Using Quality Management as a Bridge to Environmental Sustainability in Organizations

Article excerpt

Pressure is increasing on a wide range of organizations to use environmentally sustainable practices in producing their products and services. Nevertheless, there are few easily accessible tools to help managers make decisions that will have the desired environmental outcome--without compromising other crucial goals. Well-known quality management practices can help, especially the Deming Cycle of plan, do, study, and act. Applying these iterative steps, as illustrated by a case study, can help guide managers through decisions that result in environmentally sustainable practices.

Introduction

Increasingly, stakeholders such as regulators, customers, shareholders, board members, and employees are asking or requiring organizations to be more environmentally responsible (e.g., Hart, 1995; Porter and van der Linde, 1995; Naffziger, Ahmed, and Montagno, 2003). Reasons for these demands include regulatory requirements, environmental stewardship, enhanced public image, and the potential to expand the customer base and gain competitive advantages (e.g., Hart, 1995; Porter and van der Linde, 1995; Ahmed, Montagno, and Firenze, 1998).

The impact of environmental practices on organizational goals is still uncertain. While some researchers have found that environmental initiatives may have a negative impact on company performance (e.g., Freeman, 1994; Judge, 1994; Walley and Whitehead, 1994), other research indicates that being environmentally proactive can produce long-term gains (e.g., Hart, 1995; Porter and van der Linde, 1995; Ahmed, Montagno, and Firenze, 1998). In more current research, Clelland, Dean, and Douglas (2000) present evidence that pollution prevention and waste reduction practices enhance operational efficiencies. Likewise, even more recent studies (e.g., Ahmed, Montagno, and Naffziger, 2003; Naffziger, Ahmed, and Montagno, 2003) find positive correlations between companies' environmental efforts and operational efficiencies. Ahmed, Montagno, and Naffziger (2003) find a positive correlation between environmental effort and revenue. In their study, managers characterized the impact of environmental initiatives on profit as slightly positive.

Although, more and more managers are faced with the task of implementing environmentally sustainable practices in their organizations, there is a shortage of easily accessible and usable management tools and frameworks to help them. While environmental management systems (EMS), life cycle analysis (LCA), and ISO standards are used to implement environmentally sustainable practices, these tools tend to demand a significant amount of investment and commitment by organizations and managers. (Explanations of EMS, LCA, and ISO are beyond the scope of this paper, but earlier studies have compared and contrasted these systems. For example, interested readers can see Dreyfus et al, 2004.)

This paper illustrates how the well-known, widely used, and easily implemented principles of quality management (QM)--in particular, some of Deming's perspectives--can be a conceptual bridge to guide organizational decision-makers as they implement and manage environmentally sustainable practices. In particular, the paper expands upon the Deming Cycle (e.g., Dean and Evans, 1994) and illustrates how it can be used to implement environmentally sustainable practices. Deming's perspectives can be helpful in organizations that already use QM as well as in those that do not. In addition, as outlined in this paper, these practices are relatively accessible and can be used in organizations regardless of their progress toward sustainable practices--from those just beginning to explore their options, to those that have established sustainable practices and wish to evaluate them or incorporate additional ones. Therefore, companies can make the level of environmental investment and commitment that is consistent with their resources and goals.

The paper has five sections. …