To Greener Pastures: An Action Research Study on the Environmental Sustainability of Humanitarian Supply Chains

Mohammad Hossein Zarei, Ruth Carrasco-Gallego, Stefano Ronchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)
294 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: While humanitarian supply chains (HSCs) inherently contribute to social sustainability by alleviating the suffering of afflicted communities, their unintended adverse environmental impact has been overlooked hitherto. This paper draws upon contingency theory to synthesize green practices for HSCs, identify the contingency factors that impact on greening HSCs and explore how focal humanitarian organizations (HOs) can cope with such contingency factors. Design/methodology/approach: Deploying an action research methodology, two-and-a-half cycles of collaboration between researchers and a United Nations agency were completed. The first half-cycle developed a deductive greening framework, synthesizing extant green practices from the literature. In the second and third cycles, green practices were adopted/customized/developed reflecting organizational and contextual contingency factors. Action steps were implemented in the HSC for prophylactics, involving an operational mix of disaster relief and development programs. Findings: First, the study presents a greening framework that synthesizes extant green practices in a suitable form for HOs. Second, it identifies the contingency factors associated with greening HSCs regarding funding environment, stakeholders, field of activity and organizational management. Third, it outlines the mechanisms for coping with the contingency factors identified, inter alia, improving the visibility of headquarters over field operations, promoting collaboration and resource sharing with other HOs as well as among different implementing partners in each country, and working with suppliers for greener packaging. The study advances a set of actionable propositions for greening HSCs. Practical implications: Using an action research methodology, the study makes strong practical contributions. Humanitarian practitioners can adopt the greening framework and the lessons learnt from the implementation cycles presented in this study. Originality/value: This is one of the first empirical studies to integrate environmental sustainability and HSCs using an action research methodology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1193-1225
Number of pages33
JournalInternational Journal of Operations and Production Management
Issue number11
Early online date29 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2019


  • Action research
  • Collaborative management research
  • Contingency theory
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Green practices
  • Humanitarian logistics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Decision Sciences(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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