Saberi and Sarkis Investigate Blockchain’s Effect on Supply Chain Management

DEPARTMENT(S): 
February 11, 2019

With a one-year, $34,720 grant from the Environmental Law Institute, a non-profit group that funds environmental research, Sara Saberi, assistant professor in WPI’s Foisie Business School, and Joseph Sarkis, professor in Foisie School, are investigating how blockchain and its unique characteristics affect corporate supply chain governance. Blockchain, a nascent but growing technology, is a shared, decentralized database technology that creates and holds a secure record of transactions made in cryptocurrency, like bitcoin.

There are three different types of blockchain: public, private, and consortium (which is partially private). According to Saberi, organizations manage their supply chain in a private or consortium blockchain in order to select who can join and which members can view and edit information in the digital ledger. Today, it is not clear how the technological benefits of blockchain can be integrated with strategies, culture, and the ethics of supply chain partners, as well as external stakeholders, to meet business objectives.

Saberi and Sarkis’ research will focus on how blockchain investments can help companies better govern their supply chain. Their work is important since the global blockchain-in-supply-chain market is expected to reach $424 million by 2023. It also has been suggested that blockchain technology, if adopted globally, could help stop or reverse climate change by greatly decreasing the energy needed for cryptocurrency mining. Saberi says research is needed to discover who in corporations should operate the blockchain solutions, how blockchain can decrease a company’s environmental footprint, and how the technology can benefit the company’s business goals. Two master’s students and one PhD candidate work on the research.