Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 154, Issue 3, pp 849–868 | Cite as

The Influence of Network Exchange Brokers on Sustainable Initiatives in Organizational Networks

  • Lance W. SaundersEmail author
  • Wendy L. Tate
  • George A. Zsidisin
  • Joe Miemczyk
Original Paper


Ethical sourcing and socially responsible purchasing is increasingly on the business agenda, but developing and implementing policy and practice across a global network of suppliers is challenging. The purpose of this paper is to expand theory on the nature of linkages between firms in a social network, specifically postulating how ties between organizations can be configured to facilitate development, diffusion, and adoption of sustainability initiatives. The theory development provides a lens with which to view the influence of a firm’s structural embeddedness in its organizational social network on developing, diffusing and adopting sustainability initiatives. The focus is on brokers who in various structural alignments help bridge the focal firm’s sustainability initiatives with distant or disconnected stakeholders the focal firm is trying to reach. The brokers help the focal firm engage these stakeholders by sharing knowledge and information regarding sustainability initiatives and by incorporating localized needs into the development of the initiatives to facilitate better diffusion and adoption. The theoretical contribution of this manuscript is a novel perspective on sustainability in organizational networks. This perspective allows for greater explanatory power regarding how organizations can achieve sustainable outcomes that meet a broad base of stakeholder needs and better facilitate sustainability initiatives across a diverse and expansive network.


Sustainable networks Sustainable supply networks Corporate social responsibility Social networks Structural embeddedness Network brokerage theory 



The authors would like to thank the Global Education Office of Virginia Commonwealth University for their generous support, and Mr. David Berdish for sharing his extensive experience with us in sustainable supply chain management practice.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lance W. Saunders
    • 1
    Email author
  • Wendy L. Tate
    • 2
  • George A. Zsidisin
    • 1
  • Joe Miemczyk
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Supply Chain Management and AnalyticsVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  2. 2.Department of Marketing and Supply Chain ManagementUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA
  3. 3.Audencia Nantes School of ManagementNantesFrance
  4. 4.ESCP Europe Business SchoolLondonUK

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