several links. Those
links could be direct and indirect. For the improvement of sustainable business,
competitive advantages play important and direct impact. Moreover, also the triple
bottom line (economic, environmental and social) plays important and direct impact.
The direct factors are already discussed in above section of dimensions of
sustainability. Whereas there are some indirect factors which play key role in
improvement of sustainability in any organizations. These factors are impacting and
strengthen the competitive advantages which will ultimately affect the quality of
sustainability of organizations. Many researches have considered quality, delivery
performance, flexibility and cost as the factor of competitive advantages (Hayes and
Wheelwright, 1984; Kathuria, 2000; Grobler and Grubner, 2006; Miltenburg, 2008;
Vachon et al., 2009). Also innovation, dependability and services were considered as
Nawaz, Della Selva, Savino 285
competitive advantages (Frohlich and Dixon, 2001; Miller and Roth, 1994; Ferdows
and De Meyer, 1990; Noble, 1995). Table 2 is presenting an over view of the
researches discussing the comparative advantages influencing sustainability
4.2 Holistic View of Sustainability Drivers
The sustainability of any corporation could be driven by various factors which lead
organization to attain the sustainability. These driving factors could be internal and
external, which means that these factors can be separated into two categories. The
internal drivers which effects organization from inside and the external drivers that
are outer influencers. Some researchers have mentioned the external drivers are
macro factors such as economic condition, political and governmental reasons,
market expectation, competitors, suppliers, stakeholders and etc. Internal factors are
macro in nature and are existing inside the organization such as quality, productivity,
profitability, risks, ethics, innovation, leadership, resource cost and etc. (Lozano,
2015). Figure 4 shows the driving factors which are affecting sustainability wheel;
the factors inside the wheel of sustainability are those factors which are internal
drivers of sustainability. Moreover, the factors outside the wheel are the external
drivers of sustainability. Inspired by the work of Lozano (2015), the wheel is revised
and shown in Figure 5 (for the references see Appendix I).
Table 1 Research works in SCM
Buyukozkan & Cidci (2012)
Stock and Boyer, (2009)
Parmigiani et al. (2011)
Jorgensen & Knudsen (2006)
Lambert et al., (1998)
Yeh &Chuang (2011)
Andic et al. (2012)
Walters & Lancaster (2000)
Carter and Rogers (2008)
Gibson et al., (2005)
Lummus et al., (2001)
Larson & Rogers (1998)
Sarkis et al. (2011)
Mentzer et al., (2001)
Kim et al. (2011)
286 International J. of Opers. and Quant. Managemen
Table 2 Indirect Factors
Grobler & Grubner, (2006)
Chen & Fong (2012)
Li & Liu in press
Rios-Morales & Brennan (2009)
Tan, Shao, & Li, (2013)
Ganter & Hecker, in press
Hayes et al., (1984)
Frohlich & Dixon, (2001)
Miller & Roth, (1994)
Vachon et al., (2009)
Ferdows & De Meyer, (1990)
Salunke, et al., (2011)
Heracleous & Wirtz, (2009)
Dai & Liu, 2009
4.2.1 Internal Drivers of Sustainability
The internal factors stimulating the corporate sustainability are culture, ethics,
stakeholders, profitability, productivity leadership, quality, cost management,
resources, innovation, internal risks, employees, managerial controls and
environmental protection (Lozano, 2015), economic value, risk management,
business partnerships, economical value improvement, ethics, leadership (Szekely
and Knirsch, 2005; lantors, 2001; Carroll, 1999; Frehs, 2003). All the above drivers
mentioned are also showed in Figure 5. This figure is explaining that these factors
could be considered as driving force for the corporate sustainability wheel.
4.2.2 External Drivers of Sustainability
Corporate sustainability is driven by number of factors which are also disused in
some research papers. These external factors should be considered to get better
outcomes regarding the implementation and formulation of sustainability strategies.
Corporate sustainability is influenced by governmental policies (implementation of
corporate governance codes and adaptation of various international certifications like
ISO 9001, ISO 14001, etc). Similarly, corporate sustainability is driven by various
governmental and social influences. As examples, France listed companies need to
report corporate sustainability, while Japan takes guidance from social administrative
bodies regarding corporate sustainability. In the same way, some social work
organizations also influence companies to get implementation of corporate
sustainability activities and strategies (Macleod & Lewis, 2004; Fukukawa and
Nawaz, Della Selva, Savino 287
Moon, 2004; Frehs, 2003; Zedek 1999). Figure 5 is depicting the external drivers
which could lead companies to obtain sustainability.
Figure 5 Internal and External Key Drivers of Sustainability
4.3 Proposed Dimensions
The most discussed dimensions of sustainability are i) Economic, ii) Social and iii)
Environmental ones. However, while reviewing literature, we detected some
management theories and management cases relating to the failure of strategies, or
overseeing various facts by companies such as child labour in Apple and Samsung
supply chain, Enron collapse, and many more cases let us think over the other
possible sides for incorporating sustainability. It has been observed that there are
certain other factors regarding the dimensions of sustainability. These factors are not
much discussed in context of business sustainability, such as culture, which is an
important part of each organization and society. It formulates the general code of
conduct and defines the acts of employees and humans in organizations. Managing
and running business in smooth and better way lead us to consider that culture as
vital part both in general culture and specific culture. Further culture also defines the
ethical standards of each community by nationality and religion wise, and business
needs to consider it in order to operate successfully. Moreover the behaviour aspect
is an important factor which is not much focused in the context of sustainability.
Existence of human element in any situation of organizations and business make the
behavioural aspect as fundamental. All the strategies are made and implemented by
human beings and their way of act influence the success of organization similarly the
success of strategic implementation. Another factor which was less found in the
sustainability literature is "time". Anyone can identify the importance of time and its
contribution to success of any strategy and business. All advancements and changes
are gradually done with the elapsing of time. Time let organization to gain
experience from all the activities experienced throughout the life of organisations.
Time is great instructor and the transmission of variations in social, economic and
environmental and other business operation could be analysed throughout the time.
288 International J. of Opers. and Quant. Managemen
Figure 6 Proposed Dimension
Figure 6 describes the potential dimensions of sustainability. The bottom is
showing a circle with four triangles, representing the triple bottom line merged with
corporate culture. The circle line surrounding the triangles is showing time, which is
continually effecting organizational strategies. The conic structure is representing
behaviour of management in an organisation. This depicts the presence of human
element and the behavioural effects on strategies. Corporations are complex
identities comprising of number of factors so they could not be studied or understood
in isolation. For instance the human being are operating the system, they affect and
are effected by strategies and changes in the society, environment and competition.
Similarly for embedding sustainability in organisational core it is important to adopt
it as culture to make organizations more successful. Moreover the change and
adaptation process are continues, they don‘t stop at single point of time.
Culture is an important part of any society as well as of organizations. The
organizational culture shapes the behaviour of organizational members and it
influence decision making (Schein, 1985). The influence of culture is not directly on
the organization but it has strong impact. Organizational culture is an ambiguous and
uncertain aspect, it is an important part of decision making. Culture is something
which is embedded inside organizations. Culture of organizations is considered to be
the resource for sustained competitive advantage and is key aspect for effectiveness
of organizations. Culture guides to shape the behaviours through rules and systems in
a formal way of forming culture. In an informal way it targets the norms and values
of employees working in an organization (Bertels et al., 2010). Moreover, the
objective of informal way of culture is shaping behaviours in order to align personal
goals of employees with organizational goals towards sustainability (Bertels et al.,
2010). Weakness in business culture will lead to have less improvement in corporate
environmental sustainability (Klassen, 2000). Furthermore many weakness could be
overcome through culture, the sustainability initiative can be strengthen and
supported by culture. For instance the companies which encourage the employee‘s
involvement in environmental activities has succeeded to decrease the negative
impact of organizations on environment (Ramus and Steger 2000). The integration
among various systems of management and innovations such as total quality
management, corporate social responsibilities and organizational culture should be
integrated throughout all managerial levels (Kleine and Hauff, 2009). It is important
Nawaz, Della Selva, Savino 289
to have integration among environmental management and organizational culture
because it has to do much with environmental and social issues. The development of
organizational culture as a part of corporate sustainability can enable better
integration among management system and sustainability related activities. The
activities relating to organizational culture and sustainability strategies enable
organizations to reduce the risk relating to green washing (Baumgartner, 2009). The
organizational culture plays an important role in the strategic initiatives and
organizational changes. Many studies have identified that the organizational change
initiatives failure is driven because of ignorance about cultural factors. (Cameron,
1997). When culture is integrated with sustainability it becomes more effective and
can meet high expectation of improvement and sustainability (Zheng, 2010).
Figure 7 Relationships among Corporate Culture, Structure, Strategies and their Impact on
Sustainability and Efficiency (Zheng et al., 2010)
Figure 7 is explaining the important feature of any organization which are
considered the main components of company. Moreover it is also depicted how
culture of companies plays an important role and its relation to main characteristics.
Company needs to be efficient in its operations and goals. At present time, it is
important to acquire corporate sustainability in an efficient form. The corporate
structure shows the persistence in the formation and alignment of activities
conducted and the tasks performed (Skivington and Daft, 1991). Moreover the
corporate culture is key factor for sustainability and effectiveness of organizations;
there are four factors mentioned by researchers such as adaptability, mission,
involvement and consistency validating dimensions of the corporate culture (Barney,
1991; Deal and Kennedy, 1982; Fey and Denison, 2003). The degree at which the
organization realize its goals is known as the organizational efficiency (Daft, 1995).
There are some researches who identified the importance of corporate strategies and
its links with various factors (Pedler et al., 1991; Watkins and Marsick, 1996). The
relationship between all corporate culture, strategy, structure and effectiveness was
discussed by (Zheng et al., 2010).
Time is an important part of life of everyone (person or artificial entities such as
business organizations). While designing strategies or frameworks and procedures,
the important factor which is considered is time. The strategies designed today have
to be implemented for several years in future. These strategies have some short term
and long term perspectives. The strategies made today for future also have their past.
290 International J. of Opers. and Quant. Managemen
It means that strategies made to cope up new challenges, learning from past
experiences and trying to cover up the risk exposures which were not covered before
and to fulfil present needs. Not only strategies but all business activities have its past,
present and future. It is important to focus on the series of events instead of single
event because for any activity the time duration plays important. Similarly the
development of various system and models also depend on time when something is
proposed or implemented, it take time to be developed. For instance various
coordination mechanisms could be effected during time which is also considered as
the dynamics of efficiency (Nooteboom, 1992; Lozano, 2008). Business
sustainability is also affected by the time dimension because it impacts the business
both in long and short term. Similarly each act in business such as transaction cost
has its past and impact in future. Theory relating to economy takes transaction cost
as static, neglecting the idea that time dimension has inter-organisational links
because of past and future of transaction (Rindfleisch Heide, 1997). Similarly the
transactions conducted today will impact future; this cycle will not stops only at the
time of execution of transaction. Ferrier's. (2001) sustainability activities are
dependent on the companies past performances, companies make amendments in
their sustainable strategies according to the past performance.
Behaviour is an important factor in the life of humans and also in the life of
corporations. Different humans act differently in different situations and sometime
act different in same situations. The link between humans and corporations are deep
because the organizations or corporations are operated by humans. So the impact of
human behaviour is so high on corporations. Sometimes success and failure of
organizations are depending upon the activities conducted by humans. The decision
making of any manager defines his behaviour. Strategies are made by humans and
are also implemented by humans, so the attitude of decision-maker, impact the
elements of decisions for strategies and their implementation. The behaviour matters
a lots when it comes to the issue of embedding the sustainability within the
organizations. The factor of embedding sustainability strategies needs to be
integrated deeply in the operations of companies because it affects the behaviour of
the stakeholders of the organizations (Dooley, 2014). Similarly the behaviour or
attitude of consumers can also influence the companies to adopt the eco-friendly
activities (Hartmann and –Ibáñez, 2012).
