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The economic rationale to operate a global supply chain in a sustainable manner is developed. Arguments are made based on marketing, finance, and production theories that by engaging in socially responsible behavior the firm will increase sales, decrease costs, reduce financial risk, and increase profits which ultimately will increase returns to the firm’s shareholders. A model is developed of the mechanism by which modern production methods such as lean production and quality management result in sustainable corporate behavior which, in the long run, translates into higher stock valuations. The production effects cause marketing and financial risk effects that are complementary, and all three channels of influence synergistically result in higher stock values in the model. These effects also provide important benefits to other stakeholders of the firms including employees, customers, the environment, and the community. An important ethical issue in global supply chains is working conditions in foreign plants often leading to allegations of sweatshop labor conditions. This issue is used to illustrate how lean production practices can affect consumers, employees, and financial risk. Conclusions from the sweatshop labor issue are shown to apply to other sustainability issues as well.


This is the pre-peer reviewed version of the following article: Robert N. Mefford. The Economic Value of a Sustainable Supply Chain. Business and Society Review. Volume 116, Issue 1, pages 109–143, Spring 2011, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.