Patterns of IT use: the impact on green supply chain management and firm performance

Publication Date12 Apr 2020
AuthorShenyang Jiang,Zhaojun Han,Baofeng Huo
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Information systems,Data management systems,Knowledge management,Knowledge sharing,Management science & operations,Supply chain management,Supply chain information systems,Logistics,Quality management/systems
Patterns of IT use: the impact on
green supply chain management
and firm performance
Shenyang Jiang
School of Management, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China
Zhaojun Han
Institute of Systems Engineering, Dalian University of Technology, Dalian, China, and
Baofeng Huo
College of Management and Economics, Tianjin University, Tianjin, China
Purpose This study aims to explore how different patterns of IT use influence different types of green
supply chain management (GSCM) with customers, and in turn, environmental and economic performance.
Design/methodology/approach Based on data collected from 206 manufacturing companies in China, the
authors used structural equation modeling (SEM) with the maximum-likelihood estimation (MLE) method to
test the conceptual model and the related hypotheses.
Findings The results show that both IT use for exploitation and IT use for exploration are positively related
to green strategy alignment and green process coordination, whereas the relationship between IT use for
exploration and green strategy alignment is weaker. This study also finds that green strategy alignment has a
marginal positive effect on economic performance, whereas its effect on environmental performance is not
significant. Green process coordination has a positive effect on environmental performance, whereas its effect
on economic performance is not significant.
Originality/value This study extends the value of IT use in the GSCM field, enriching both literature on IT
and GSCM. The findings provide significant managerial implications for managers to leverage IT resources to
enhance GSCM and the corresponding performance.
Keywords IT use, Green supply chain management, Environmental performance
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
The growing public concern for environmental issues has continuously forced firms to
implement green supply chain management (GSCM) practices such as green purchasing,
green product design, and waste recycling (Leal-Mill
an et al., 2016;Wolf, 2014). Scholars
accordingly have mainly focused on how external pressures drive GSCM (Chan et al., 2016a;
Vanalle et al., 2017). Yet, less is known about how firms can enhance GSCM by better
leveraging internal resources or capabilities. In this study, we advance this knowledge by
examining the impact of information technology (IT) use on GSCM.
More and more scholars have realized that managing IT plays a critical role in achieving
environmental sustainability (Cai et al., 2013;Khuntia et al., 2018). On the one hand, IT itself is
a consumer of energy, thereby becoming a potential source of environmental pollution (Elliot,
2011). On the other hand, IT has the potential to improve resource efficiency, thereby
becoming opportunities to alleviate environmental problems (Elliot, 2011). Current studies
have primarily focused on green IT as a way out, namely, using IT in an energy-efficient way
(Cai et al., 2013;Dalvi-Esfahani et al., 2017). Some scholars take another perspective and
Patterns of IT
This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (#71802039,
#71525005, #71802038).
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 20 July 2019
Revised 7 November 2019
30 December 2019
Accepted 29 January 2020
Industrial Management & Data
Vol. 120 No. 5, 2020
pp. 825-843
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/IMDS-07-2019-0394
investigate how normal IT can be used to resolve environmental issues (e.g., Caldelli and
Parmigiani, 2004;Corbett, 2013;Kettinger et al., 1994;Melville, 2010;Wang et al., 2015).
Nevertheless, this stream of research is still in its early stages (Malhotra et al., 2013). Most
studies are conceptual papers (e.g., Melville, 2010) and focus on internal environmental
practices or performance (e.g., Ryoo and Koo, 2013;Wang et al., 2015). To the best of our
knowledge, only Ajamieh et al. (2016) empirically investigate the link between IT and GSCM.
They find that IT infrastructure capability is positively related to GSCM. Other opinion
pieces show that information generated by IT helps to coordinate environmental practices
along supply chains (Mitra and Datta, 2014). These studies provide evidence that IT can be
used to improve GSCM. Yet, there are different patterns of IT use (Sanders, 2008;Subramani,
2004) and there are different aspects of GSCM (Wong et al., 2015). Whether different patterns
of IT use distinctively influence different aspects of GSCM is yet to be explored.
Following paradigm of exploration/exploitation (March, 1991), patterns of IT use
include IT use for exploitation and IT use for exploration (Subramani, 2004). IT use for
exploitation is to use IT in structured tasks, refine firm capabilities and achieve process
efficiency (Subramani, 2004). IT use for exploration, on the contrary, is to use IT in
unstructured processes, build new competencies, and discover new opportunities
(Subramani, 2004). These two patterns of IT use involve different task orientations and
different levels of variation (Kristal et al., 2010), which may have different abilities to
influence GSCM.
In this study, we take GSCM with customers as an example to investigate the link
between patterns of IT use and GSCM. GSCM with customers is vital to the success of
greening supply chains as it enables firms to have a better understanding of environmental
requirements and standards (Geng et al., 2017). Previous studies mainly take a
unidimensional approach to conceptualize GSCM with customers. Nevertheless, supply
chain collaboration as well as green collaboration, can be implemented at both strategic
and operational levels (Gunasekaran et al., 2015;Sanders, 2008). Accordingly, we classify
GSCM with customers into green strategy alignment and green process coordination.
Sanders (2008) reports that different patterns of IT use affect strategic and operational
collaboration in different ways. Our study attempts to test whether this statement still
holds in the GSCM field.
In addition, previous findings on how GSCM with customers influences environmental
and economic performance are largely inconsistent (Geng et al., 2017;Laosirihongthong et al.,
2013). For example, Green et al. (2012b) and Huo et al. (2019) find that customer green process
positively influences environmental performance, while having no effect on economic
performance. Geng et al. (2017) report that customer green cooperation is positively related to
both environmental and economic performance, whereas Zhu and Sarkis (2007) and Wong
et al. (2018) do not find any relationship between customer green cooperation and neither type
of performance. Our fine-grained approach may advance the understanding of how firms can
better collaborate with customers to achieve these two seemingly contradictory goals.
Overall, this study addresses two research questions:
RQ1. Whether different patterns of IT use by focal firms distinctively affect different
types of GSCM with customers?
RQ2. Whether different types of GSCM with customers distinctively affect focal firms
environmental and economic performance?
The paper is organized as follows. Section 2 provides a brief review of patterns of IT use and
the definition of GSCM. Section 3 presents theoretical foundation and corresponding
hypotheses. Section 4 introduces research methodology and the results. Finally, we discuss
the papers contributions and implications for future research.

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