This paper aims to combine a number of researchers‘ views in the field of business
sustainability, for which the triple bottom line is developed as a continuous
improvement wheel. In this context, RQ1 is answered in section 3, where we
addressed and integrated view of sustainability, deploying the research areas
contributing to sustainability. The dimensions of sustainability need to be explored
more in detail in relation to its integration and practical implementation. Thus,
companies can get a clear idea industry wise and size wise. Section 3.3 answers to
RQ2. It explains the number of research areas covered and also gaps existing in it.
Moreover in it we also explore the matter that sustainability is discussed in relation
to SCM, green SCM, corporate governance, corporate social responsibilities. Section
4.2 answers to RQ3. It focuses on the drivers of sustainability which can let
Nawaz, Della Selva, Savino 291
organizations to obtain sustainability and to attain the continuous effort to push the
wheel of sustainability. These factors influence business to be in line in order to
compete and survive in the present economic context. Finally, section 4.3 proposes
potential dimensions to answer RQ4. In details, we investigated and connected some
facts as potential dimensions of sustainability. ―Time‖ could be dimension of
sustainability because it plays an important role throughout activates resulting from
any act of companies. Moreover, ―Cultural‖ aspect is not considered as the
dimension of sustainability that is an important factor in business. Finally
―Behaviours‖ are an important part of human life and it also impact greatly on
decision making and implementation and application of policies, rules and
regulation. So, behaviour with sustainability could be studied to find out the link and
impact. There is no study found regarding behaviour but many theories shows that it
could be a new area. Many studies related to business consider behaviour as
important part in the field of finance (Cooper, 2000). To sum up, the literature
evidences imply that several studies conducted on business sustainability and various
aspects of organisation are interlinked with each other. Such as, the field of corporate
governance is deeply linked to that. For instance, the CSR ethical and social aspects
are connected to each other. Many researchers have discusses the relationship of
corporate governance as the part of companies benefits in short term and sustain
business in long term. By fulfilling corporate social responsibilities, companies and
organizations can gain a better reputation in society and serve society in better
manner in order to gain benefits for current time and in long term also save the future
generation needs. The expectations of stakeholders and their fulfilment is also
connected with both fields. Furthermore business gains and shareholders‘
expectation are linked. Thus, corporate governance is also a field in which
companies and researchers are concerned individually as well as together with
sustainability (Steyn, 2003, 2007, and 2009). In the operational part of organisations,
it is observed through studies that the supply chain management (SCM), green
supply chain management is quite highly studied area.
This research review was conducted to find out research gaps and future research
opportunities in the field of sustainability. Numerous researches were reviewed and
studied to find out what are the covered areas of research under the head of
sustainability. It was found that quite number of research papers were found which
discuss about sustainability and its dimensions. Yet, so much work is still required to
develop this field. This research have enabled us to identify a part of the gaps of
studies already conducted. It was found that the study relationship among the
sustainability dimensions is not so clear. Sustainability is discussed by different
researchers but all the discussions found were vague in nature. In general all three
dimensions were discussed but specifically how each dimension support each other
and also to the business. Moreover the weaker links among dimensions and its
economic importance is not so convincing the business why to obtain sustainability
in business. To obtain sustainability, business still needs an answer to the question
that why they need to incur some cost to become sustainable. What financial
outcome in short-run and in long-run they will get. Mostly researches were focusing
on the fact that it is important to be sustainable (environmentally, socially, and
economically) but how to become sustainable some clear guidelines are required. It
292 International J. of Opers. and Quant. Managemen
is also important to define some basic levels for obtaining sustainability and these
levels should be industry specific and business specific. Furthermore, sustainability
needs also to be studied in a way towards the risks and opportunities. It is also
important to define and identify how sustainability serve different purposes of
business. Differentiating sustainability and its pillars from some ISO standards is
also important. Business presently needs practically applicable work not just theories
We also need to identify some factors which can help organizations internally to
attain sustainability. Similarly what can drive organization to obtain sustainability
even if organizations don‘t want to obtain. Studying triple bottom line in more
details is important, but also finding new dimensions can be important to meet the
upcoming challenges. Presently, a number of fields have developed enough to let us
know how different things and phenomena‘s are linked together. Human is a
complex organism, thus it is difficult to define some pet rules which could be
generalised in all situation and demography. So, in a future research it can be
important to sort out some human relating factors which could lead humans to act in
some specific way. Though it is impossible to control actions of each individual, it
may be possible to provide some circumstances that will let managers to behave in
specific way and minimize the risks associated to culture and behaviour. Culture will
let us to deal with collective norms and ethical standards. On the other hand,
behaviour will deal with individuality of persons working in and out organizations.
