Sustainability and company performance Evidence from the manufacturing industry

University dissertation from Linköping : Linköping University Electronic Press

Abstract: This dissertation approaches the question of sustainability and its influence on company performance, with special focus on the manufacturing industry. In the contemporary production environment, manufacturing operations must take into account not only profit, but also environmental and social performance, in order to ensure the long-term development of the company. Companies have to decide whether they should allocate resources to environmental and social practices in order to improve their competitive advantage. Consequently, in decision-making processes concerning operations, it is important for companies to understand how to coordinate profit, people, and planet.The objective of this dissertation was to investigate the current situation regarding manufacturers’ sustainable initiatives, and to explore the relationship between these sustainable practices and companies’ performance, including financial performance, operational performance, innovation performance, environmental performance, and social performance. First of all, a structured literature review was conducted to identify sustainable factors considered to be important in the decision making of manufacturing operations. The findings were synthesized into a conceptual model, which was then adopted as the basis for designing the survey instrument used in this dissertation. Drawing on Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) reports, empirical research was performed to explore the relationship between environmental management practices and company performance. Interestingly, the findings showed that many environmental management practices had a strong positive impact on innovation performance. Sustainability disclosures and financial performance were further analyzed using extended data from the GRI reports. The results also showed that several sustainability performance indicators, such as product responsibility, human rights, and society, displayed a significant and positive correlation with return on equity in the sample companies.In order to further explore the research area and to verify these findings, a triangulation approach was adopted and new data were collected via a survey conducted among middle and large sample companies in the Swedish manufacturing industry. The results indicated that the sustainable improvement practices had a positive impact on company performance. Some environmental and social improvement practices had a direct and positive correlation with product and process innovation. Furthermore, findings suggested that better cooperation with suppliers on environmental work could help to strengthen the organizational green capabilities of the focal companies.When considering the company’s general approach to implementing sustainable practices, some interesting findings emerged. There were limited significant differences in sustainable practices when comparing different manufacturing sectors, and different countries and regions. However, the results showed that Swedish manufacturing companies often place higher priority on implementing economic and environmental sustainability practices than on social ones.This dissertation contributes to the literature on manufacturing sustainability. The study expands the understanding of how environmental, social, or economic perspectives as a triple bottom line can influence company performance and to a certain extent the supply chain. Identifying and understanding such relationships gives companies the opportunity to integrate sustainability into their manufacturing operations strategy in order to sustain their manufacturing operations over the long term.