An institutional theory perspective on sustainable practices across the dairy supply chain

The need for sustainable practices in the food supply chain, particularly in the area of energy reduction, is becoming acute. The food industry currently has to contend with multiple competing pressures alongside the new challenges of sustainable production. We applied Institutional Theory to explore the role of supermarkets in the development of legitimate sustainable practices across the dairy supply chains. The paper focuses on dairy supply chain organizations and their consumption of energy. We conducted 70 semi-structured telephone interviews with various stakeholders across the supply chain. Findings revealed that the majority of actors in the supply chain identified supermarkets as the dominant player, and that the supermarkets exert pressure on other smaller organizations across the supply chain. Although some organizations wished to pursue a sustainable agenda through integrating new rules and legitimate practices within their own organization, the dominant logic appeared to be one of cost reduction and profit maximization. There was also evidence that supermarkets and other large organizations attempt to replicate publicly available information on green successes for image purposes. We conclude that the dominant logic of cost reduction is so well established that challenging the dominant logic may prove difficult. The challenge is therefore to complement the dominant logic with sustainable practices across the whole supply chain, a role Government needs to play. This will require a broader more systemic approach to encouraging sustainable practices including investment and financing practices, so that all members of the dairy supply chain can co-operate and contribute to energy reduction.