To develop, implement and evaluate strategies time is required. Similarly each fact
or act have influence affects transmitting from past to present and finally to future.
Thus, it is important to see look at these ones as other possible dimensions
6.1 Future Directions
This paper pointed out number of future needs of research in the field of
sustainability. SCM and business sustainability still needs to be explored more,
because these have deep links with each other. Business sustainability is mostly
known as triple bottom line and in this 1) economical, 2) social, and 3)
environmental feature are discussed. Yet, there ones are just few areas, discussed
quite less in number, such as the ethical perspective, time factor and culture as,
which are also effecting business (Lozano, 2008; Linnenluecke and Griffths, 2010;
De Paula and Cavalcanti 2000). Integration among the systems and dimensions are
also important to get the benefits of sustainability in more efficient and effective
One possible extension of this study is to find out the drivers of sustainability and
factors which affect and are affected by the sustainability dimensions. The future
direction for research are also to investigate the sustainability knowledge and
practices in corporate world. Moreover, development of strategies in the form of
corporate sustainability codes of conduct could be also proposed.
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8. Appendix: I
(C.E.C., 2002),( Ditlev-Simonen & Atle,
2011), (Frankental, 2001),( Frehs, 2003),
( Lantos, 2001), (Busse, 2004), (Gill,
2003), ( M. E. Porter & van der Linde,
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(S. Hart, 2000),(Henriques & Richardson,
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(Oskarsson & von Malmborg, 2005) ,
(Frankental, 2001), (Frehs, 2003)
External: 1 (McIntosh, Leipziger, & Jones,
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2003),(Frehs, 2003), (Hopkins, 2002) (Oskarsson
& von Malmborg, 2005), (Frankental, 2001)
(Laffer, et al., 2004), (Biscaccianti, 2003),
(Dunphy, et al., 2003), (McIntosh, et al., 1998)
(DeSimone & Popoff, 2000), (Atkinson, 2000),
(Cannon, 1994), (Frankental, 2001), (C.E.C.,
2002),(Fukukawa & Moon, 2004), (Busse, 2004).
About Our Authors
Sania Nawaz is PhD scholar at Muhammad Ali Jinnah University, Islamabad,
Pakistan and University of Sannio Benevento, Italy. Her PhD thesis is based on
impact and correlation of business sustainabilityin operational performances. She got
MS in Finance in 2013 at Muhammad Ali Jinnah University Islamabad, Pakistan.
She started her acadamic carreer as lecturer at Federal Urdu University of Arts
Science and Techonology, Islamabad Pakistan (2011-2014). The key research
interests are Integration management system, quality management system, business
sustainability, risk management, behaviour finance, corporate governance, supply
chain management, portfolio management and risk management.
Vincenzo Della Selva holds a master degree in Automation Engineering from the
University of Sannio, Benevento, Italy, in 2012. He is currently fellow engineer in
industrial operations and production systems at the University of Sannio. He is
involved as the principal investigator for different projects within different important
companies in production, maintenance and logistics aimed to optimize the processes.
He is also tutor to undergrduate and PhD students at University of Sannio.
302 International J. of Opers. and Quant. Managemen
Matteo Mario Savino received the Ph.D. in operations management from the
Department of Production and Industrial Engineering of University of Naples, Italy,
in 1999. He is currently Professor of industrial operations and production systems at
the University of Sannio, Benevento, Italy. He manages the Centre on Production,
Reliability and Industrial Management Engineering. He is a member of the Italian
Association of Professors of Industrial Operations. He manages national industry-
based and EU funded projects on operations management. His research works
appeared on several peer-reviewed International Journals.