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KEY WORDS AND PASSAGES
been acclaimed worldwide both by scholars and practitioners. Literature classifies these initiatives as pollution prevention projects (PPPs) that, compared to pollution control projects, draw on activities and technologies that change the structure of manufacturing processes or products through the adoption of environmentally friendly resources
While these studies have provided considerable insights into our understanding of the benefits of the interaction between environmental management (EM) and operations management (OM), very little attention has been devoted to the underlying contextual factors that possibly affect such interaction and characterize it. The present study explores the EM-OM relationship by focusing on how environmental and manufacturing practices are implemented together. To thoroughly capture the complexity of this phenomenon, we build on the construct of integration between EM and OM decision areas. In particular, EM-OM integration is analyzed by drawing on the contingency approach within the project management literature
The project level of analysis allows us to adopt a micro approach to decision-making processes encompassing environmental and operations actions and practices. Our results highlight that project characteristics, namely uncertainty and complexity, affect the extent to which EM and OM are implemented in an integrated manner within the plant
Several authors advocate that EM has to be integrated and may benefit from the joint implementation with OM suggests that successful plants implementing a continuous improvement approach and having a flexible and skilled workforce show a proactive environmental attitude towards production processes and external logistics
Advanced manufacturing techniques, thus, create organizational routines that facilitate the implementation of environmental practices
Overall, scholars agree that the joint implementation of environmental practices and manufacturing practices leads plants to ultimately improve their performance
Our literature review shows that a gap exists in investigating under which conditions and to what extent EM and OM are integrated within PPPs. Given the lack of previous empirical works and our limited understanding of the relationships involving the key constructs, an in depth-qualitative investigation with an explorative nature is deemed an adequate approach
A qualitative research method with a theory-building approach is appropriate when exploration is needed to develop theoretical and managerial insights into the researched issue
Data were collected on six PPPs within plants of comparable sizes, with similar processes, and with a strong commitment to both world-class manufacturing and environmental management. In order to control for location-based effects, we further narrowed our sample to the plants located in the same region
For example, manufacturing engineers often blurred environmental aspects with manufacturing practices and, similarly, environmental managers lacked specificity when referring to some manufacturing practices. The overall result of the coding activity confirmed the two dimensions underlying EM-OM integration: cross-functional collaboration (hereafter, collaboration) and cross-functional interaction (hereafter, interaction)
Consistent with the explorative nature of our study, we let qualitative evidence guide us in the identification of the most important contextual factors associated with the integration between EM and OM in the analyzed PPPs. Our analysis of interviews and anecdotes, the description of projects, and documentation allowed us to identify uncertainty and complexity as the most relevant contextual factors.
our findings show that technological and information complexities are the most relevant. To facilitate cross-case analysis, we categorized our six case studies according to the categories of uncertainty and complexity
Our cross-case analysis shows how different degrees of uncertainty and complexity are related to different levels of EM-OM integration
The planning and execution phases of project implementation were characterized by minimum interdependencies and easily separated resources and responsibilities among tasks. Most tasks were designed to be independent, thus allowing for separate implementation by members of each function, according to their area of expertise. When interdependencies did exist, low uncertainty and low complexity permitted time-based control mechanisms (such as Gantt schedule) and communication about objectives allowed team members adequately deal with such interdependencies
Overall, our case studies show that, in a context of low uncertainty and complexity, knowledge, and tasks and their interdependencies are observable, accessible, and well defined, which is indicative of a low level of EM-OM integration. Whereas in a context of mixed levels of uncertainty and complexity (low uncertainty-high complexity or high uncertainty-low complexity), medium level of EM-OM integration is observed. Finally, a context of high uncertainty and complexity is characterized by a need for frequent adjustments and changes, a shared commitment toward emerging issues and an endless information exchange, which is associated with a high level of EM-OM integration. Based on these insights, it follows that:
Proposition 1. The level of EM-OM integration is positively associated with project uncertainty and complexity
A final pattern arose from the exploration of the relative effects of uncertainty and complexity on EM-OM integration in the cases of mixed levels of uncertainty and complexity (low uncertaintyhigh complexity or high uncertainty-low complexity)
Proposition 2. Mixed levels of project uncertainty and complexity are associated with (a) a low level of EM-OM integration in the planning phase and (b) a high level of EM-OM integration in the execution phase.
