“Time to hear what suppliers say about sustainability”

By Chunhua Ye, University of Manchester, UK

As sustainable consumption by end customers has received increasing attention, less emphasis has been put on suppliers’ understanding of sustainability. By employing institutional and cognitive theories, this research examines how manufacturers in China’s textile and clothing industry interpret the sustainability concept and how their interpretations are influenced by the sustainability diffusion at the network level.

Photo by Emma green on Unsplash

This research includes not only key actors in the production process suggested by the global production networks approach (GPN), but also local manufacturers that are not directly involved in the production process. These local manufacturers form an important part of institutional contexts that influence to what extent suppliers of international firms can adhere to their customers’ requirements. Thus, it is essential to examine their cognitive frames of sustainability to study the complexity of sustainability diffusion at the network level.

In order to see how different manufacturers cognitively frame the sustainability concept, I have conducted over 40 interviews in the textile and clothing industry, including with Chinese manufacturers and representatives from other kinds of organisations. The results show that manufacturers of different types identify distinct aspects of sustainability, construct various connections across dimensions, and recognise different conflicts and solutions. The clustering is closely related to their organisational features or positions in the network.

For example, large and export-oriented firms usually frame the sustainability concept based on the triple-bottom-line (TBL) framework learnt from their western customers. On the other hand, large and domestically focused businesses typically quote sustainability words from government-designed policies without following practices. Small and medium-sized manufacturers have a rather fragmented understanding of the sustainability concept, focusing only on those challenges that threaten their economic development.

Want to know more about interesting findings, please find it here

For potential collaborations, please email chunhua.ye@manchester.ac.uk.

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