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Special Issue "Four Decades of Cradle-to-Cradle: The Contribution to Sustainable Supply Chains"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Economic and Business Aspects of Sustainability".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 October 2022 | Viewed by 1178

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Graça Miranda Silva
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
ADVANCE/CSG, ISEG-Lisbon School of Economics & Management, Universidade de Lisboa, 1200-781 Lisbon, Portugal
Interests: innovation; sustainable supply chain; quality management
Dr. Paulo Jorge Gomes
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
College of Business, Florida International University, Miami, FL 33199, USA
Interests: healthcare operations management; innovation; sustainable supply chain
Dr. Cristina Baptista
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
ADVANCE/CSG, ISEG-Lisbon School of Economics & Management, Universidade de Lisboa, 1200-781 Lisbon, Portugal
Interests: business relationships and networks; sustainable supply chain

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Sustainability journal is launching a Special Issue to document the contributions of “cradle-to-cradle” (C2C) thinking to sustainable supply chains, celebrating 20 years since the publication of the book popularizing this concept.

The phrase is credited to the work of Walter R. Stahel in the 1970s and was popularized by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in their 2002 book, “Cradle-to-Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things”1. A unique feature of C2C is the idea of nutrient metabolisms: all material involved in industrial and commercial processes are either technical or biological nutrients. Everything can be designed to eliminate waste – “waste” from one system becomes food for another, returned safely to the soil as biological nutrients, or re-utilized as high-quality materials for new products. The C2C framework offers the aspiration of enduring benefits for society from safe materials, water and energy in circular economies, a vision well-aligned with the three pillars of sustainability – the economy, environment, and social welfare.

The current understanding of sustainability as a system property2 requires us to view C2C not merely from a technical and product-centric focus, but as a system level challenge to supply chain redesign, requiring not only technological but also social, cultural, institutional, and organizational change.

In the cradle-to-cradle supply chain, products are designed and manufactured from sustainable materials and safely returned to the technical and biological cycles in closed loops. Incorporating the concept within existing supply chains has proved to be challenging. For instance, the importance of return supply chains within the total economic chain is often poorly understood. Embracing the cradle-to-cradle concept requires a significant redesign of the supply chain through innovation3. More studies are needed on the relation between innovation and sustainable supply chain4.

For this Special Issue, we are interested in papers that further our understanding of the supply chain consequences of the “cradle-to-cradle” concept. More specifically, how innovation can address the challenges of cradle-to-cradle in supply chains. We refer to different types of innovation, including product and service innovation, technological innovations, process innovations, administrative, and business model innovations.

We have identified the following domains but are open to other related areas.

  • Implementation of closed-loop supply chains increasing effectiveness of the return supply chains, such as the creation and participation in systems to collect and recover the value of materials following their use.
  • Emerging technologies supporting the transition from linear model to circular model, such as the ones under the umbrella of Industry 4.0.
  • Development of new tools for the industry that assist in the implementation of C2C framework.
  • Transformation of supply chains based on replacement of non-renewable resources, for instance, maximizing the use of clean and renewable energy – such as solar, wind, geothermal, gravitational energy, and other energy systems being developed today.
  • Design of products and materials with life cycles that are safe for human health and the environment and that can be reused through biological and technical metabolisms, maintaining quality of materials.
  • Design of supply chains showing concerns of social responsibility promoting healthy ecosystems and respecting local impacts on social systems.
  • Implementation of quality management across the supply based on a holistic understanding of quality, by integrating material health, environmental, and social criteria5, and its relationship with innovation.
  • Business model innovation for circular supply chains, such as product as a service model.
  • Digital business models that facilitated supply chain circularity, and implementation of sustainability practices across the supply chain that moves organizations towards cradle-to-cradle practices.
  • Develop innovation capabilities engaging supply chain actors such as open innovation capabilities aimed at advancing sustainable supply chains.

We encourage both empirical research and analytic models that are grounded in relevant supply chain management problems, in addition to literature reviews. We value diversity both in terms of theoretical bases and empirical approaches, and research based on mixed methods approaches.


  1. McDonough, W., & Braungart, M. (2002). Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things. North point press.
  2. Ceschin, F., & Gaziulusoy, I. (2016). Evolution of design for sustainability: From product design to design for system innovations and transitions. Design studies47, 118-163.
  3. Silva, G. M., Gomes, P. J., & Sarkis, J. (2019). The role of innovation in the implementation of green supply chain management practices. Business Strategy and the Environment28(5), 819-832.
  4. Tebaldi, L., Bigliardi, B., & Bottani, E. (2018). Sustainable supply chain and innovation: A review of the recent literature. Sustainability, 10(11), 3946.
  5. Braungart, M., McDonough, W., & Bollinger, A. (2007). Cradle-to-cradle design: creating healthy emissions—A strategy for eco-effective product and system design. Journal of cleaner production, 15(13-14), 1337-1348.

Dr. Graça Miranda Silva
Dr. Paulo Jorge Gomes
Dr. Cristina Baptista
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • cradle-to-cradle
  • sustainable supply chain
  • innovation
  • circular business models
  • supply chain digitalization
  • Industry 4.0

Published Papers (1 paper)

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Developing Return Supply Chain: A Research on the Automotive Supply Chain
Sustainability 2022, 14(11), 6587; - 27 May 2022
Viewed by 352
The purpose of this study is to investigate and discuss the challenges namely, the barriers and solutions to developing return supply chain policies in automotive industry. This industry has been suffering governmental pressure to achieve sustainability in all industrial processes. The solution is [...] Read more.
The purpose of this study is to investigate and discuss the challenges namely, the barriers and solutions to developing return supply chain policies in automotive industry. This industry has been suffering governmental pressure to achieve sustainability in all industrial processes. The solution is to reorganize the supply chain and rethink the product from the beginning (closed-loop supply chain evolving to cradle-to-cradle supply chain); however, the literature about this process is scarce. This paper presents exploratory research into the automotive supply chain in order to study the processes developed to achieve more sustainable supply chains. A strategic business net is used as theoretical sample to collect data. The results show that climate change concerns and governmental guidelines lead to sustainable organizational culture. It was found that sustainability is integrated in all processes, which affects business interaction with partners. The business interaction is difficulted by total product recycling. To overcome this barrier, innovation strategies, strategic alliances and governmental politics are presented as enhancers to return supply chain policies development. Organizational and cultural elements were presented as difficulties, but could be easily mitigated with the enhancers, alongside commitment and proactivity of companies. The research shows that when the challenges are overcome, the companies can integrate cradle-to-cradle design frameworks into their supply chains. This reorganization is necessary to achieve sustainability and accomplish governmental guidelines. Full article
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