Knowledge management in environmental sustainability practices of third-party logistics service providers

Published date09 November 2015
Date09 November 2015
AuthorPietro Evangelista,Susanne Durst
Subject MatterInformation & knowledge management,Knowledge management,Knowledge management systems
Knowledge management in
environmental sustainability
practices of third-party logistics
service providers
Pietro Evangelista
Research Institute on Innovation and Services for Development (IRISS),
National Research Council (CNR), Naples, Italy, and
Susanne Durst
School of Business, University of Skövde, Skövde, Sweden
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to provide a structured literature review on knowledge
management (KM) and KM strategy in environmental sustainability practices of logistics service
providers. The paper highlights the nature and scope of existing research and identies areas for future
Design/methodology/approach – The study consists of a systematic review of existing research
regarding KM in sustainable logistics. In all, 38 refereed research papers formed the basis of analysis.
This methodology allows for the minimization of researcher bias and the maximization of reliability and
Findings – The literature review made possible the identication of three basic elements through
which building-up appropriate KM approaches and KM strategies in the area of environmental
sustainability by third-party logistics service companies will be enhanced: customer relationship
management, quality of human resources and the adoption of information and communication
technology tools and systems.
Research limitations/implications – This study may not have enabled a complete coverage of all
articles in the eld of KM in the context of environmental sustainability practices of logistics service
companies. Yet, it seems reasonable to assume that the review process covered a large share of studies
available. The main research implications deriving from the study concern research methods, analysis
of factors hampering/supporting the implementation of KM in practices related to environmental
sustainability, development of measures to demonstrate the impact of KM on sustainability practices
and role of different stakeholders in the implementation of KM in environmental sustainability
Originality/value – To the best of the authors’ knowledge, no systematic literature review on this
topic has previously been published in academic journals.
Keywords Environmental sustainability, Knowledge management, Systematic literature review,
Knowledge management strategy, Logistics service providers
Paper type Literature review
1. Introduction
An increasing number of companies have started to transform into more sustainable
ones (Tideman et al., 2013). Investments in sustainable practices are expected to increase
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 3 February 2015
Revised 6 September 2015
Accepted 17 September 2015
Vol.45 No. 4, 2015
©Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/VINE-02-2015-0012
both rm competitiveness and operational performance (Schoenherr, 2012;Iasevoli and
Massi, 2012). Regarding the latter, performance is not only considered in terms of
economic performance (e.g. savings or protability) but also in non-economic terms
such as eco-efciency (Iasevoli and Massi, 2012). Given the interconnectedness of
economic, environmental and social issues that form the pillars of sustainability,
organizations have to attune to an even stronger involvement of the different
stakeholders (Van Kleef and Roome, 2007).
To reach the sustainability aims, knowledge management (KM) may be regarded as
central (Gloet, 2006;Robinson et al., 2006). There are many different perspectives as how
to dene KM. One of the practical denitions is to see KM as a systematic way of
creating, sharing and leveraging knowledge within and around organizations
(Bounfour, 2003). This claries that KM has a long-term orientation and therefore ts
nicely with one of the underlying assumptions of sustainability and sustainable
management, namely, durability (Chow and Chen, 2012). KM practices, such as
knowledge creation, knowledge dissemination, knowledge storage and knowledge
application, are expected to support a continued development of knowledge that is
up-to-date and relevant. Hence, sustainable KM can be regarded as a synopsis of KM
and sustainability; where the primary role of KM is to treat current and future
knowledge resources sustainably by considering social, economic and environmental
aspects (Ansari et al., 2010). This brief discussion also leads us to the importance of
formulating suitable KM strategies to achieve the aims set. It would also underline the
critical need of having incorporated these KM strategies in the overall company strategy
(Hansen et al., 1999).
In today’s dynamic competitive environment, logistics services become
increasingly complex and knowledge-intensive. Knowledge assets have become
particularly critical for third-party logistics service companies (3PLs) to achieve
performance goals. Thus, it is crucial to implement a KM approach for developing
environmental sustainable service strategies in particular. KM research and
implementation have grown rapidly in recent years. Even though several disciplines
have studied KM from their own perspectives, there are only limited systematic
efforts to study the interfaces of KM from an interdisciplinary perspective. Against
this background, it might be interesting to study how the logistics service industry,
and 3PLs in particular, deals with the aspects outlined above. Recent research has
shown that there is increasing research activities that study KM in logistics (Fugate
et al., 2012) as well as environmental sustainable practices in logistics outsourcing
(Colicchia et al., 2013;Evangelista, 2014). As regards KM in logistics, one can
determine a focus on knowledge sharing (Li et al., 2012;Breite and Koskinen, 2014).
Given the important role that logistics play in national and international markets
(World Bank, 2014), it would be useful to nd out how this sector is taking
advantage of KM to meet its environmental sustainability aims. More precisely, we
are interested in the adoption of KM approaches supporting and improving
environmental sustainable practices of logistics service companies. Having this in
mind, the aim of this paper is to review existing research on KM activities in the
context of environmental sustainable practices of 3PLs to establish the current body
of knowledge. The main research question is:
RQ1. What is the role of KM in the environmental sustainability strategies of 3PLs?

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