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Challenges in Integrating Environmental Issues into Operations Management Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 24th, 2021

Introduction

Background

The idea of achieving sustainability in modern organisations causes leaders to pay attention to addressing various environmental issues associated with their activities. However, being focused on integrating environmental practices into operations, managers can face certain barriers to overcome (Gustafsson, Hermelin & Smas 2019). Operations are expected to be organised in a way to prevent or decrease a negative impact on the environment and ensure all the activities are environmentally friendly (Longoni & Cagliano 2015). Therefore, the topic of challenges in integrating environmental issues into operations management is critical to be studied today.

Problem Statement and Research Question

The specific problem is that, when integrating environmental policies into operations management, managers can face a variety of challenges, but only limited research on these obstacles is available to provide information on how to address those (Magon et al. 2018). The question guiding this research follows:

RQ1: What are the challenges associated with integrating environmental issues and policies into operations management?

This research has theoretical and practical significance because it is important to determine challenges that can prevent managers and other employees from making operations more sustainable and propose strategies to overcome the issue.

Literature Review

The review of recent literature on the topic should be completed to identify the existing views regarding the problem. In the recent studies, the following topics are discussed: environmental awareness in business, sustainability-oriented changes in operations management, challenges in changing operations to make those environmentally friendly. In this section, the gaps in research to be covered with the help of this study will also be provided.

Environmental Awareness in Business

The growth of environmental consciousness and environmental awareness in relation to business operations has become observed in the 21st century. According to Baki (2018), companies became more concerned regarding such issues as environmental pollution, waste management and recycling. Gelhard and Von Delft (2016) and Dhull and Narwal (2016) state that the process of greening supply chains, developing environment-oriented policies and sustainability strategies is currently observed in most large organisations. This focus on environmental performance is the main indicator of changes in the business world in terms of developing environmental consciousness.

Sustainability-Oriented Changes in Operations Management

One of the problems discussed in the literature is that managers face difficulties when modifying or improving operations trying to integrate environmental issues into it. Hooker, Denslow and Giunipero (2016) claimed that sustainability-oriented changes include the implementation of green procedures, recycling techniques, waste management policies, selection of new suppliers and selection of alternative sources of energy. As a result, these changes are viewed as requiring significant investments, and they are time-consuming (Tay et al. 2015). It is expected that companies need to perform proactively while changing their operations management with a focus on environmental issues. Much attention is paid to environmental operations management in this context, but it is not a typical practice today.

Challenges in Integrating Environmental Issues

When companies develop their environmental awareness and choose greening operations, managers can experience a lot of challenges and problems associated with integrating environmental issues into operations management. The variety of challenges reported by researchers includes managers’ attitudes toward implementing environmentally friendly practices, the lack of time and financial resources to green operations or make them sustainable and inappropriate organisational structures (Dhull & Narwal 2016; Gelhard & Von Delft 2016).

According to researchers, the process of realising the principle of sustainability in companies is problematic because of these barriers as employees lack resources, motivation and education to adopt and promote changes (Wong, Wong & Boon-Itt 2015). The integration of environmental issues and policies in operations management is viewed as connected with many barriers and affected by external aspects, including governmental regulations.

Gaps in Research

Despite the fact that sustainability, the process of greening supply chains and other environmental issues are actively discussed in the context of operations management, there is still little research on challenges faced by managers on their paths to changes. Available studies do not provide enough information on what challenges can be faced by managers when they try to address the requirements of sustainable development and environmental issues into their operations management (Baki 2018; Hooker, Denslow & Giunipero 2016).

As a result, there is a need for additional research in this field to determine these barriers to provide the ground for formulating strategies for overcoming challenges. To cope with barriers when making their operations more environmentally friendly, managers need to know what barriers to address and what efficient environment-oriented performance programs to implement.

Research Design and Methods

In this section, the research design and methods selected to address the research question on challenges associated with integrating environmental issues and policies into operations are discussed. The specifics of the methodology and sampling need to be described to ensure the chosen strategy is effective to address the research question. The section will also provide information on data collection and data analysis approaches and tools.

Research Design

To find the answer to the set research question formulated based on the literature to address the gaps, it is necessary to apply the mixed methods research as the combination of qualitative and quantitative methodologies. The reason is that the application of both methodologies contributes to answering the question in much detail. Thus, the use of both methodologies will help to provide a complete picture regarding the issue (Karlsson 2016). The non-probability purposive sampling technique should be utilised to recruit eight managers working in operations management in different organisations. The inclusion criterion is their experience in integrating environmental issues in their organisation. Data collection and analysis should be organised simultaneously to provide separate clusters of information to discuss.

Qualitative methodology

Qualitative subjective data will present the detailed information on managers’ views regarding challenges they experience when integrating environmental issues into operations management. A focus group is effective to discuss the topic in a time-efficient manner with several participants to make them openly express their views on the issue (Karlsson 2016). The participation of the researcher in the focus group discussion is limited, which is the advantage of the method.

Quantitative methodology

Quantitative data will provide the information on tendencies in the area of operations management regarding the correlation between challenges and changing procedures to environmentally friendly ones. When it is necessary to determine the significance of relationships or correlations between variables, the application of quantitative techniques is required (Karlsson 2016). A quantitative correlational design will be applied to meet the purpose of this research.

Data Collection

The collection of original qualitative data is organised with the help of a focus group to gather subjective specific data on challenges experienced by eight recruited managers. At the first stage, probing questions should be formulated to guide the discussion in a focus group. The participants are contacted in advance to provide their consent on joining the study and be informed on the date and location to take part in a focus group.

The focus group session lasts about two hours, and all the participants’ narratives are recorded for further transcription and analysis. The collection of quantitative data includes the preparation of a survey to be spread among the participants (Karlsson 2016). After the focus group discussion, the participants are provided with surveys to complete them during two weeks and send results to the researcher via email.

