LEAN, GREEN, AND THE QUEST FOR SUPERIOR ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE

Authors

  • SANDRA ROTHENBERG,

    1. Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York 14623, USA
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      Sandra Rothenberg is an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at Rochester Institute of Technology's College of Business. Sandra's research has primarily focused on environmental management within the automobile industry, where her interests have included corporate environmental strategy and management, lean manufacturing and environmental performance, regulation and technical innovation, international environmental management, worker participation, and environmental activism within firms. Sandra received her Ph.D. in Organizational Studies from the MIT Sloan School of Management, her M.S. in Technology and Policy from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and her B.S. in bioengineering from Syracuse University. She has also worked as a research associate for the United States Office of Technology Assessment, MIT International Motor Vehicle Program, Harvard Global Environmental Assessment Program, and MIT Consortium on Environmental Challenges.

  • FRITS K. PIL,

    1. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15260, USA
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      Frits K. Pil is an Assistant Professor at the Katz Graduate School of Business and Research Scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center of the University of Pittsburgh. He earned his undergraduate degree in Economics from Harvard University, his Masters degree in Applied Economics from the Wharton Business School (University of Pennsylvania), and his Ph.D. in Human Resources and Corporate Strategy from the Wharton Business School. He is the author of over a dozen publications on high-performance/high-involvement work systems and organizational innovation, learning, and change. Dr. Pil's recent work draws on longitudinal establishment level surveys and field interviews he has conducted worldwide in the automobile industry, as well as time-series individuallevel data he has gathered in the public sector. His research examines where knowledge originates, where it resides, and how it is transferred within and across organizational boundaries.

  • JAMES MAXWELL

    1. MIT Center for International Studies, Sr. Research Scientist, JSI Research and Training Institute, Boston, Massachusetts 02210, USA
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      James Maxwell is a Senior Research Scientist at JSI Research and Training Institute in Boston and a visiting scholar at MIT. He formerly served as the Co-Director of the Technology, MIT's Business and Environment Program. His research has addressed environmental issues affecting the global automobile, chemical, energy, and consumer products industries. His articles have appeared in major international journals, including Business Strategy and the Environment, Corporate Environmental Strategy, Pollution Prevention Review, Pacific Affairs, and the California Management Review. He has provided consultation to major multinational corporations, the German Ministry of the Environment, the U.S. EPA, U.S. DOE, U.S. Agency for International Development, NORAD, and the OECD.


Abstract

We examine the relationship between lean manufacturing practices and environmental performance as measured in terms of air emissions and resource use. We draw on two unique surveys of 31 automobile assembly plants in North America and Japan, which contain information on manufacturing practice and environmental performance, as well as in-depth interviews with 156 plant level employees at 17 assembly plants. Our survey results and interviews suggest that lean management and reduction of air emissions of volatile organic compounds (vocs) are associated negatively. Lean manufacturing practices contribute to more efficient use of paints and cleaning solvents, but these in-process changes are not sufficient to meet the most stringent air regulations. We found some evidence to support the link between lean practices and resource efficiency. While our survey results were in hypothesized direction, they were not statistically significant. In-depth semi-structured interviews, however, suggest a more robust relationship, and we use them to describe some mechanisms by which all three aspects of lean management (buffer minimization, work systems, and human resource management) may be related to environmental management practices and performance.

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