Project management plays a key business role in many domains, particularly in environmental management where it helps environmental strategies to be operationalized and translated into concrete initiatives of pollution abatement. PPPs have received little attention in extant literature, although they are the most common type of environmental projects
Our analysis of different types of environmental projects captures how project management supports the greening process of manufacturing plants and extends our knowledge of PPPs in the operations management literature. Linking the analysis of these projects to the contingency approach, we develop two propositions that provide three core theoretical contributions
First, we focus on how EM and OM are intertwined by using the construct of integration. The use of EM-OM integration offers an interesting perspective with which to investigate the widely addressed and central issue of the introduction of environmental practices in operations management
The exploration of EM-OM integration allows us to capture the “black box” of how problems and solutions are dealt by EM and OM decision areas in the context of PPPs. The analysis of the dynamic process of collaboration and interaction through information flows, internal knowledge, communication channels and goals alignment offers some valuable insights into how environmental issues are integrated into manufacturing processes. All in all, our study offers a micro-level analysis of how environmental management is actually implemented within plants, how it enters into daily decision-making processes and how the interface between members from operational and environmental decision areas works.
Second, we find that higher uncertainty and complexity are associated with higher EM-OM integration in PPPs. Our results emerging from this fine-grained exploration of uncertainty and complexity of PPPs have implications for research on both the contingency approach in operations management and the contingent resource-based view. Specifically, we propose that, in addition to plant characteristics and other organizational variables affecting the implementation of environmental strategies, it is important to consider the uncertainty and complexity associated with projects able to enact environmental strategies, i.e. the characteristics of pollution prevention projects
by providing a preliminary investigation on how the dynamic capability of EM-OM integration evolves in response to shifts on two contextual factors (i.e., uncertainty and complexity) in order to manage the jointly implementation of environmental and manufacturing practices.
Finally, the relationship between the contextual factors and EM-OM integration contributes to the literature on organizational interdependencies, specifically those arising from the need to predict agents’ behaviors, which are also called epistemic interdependencies (Puranam et al., 2012). Puranam et al. (2012) assert that epistemic interdependencies exist when “the optimal action of each agent depends on a prediction of what the other agent will do”
. When either uncertainty or complexity increases, the need for EM and OM agents’ ability to predict each other’s behavior increases. In other words, the involved agents (e.g., managers and members of each decision area) need to know how the other party will behave in situations characterized by limited predictive knowledge, i.e., their ability to foresee all possible contingencies
We suggest that the uncertainty and complexity of PPPs, by limiting the predictive knowledge of EM or OM agents, require higher EM-OM integration to enhance the ability of the agents to predict each other’s behavior and change their actions accordingly. We offer new evidence of the existence of epistemic interdependencies in the context of environmental initiatives. This increases our understanding of the underlying antecedents of intra-organizational integration.
Our study also has important implications for practitioners. First, our study highlights that operations managers willing to integrate environmental management in manufacturing processes should not only allocate resources to environmental projects and practices, they should also work on the collaboration and interaction of environmental and manufacturing decision areas.
Second, EM-OM integration encompasses different infrastructural operating decisions related to planning and control systems, workforce management systems, and organization. Together with structural operating decisions, they characterize PPPs.
In line with this evidence, suggest that environmental projects involving changes in management systems are more profitable than those that entail only a structural transformation. These findings highlight that the “soft” dimension of environmental projects should not be neglected but adequate attention should be devoted to align these organizational mechanisms to the structural part of the projects. We suggest that in contexts characterized by high uncertainty and/or high complexity, a higher integration between EM and OM decision areas may facilitate a conscious appreciation of the interaction between structural and infrastructural decisions thus helping managers to avoid sub-optimal decisions
Third, consistent with the contingency approach, which provides the conceptual roots of our study, we suggest that managers should accurately analyze the contextual factors of the PPPs in order to understand all variables at stake and implement the correct integration strategy. Managers of plants that undertake PPPs should be aware of the relationship that links project uncertainty and complexity with EM-OM integration. As uncertainty and complexity increase, EM and OM managers should drop coordination mechanisms that better fit low uncertainty and low complexity and promote a broadly share of responsibilities, use inter-functional teams, facilitate knowledge sharing, and extensively communicate project’s goals.
In this paper, we analyze the contextual variables of PPPs that are associated with the integration between EM-OM decision areas. Our case studies focus on different types of PPPs and offer a range of examples of how environmental strategies are operationalized at the plant level. We report that environmental decisions and actions are implemented with manufacturing ones based on collaboration and interaction, i.e., integration, between the two decision areas. However, EM-OM integration is context-dependent, as it is associated with the level of uncertainty and complexity that information management, structural and technological changes, and evolution in environmental context may involve.
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