Data Analysis

Thematic analysis of qualitative data should be used to identify themes and challenges in participants’ narratives. The transcribed data needs to be coded to determine similarities in the participants’ views with the help of NVivo software. The codes are classified to determine particular themes in the participants’ answers. These data will be interpreted depending on existing ideas in previous studies.

To analyse quantitative data, chi-square tests should be used to conclude on the relationship between identified challenges and the integration of policies into operations management. The reason for choosing chi-square tests is that they are effective to determine statistically significant differences between variables (Karlsson 2016). Quantitative data will be discussed with reference to previous studies to address the research question.

Findings and Discussion

Referring to the methods proposed in the previous section, the collected data need to be analysed and evaluated. In this section, the focus is on listing the findings of data analysis. Additionally, the discussion of the findings in the context of previous studies is presented. The findings related to qualitative data analysis and quantitative data analysis are provided separately to be discussed in much detail.

Thematic Analysis Results

After collecting the participants’ transcribed narratives and entering them into NVivo programme for further analysis, it is possible to identify invariant constituents (codes) and three related thematic categories. The first thematic category is managers’ commitment to integrating environmental issues and policies into operations. The problem is that managers often demonstrate resistance to changes because of the impossibility to motivate employees to accept them or organise the change process effectively. This finding is supported by the conclusions made by Dhull and Narwal (2016) and Gustafsson, Hermelin and Smas (2019) regarding the role of managers’ attitudes in the success of such changes.

The second theme is the lack of resources as time and cost constraints are reported to prevent managers from implementing environmentally friendly strategies. They cannot use available resources efficiently to refer to alternative sources of energy, improve waste management or adopt recycling. This problem was also mentioned in the studies by Gelhard and Von Delft (2016) and Longoni and Cagliano (2015). The third theme is the limitations of organisational structures to integrate environmental policies. In some cases, organisations are not prepared for changing their structures, processes and operations to become more sustainable because a range of amendments is to be implemented. The role of corporate culture and internal factors in the process was also discussed by Wong, Wong and Boon-Itt (2015) and Tay et al. (2015) in their works.

Statistical Results

According to descriptive statistics, 48% of participants name the lack of resources and cost constraints as the key challenge to focus on. Additionally, 31% point at the importance of managers’ attitudes and motivation, and 21% refer to the corporate culture and organisational structure. Chi-square test results indicate that there is a positive relationship between the presence of some challenges and the process of integrating environmental issues and policies into operations management. At the level of significance of 0.05, the lack of financial and other material resources and managers’ attitudes are directly related to integration of environmental policies and issues into operations management. The relationship between other challenges and integrations is not significant.

Conclusions and Implications

Conclusions

The findings indicate that the most important challenges that influence the process of integrating environmental issues in operations in organisations are the lack of material resources and cost constraints as well as the level of managers’ commitment and their attitudes. Additional challenges that are associated with the process are problems in the organisational structure and corporate culture. However, the findings show that these challenges are not regarded as critical in comparison to other two groups of barriers.

Implications

The determination of challenges in implementing environmental policies that can significantly affect their integration into operations is important to contribute to knowledge on the topic, and the focus on a particular extent is critical. The literature on the topic can be expanded when typical challenges associated with integrating environmental policies into operations are clearly identified. Moreover, the implications to practice are also significant as, using this information, managers can develop strategies to mitigate these barriers and guarantee successful integration. Managerial strategies can be adjusted to minimise negative effects of identified challenges according to the information on the obstacles that are most correlated with the process realisation.

Limitations

The first limitation is connected with problems in finding participants who have required experience and reference to subjective data. More research is required with a focus on a larger sample of participants. The second limitation is that the results indicating the relationship between the variables do not determine the cause and effect interdependence of categorical variables. These limitations can be addressed during further studies on the problem.

Reference List

Baki, R 2018, ‘Literature review on green supply chain management concept and problems during its implementation’, The Journal of International Scientific Researches, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 114-122.

Dhull, S & Narwal, M 2016, ‘Drivers and barriers in green supply chain management adaptation: a state-of-art review’, Uncertain Supply Chain Management, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 61-76.

Gelhard, C & Von Delft, S 2016, ‘The role of organizational capabilities in achieving superior sustainability performance’, Journal of Business Research, vol. 69, no. 10, pp. 4632-4642.

Gustafsson, S, Hermelin, B & Smas, L 2019, ‘Integrating environmental sustainability into strategic spatial planning: the importance of management’, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, vol. 62, no. 8, pp. 1321-1338.

Hooker, RE, Denslow, D & Giunipero, LC 2016, ‘Environmental sustainability in the supply chain: a review of past literature and discussion of potential drivers and barriers’, in M D’heur (ed), Sustainable value chain management, Routledge, London, pp. 51-66.

Karlsson, C (ed.) 2016, Research methods for operations management, 2nd edn, Routledge, London.

Longoni, A & Cagliano, R 2015, ‘Environmental and social sustainability priorities: their integration in operations strategies’, International Journal of Operations & Production Management, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 216-245.

Magon, RB, Thomé, AMT, Ferrer, ALC & Scavarda, LF 2018, ‘Sustainability and performance in operations management research’, Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 190, pp. 104-117.

Tay, MY, Rahman, AA, Aziz, YA & Sidek, S 2015, ‘A review on drivers and barriers towards sustainable supply chain practices’, International Journal of Social Science and Humanity, vol. 5, no. 10, pp. 892-897.

Wong, CY, Wong, CW & Boon-Itt, S 2015, ‘Integrating environmental management into supply chains: a systematic literature review and theoretical framework’, International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, vol. 45, no. 1/2, pp. 43-68.

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