Purchasing's Role in Environmental Management: Cross-Functional Development of Grounded Theory

By Carter, Craig R.; Dresner, Martin | Journal of Supply Chain Management, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview
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Purchasing's Role in Environmental Management: Cross-Functional Development of Grounded Theory

Carter, Craig R., Dresner, Martin, Journal of Supply Chain Management

Are government regulations a driver or barrier to environmental activities? Does greater functional involvement within a firm help to ensure the success of environmental projects? Do environmental projects improve or harm financial performance? This research finds that none of these questions can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." Instead, this article distinguishes between successful and unsuccessful environmental projects, through an examination of not only their consequences but also their drivers and barriers and the functional interplay that occurs during their implementation. The findings result from an inductive study leading to theory grounded in the data but related to extant findings, and are based on case studies that tap the perspectives of purchasing managers and the managers in multiple, additional functional areas with whom they interact when initiating environmental projects.


Recently, a high-technology firm initiated an environmental project that resulted in increased levels of internal customer service, improved relationships within the organization and with a federal regulatory agency, and was completed within budget. At about the same time, another environmental project was initiated at the same firm that resulted in costs that were 10 times those initially projected, leading to deteriorating relationships both within and outside of the organization. How could two similar projects, undertaken by the same organization, yield such varying degrees of success?

Previous research has shown that purchasing managers can play a key role in a firm's environmental endeavors by using life cycle analysis to evaluate the environmental friendliness of sourced materials and packaging, asking suppliers to commit to waste reduction goals, purchasing recycled and reusable inputs, and participating in the design of products for recycling or reuse (Carter and Carter 1998; Mi and Galle 1997). However, environmental endeavors seldom occur in a functional vacuum and generally involve several other functions within a firm's value chain (Handfield et al. 1997). Interestingly, no research has been identified that has tapped the perspectives of purchasing managers, as well as the perspectives of managers with whom they interact when undertaking environmental projects.

This article develops a series of propositions concerning the implementation of environmental projects, which for the purposes of this study are broadly defined as: (a) recycling, reuse, asset recovery, and disposal; (b) the minimization of waste and the effective handling and processing of hazardous materials; and (c) any project or program that the case study firm has specifically identified as an "environmental" project or program. Specifically, this article is organized around five broad research questions that examine and expand upon this research topic:

1. What motivates firms' environmental projects?

2. What are the barriers to the successful implementation of environmental projects?

3. How are these barriers overcome?

4. What is the nature of the interaction between purchasing and supply managers and other functional areas within the firm when implementing environmental projects?

5. What are the criteria used by purchasing managers to determine the degree of success of environmental projects? More specifically, what are the outcomes of environmental projects identified by managers as "successful" versus those characterized as "unsuccessful"?

To provide insights into these research questions, case studies of five firms representing a diverse cross-section of industries were conducted, collecting data from informants in multiple functions within each firm. The results of this research are reported as a series of propositions relating to these research questions. The propositions are grounded in the data (Glaser and Strauss 1967) as well as complementary, extant literature (Sherry 1991).

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Purchasing's Role in Environmental Management: Cross-Functional Development of Grounded Theory


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