Enhancing the process of environmental improvement in manufacturing industry

University dissertation from Västerås : Mälardalen University

Abstract: To enable competitive industrial production, it is crucial to understand how to design and operate competitive production systems. Today, much operations management research focuses on the environmental dimension of sustainable manufacturing. Even though the environmental impact of industrial and commercial activities has become more vivid and severe, evidence points to a slow diffusion of industry-led ideas and actions for improving the environmental performance. It seems as if the manufacturing industry is still in the beginning of the process towards designing and operating environmentally benign production systems. However, increasing raw material and energy prices as well as potential penalties for lacking compliance provide cost related incentives for manufacturing companies to reduce their environmental impacts. Since production typically determines several environmental impacts such as exploitation of resources, contamination of soil, water and air, generation and emission of greenhouse gases etc., an important opportunity to reduce the environmental impact is found within a company’s production activities. In this, environmental issues can be viewed as either constraints or opportunities for competition. Companies can choose to adopt different positions ranging on a continuum from re-active behaviour, merely complying with environmental laws and regulations, to pro-active positions where competitive advantages are sought for. Either way, the increased environmental concern requires manufacturing companies to develop strategies, technologies and practices that will reduce the environmental impact from production.This research focuses on the process of environmental improvement applied by companies within the manufacturing industry and aims to explore the current state as well as develop support for enhancing this process. By collecting and analysing the empirical and theoretical findings, common barriers facing the companies in their strive to reduce the environmental impact from production as well as enabling factors, supporting the progress towards increased environmental performance have been identified. Based on an analysis of the current state one example of a link of challenges impeding the process of environmental improvement has been identified. The identified link of causes and effects shows a path towards a reactive improvement approach when dealing with environmental issues in production. In order to reach a more proactive state this link had to be broken. A general pattern describing the stages from a reactive to a proactive approach was identified, indicating that an increased understanding of and commitment to environmental issues were crucial parameters in order to succeed. Based on the findings, a number of requirements for enhancing the process of environmental improvement in production were derived. It was concluded that developing a support in terms of an improvement process was one way of improving the current state. Using an existing visual structure as a baseline a process for Green Performance Mapping was developed in cooperation with the studied companies. Ultimately, the suggested process was evaluated against the stated requirements and suggested as a support for enhancing the process of environmental improvement in production within the manufacturing industry, thereby contributing to reducing the environmental impact from production.

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