An analytical method for investigating multi-tier sustainable supply chains: simplifying the complex

Chunguang Bai*, Joseph Sarkis, Sherwat Ibrahim

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Multi-tier sustainable supply chain relationships (MSSCR) are complex with involvement of multiple organisations, practices, objectives, and interconnectivities. These complexities make it difficult to effectively study MSSCR using traditional empirical statistical correlative research. In MSSCR the relationship between the focal firm and sub-supplier may be affected by the relationship between the focal firm and direct-supplier, and the relationship between the direct-supplier and the sub-supplier. This paper introduces a research methodology, based on K-Means clustering, rough set theory, and cluster membership to investigate complex relationships across multi-tier sustainable supply chain triads. Collaborative advantage variables including knowledge-sharing routines, relation-specific investments, complementary capabilities, effective governance mechanisms, and long-term commitment are conceptually presented to evaluate relationships among MSSCR practices and sustainability performance. Insights for practitioners and researchers are provided. Research insights can be gained by analytically providing alternative explanatory and equifinality relationships amongst variables and multi-pair organisations. The methodology can mitigate the endogeneity problem, such as omitted factors (variables), measurement error, even in small sample data situations. Directions for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalInternational Journal of Production Research
Publication statusPublished - 05.04.2023
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • 512 Business and Management
  • complexity
  • equifinality
  • Multi-tier supply chains
  • rough set
  • supplier
  • sustainability


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