First, this chapter starts by describing the basic philosophical considerations based on the critical realism view of the authors. Second, inspired by the articles of Meredith (1993) and Carter and Rogers (2008), a conceptualization theory-building method is used. This study design results in first conducting a systematic literature review, which’s approach is presented in the third part of this chapter. Last, the empirical study is outlined and explained, whereby a qualitative study design is chosen to validate the theory built previously using qualitative interviews
Basic philosophical considerations
The research idea for this paper follows the incentive to provide answers to the controversial issue of sustainable considerations in the context of intermodal transportation. Thus, it is a contribution to solve current problems such environmental challenges, which makes this study worth to be pursued according to management research theory (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe, & Jackson, 2015).
As the topic of GSCM includes the management of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions this study can be interpreted from a more natural science point of view; in contrast, the topic of intermodal transportation in the context of SCM/logistics can be analyzed from a social science perspective, where discussions about the behavior of people rather than objects are conducted.
From the authors’ viewpoint, the thesis is conducted with a critical realist position, which is portrayed as “a compromise position between […] positivism and constructionism” (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015, p. 59). In the context of ontology for natural science, the authors see the topic of this paper at the intersection of internal realism, where the truth is obscure and cannot be assessed directly, and relativism, where the facts depend on the viewpoint of the observer. In the context of ontology for social science, those two viewpoints are reflected in the internal realist position, where concepts exist independently of the researcher and have real consequence for life and the relativistic viewpoint where different observers have different viewpoints.
While this critical realist position, at the intersection of positivism and constructionism, makes a categorization more complicated from a philosophical perspective, it also provides freedom in the choice of method (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). Aligned with the ontology standpoint, the epistemology considerations are biased. Tending towards a positivism viewpoint, the authors see the fact that the social world exists externally and can be measured through objective methods. From a more constructionism perspective, this paper not only is pure fact based, but appreciates different opinions that experts on the topic of GSCM/green logistics and intermodal transportation have.
In general, the authors try to combine the benefits of a more positivistic orientation, namely the chance to provide a wide coverage as well as a potentially fast approach, together with the benefits of a more constructionism orientation, which for example accepts the value of multiple data sources and enables generalization beyond the present example (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015)
Deriving from the philosophical considerations, the authors scrutinized different articles for possible study designs. As a result, the conceptual theory-building presented by Meredith (1993) and the approach used by Carter and Rogers (2008) are the most suitable for this thesis’ purpose and philosophy. Meredith (1993) presents three main types of conceptual methods: The conceptual models, the conceptual frameworks and the theories. On the one hand, conceptual models are referred to as “set[s] of concepts, with or without propositions, used to represent or describe (but not explain) an event, object, or process” (p. 5). On the other hand, conceptual frameworks are defined as “a collection of two or more interrelated propositions which explain an event, provide understanding, or suggest testable hypotheses” (p. 7). Finally, “[a] theory may be as simple as a straightforward framework” (p. 10). For this thesis, based on the definition given by Meredith (1993), the authors developed a conceptual model.
While reviewing literature, the article by Carter and Rogers (2008) was found which uses the conceptualization theory-building by Meredith (1993) based on a systematic literature review as well as the presentation of the results in front of experts to collect data and validate their results. The authors of this thesis decided to apply the conceptual method approach of Meredith (1993) used by Carter and Rogers (2008) for several reasons.
The article of Carter and Rogers (2008) presents a similar structure than the one of this thesis. As in this thesis, Carter and Rogers (2008) wanted to present different topics and tried to demonstrate a relationship between those. Moreover, the authors of this thesis argument that Carter and Rogers (2008) have a similar methodology and philosophy to them. In fact, Carter and Rogers (2008), such as the authors of this paper, develop in a first step a so called “middle theory” with their framework, which means that the theory built still needs to be tested through quantitative research (Echambadi, Campbell, & Agarwal, 2006). Even though Carter and Rogers (2008) use a larger sample for their empirical study, it can be said that the philosophies of both papers correspond to internal realism/relativism. Third, it is reasonable to have a similar approach as Carter and Rogers (2008) because this article is one of the major theoretical contributions about sustainable SCM, as it is cited in many different articles that where reviewed for this thesis (Golicic & Smith, 2013; Mafini & Muposhi, 2017; Mollenkopf et al., 2010; Quarshie, Salmi, & Leuschner, 2016; Rizzi, Bartolozzi, Borghini, & Frey, 2013; Sarkis, 2012; Thomas, Fugate, Robinson, & Tasçioglu, 2016; Wolf, 2011; Wong, 2013). Based on these arguments, the authors applied the conceptualization theory-building method by Meredith (1993), inspired by the approach of Carter and Rogers (2008), using a systematic literature review to build their conceptual model that in a second step is discussed through a qualitative empirical study.
This thesis is based on a mix between inductive and deductive reasoning and research, as this is the reasoning on which the conceptualization theory-building method is built on (Carter & Rogers, 2008; Meredith, 1993).
This chapter covers the literature review design as well as the analysis. A systematic literature review was conducted to gather all relevant data and information which is available in the context of GSCM, green logistics and intermodal transportation. The systematic review approach builds the foundation for a solid analysis
Literature review approach
According to management research literature, authors can use various types of literature reviews, where traditional reviews, snowballing approaches and systematic literature reviews are mentioned most frequently (Ganann, Ciliska, & Thomas, 2010). On the one hand, traditional reviews are described as comprehensive and reproducible. On the other hand, systematic literature reviews go even further by striving to comprehensively identify and synthesize all relevant studies on a given topic (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015; Petticrew & Roberts, 2006).
Among the benefits of a systematic review, the aspects of transparency and replicability are mentioned. Additionally, a systematic approach allows a broad range of high-quality sources to ensure, that only the most relevant information is gathered. On the drawback side, the authors are aware of the limited creativity of this approach as well as the potential overlooking of grey literature such as reports. Moreover, the authors know that they relied on the quality of the abstracts when filtering information and narrowing down the relevant literature (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). Despite the drawbacks of a systematic review, the authors consider this approach to be the most appropriate related to the purpose of this paper and to answer the first research question “How are GSCM/green logistics and intermodal transportation connected?” while building a solid baseline for the second research question “How can companies use intermodal freight transportation in relation to GSCM/green logistics?” (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015).
The review of the literature was conducted on January 6th 2018 in the knowledge database Web of Science1. The authors are aware that there are other science databases such as summarized on EDesiderata (2018); due to familiarity with the database as well as recommendations from the institution where this thesis was composed (Jönköping University), Web of Science was selected. The following process (Illustration 1) illustrates the iterative approach of the authors in five step
1.2 Problem statement
1.3 Research purpose and research questions
1.4 Outline of thesis
2.1 Basic philosophical considerations
2.2 Conceptual theory-building
2.3 Literature review
2.4 Empirical study
3. Literature review
3.1 Key definitions
3.2 Green supply chain management and green logistics
3.3 Intermodal transportation
3.4 Connection between GSCM/green logistics and intermodal transportation
3.5 Gaps identification
4.1 Interview summaries
4.2 Interviewees’ understanding of the key definitions
4.3 Feedback about the model
4.4 Social impact of intermodal freight transportation
4.5 Relation between GSCM/green logistics and intermodal transportation
4.6 Application of intermodal transportation in a GSCM/green logistics context
5. Empirical analysis
5.1 Differences in understanding of key definitions
5.2 Feedback about the model
5.3 Usage of intermodal freight transportation in a GSCM/green logistics context
5.4 Critical assessment of findings
6.1 General conclusion
6.2 Contribution of findings
6.3 Limitations and further research
7. Reference list
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT