Background and Context
In the 21st century, it is expected that enterprises focus significantly on developing environment-friendly approaches to organising all the business processes and procedures (Gustafsson, Hermelin & Smas 2019; Reid & Sanders 2019). The idea of achieving sustainability in various modern organisations causes leaders to pay special attention to addressing numerous environmental issues that are associated with their activities (Reid & Sanders 2019).
However, when being focused on integrating different environmental practices into operations, managers can face certain barriers that need to be overcome (Gustafsson, Hermelin & Smas 2019). According to the existing literature, the examples of these barriers include limited resources available to managers, the lack of managers’ commitment and knowledge, organisational and hierarchical issues, and the lack of awareness and motivation in employees, among other obstacles (Baki 2018; Ghazilla et al. 2015; Longoni & Cagliano 2015).
Operations are expected to be organised in a specific way in order to prevent or decrease a negative impact on the environment and ensure that all the activities are environment friendly (Longoni & Cagliano 2015). The reason for identifying and examining the mentioned barriers is that the presence of these challenges leads to increasing the costs of making operations sustainable, to the complicated implementation of environment-friendly procedures, and in some cases, to preventing the integration of environmental policies and processes into operations when making them green (Ghazilla et al. 2015; Longoni & Cagliano 2015).
Therefore, the topic of challenges in integrating environmental issues into operations management is critical to be studied today to contribute to the existing knowledge on the problem and improve the practice.
Businesses are oriented towards achieving their environmental goals in order to address communities’ needs and stakeholders’ interests. In this context, the integration of environmental concerns and issues into operations management and the product flow becomes a priority for managers (Tay et al. 2015). The key goal at this stage is the decrease of the environmental damage and negative effects on communities (Baki 2018).
Researchers report that environmental consciousness is typical of many leaders today, and they become concerned with the approaches to integrating environmental issues into organisations’ operations to minimise environmental pollution and other negative effects (Baki 2018; Wong, Wong & Boon-Itt 2015). Therefore, nowadays it is possible to observe the tendency of reducing waste in enterprises’ operations, applying various recycling technologies, and changing methods of packaging. For example, the approach to selecting suppliers has also become changed in order to focus on cooperating only with partners who use environment-friendly technologies.
The first attempts to pay attention to environmental concerns in the context of enterprises’ operations were made in the 20th century, when the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) established ISO14000 standards in 1996 (Dhull & Narwal 2016). The purpose of this series of standards was to protect the environment from pollution caused by the activities of organisations.
Enterprises began to integrate environmental policies into their operations in order to achieve high outcomes and become certified as a result of auditing their activities. Those organisations that have the ISO 14000 certification are viewed as having more advantages in the market because of being attractive to customers (Dhull & Narwal 2016).
In order to complete and receive this certification, it is necessary to adjust operations to the safety norms associated with the principles of protecting the environment. Researchers state that any enterprises’ operations can be potentially hazardous to the environment, and the focus should be on changing them to address the norms of environmental management (Dhull & Narwal 2016; Tay et al. 2015). In this case, it will be possible to develop as an environment-friendly business.
The necessity of integrating environmental concerns into operations management poses a lot of practical questions to be addressed by managers. The specific problem is that, when integrating environmental policies into operations management, managers can face a variety of challenges, such as the lack of resources, the lack of commitment and knowledge, organisational issues, and the lack of employees’ motivation, among others, but only limited research on these obstacles is available to provide information on how to identify those (Magon et al. 2018).
The lack of the literature describing these barriers and challenges in detail leads to the inability of managers to effectively identify and explain problems they can experience in their practice, and as a result, managers are unable to effectively address these barriers.
It is important to note that companies are expected to be flexible in order to change their operations and processes to become sustainable and gain profits from realising the environment-oriented policies and strategies (Baki 2018; Zhu & He 2017). In spite of obvious advantages associated with this path of becoming environmentally friendly, enterprises also face many difficulties connected with organisational and operational changes that can lead to employees’ dissatisfaction and reduction in productivity.
For instance, integrating environment-friendly practices into operations, managers often need to address unexpected increases in costs of all the processes and revise financial objectives and plans, even change manufacturing procedures and equipment (Gustafsson, Hermelin & Smas 2019; Tay et al. 2015).
It is usually obligatory to address the necessity to invest more resources in corporate social responsibility practices, follow environmental regulations and norms, as well as find new suppliers and partners because of orienting towards sustainable operations (Graham & McAdam 2016; Magon et al. 2018). Still, little is known regarding these challenges because of the lack of studies covering the integration of environmental concerns and policies into operations management (Baki 2018).
It is important to state that the existing research literature does not provide enough information to be used in practice that can explain what challenges managers can encounter on their path to improving operations in the context of shifting to sustainability (Dhull & Narwal 2016; Tay et al. 2015).
According to Magon et al. (2018), the problem is that, on the one hand, the integration of environmental issues into operations management is viewed as the need for modern enterprises, and it is a popular tendency to follow. On the other hand, there are many pitfalls that are related to the process of implementing any changes in organisations, and it is important to focus on specific challenges associated with the area of operations management (Hitt, Xu & Carnes 2016; Magon et al. 2018).
These challenges can be linked to political influence, the specifics of a legal framework, technological aspects, organisational problems, economic causes and institutional factors (Gustafsson, Hermelin & Smas 2019). If these challenges are not defined properly to lead managers on their way to integrating environmental concerns into operations management in the most efficient manner, it is possible to expect significant losses for organisations, as it was stated by Tay et al. (2015), Ghazilla et al. (2015), Longoni and Cagliano (2015), Baki (2018) and Magon et al. (2018).
Relevance and Importance of the Research
This mixed methods research based on the combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies to identify the barriers to integrating environmental practices into operations has theoretical and practical significance because it is important to determine specific challenges that can prevent managers and other employees from making operations more sustainable and propose strategies to overcome the issue.
Theoretical significance is in the fact that the lack of literature on the topic is currently present, and this aspect prevents from developing evidence-based practices of integrating environmental concerns into operations management (Graham & McAdam 2016; Hooker, Denslow & Giunipero 2016). As a result, more research is needed in this field to point at the challenges that can be explained with reference to different theories.
Practical importance of this research is in demonstrating what challenges and barriers can be faced by managers during the integration process in order for them to be able to change or adapt their strategy and apply certain solutions. The presence of certain challenges is assumed in the academic literature, but only limited studies provide the detailed analysis of the problem, as well as the description of these obstacles (Baki 2018; Panigrahi & Rao 2018; Sarkis & Zhu 2018).
As a consequence, this research is important to provide a complex analysis of the challenges that can be observed when integrating environmental issues into operations management, as well as recommendations to follow in practice to avoid the negative effect of these barriers on operations.
The purpose of this mixed methods research project is to identify possible challenges that can be associated with the integration of environmental concerns, issues and policies into operations management in order to contribute to the existing theory and practice. Despite the fact that these barriers are mentioned in the literature review on the topic to guide operations managers who implement sustainability policies in their organisations, there is still the lack of research in the area to define these challenges clearly and propose effective solutions to apply. This research can potentially contribute to addressing these theoretical and practical needs. Therefore, the question guiding this research is the following one:
RQ1: What are the challenges associated with integrating environmental issues and policies into operations management?
The review of recent literature on the topic should be completed for the purpose of this project in order to identify the existing views and opinions of researchers and experts regarding the problem. In the recent studies on applying environmental policies and concerns in operations management, the following topics are studied and discussed in detail: environmental awareness in business, sustainability-oriented changes in operations management, environmental operations management and challenges in changing operations to make those environmentally friendly (Jabbour et al. 2016; Longoni & Cagliano 2015; Magon et al. 2018).
Thus, the past and existing research is focused on certain themes that are related to the problem studied in this project (Achillas et al. 2018; Baki 2018; Khan, Hussain & Ajmal 2016). However, it is important to determine how the existing literature describes issues that are directly related to the topic of this research: challenges and barriers to integrating environmental issues and concerns into operations management. Therefore, in this section, the gaps in research to be covered with the help of this study will be listed to give academic support to examining the specified problem in the field of operations management.
Environmental Awareness in Business
The growth of environmental consciousness and environmental awareness in relation to business operations has become widely observed in the 21st century. Thus, researchers point at significant shifts in strategies applied by leaders and entrepreneurs in order to achieve competitive advantage in the industry and market (Baki 2018; Tseng et al. 2019; Ullah 2017).
Modern entrepreneurs develop their environmental awareness in order to become responsive to the changes in the world and the public’s perception of the environmental protection concept (Ullah 2017; Yang & Zhang 2017). According to Baki’s (2018) literature review on the implementation of green practices in management, companies became more concerned regarding such issues as environmental pollution, waste management and recycling.
The reason is that customers prefer more environmentally friendly products, and companies are expected to decrease toxic wastes and choose alternative packaging methods. Environmentally risky processes should be avoided or reduced with the help of changing the whole system of supply chain, operations, and production management (Baki 2018). These ideas were also reflected in other studies on the concept of environmental awareness in operations.
Some researchers state that the process of greening supply chains, developing environment-oriented policies and sustainability strategies is currently observed in most large organisations. This focus on environmental performance is one of the main indicators of changes in the business world in terms of developing environmental consciousness and addressing social needs (Bromiley & Rau 2016; Gelhard & Von Delft 2016; Piyathanavong et al. 2019).
According to Wu and Jia (2018), who discussed this concept in the context of supply chain localisation, environmental awareness has become the integral component of business operations and clients’ experience because of the necessity to increase profits. Thus, more entrepreneurs realised the importance of applying environmentally friendly practices, and they shifted towards environmental consciousness in order to address social trends and customers’ expectations.
However, according to the review of the literature conducted by Dhull and Narwal (2016), there is still a lack of environmental awareness among employees and customers. In spite of the fact that organisations try to integrate environment friendly practices and propose specific goods and services to their clients, the lack of knowledge regarding these practices and approaches creates additional barriers for entrepreneurs.
On the one hand, there is a need for environment friendly practices, processes, operations and products. On the other hand, not all employees are ready to act as part of environmentally conscious companies (Dhull & Narwal 2016). This idea is partially supported by Gelhard and Von Delft (2016), who declared that it is not enough to change the view and become environmentally aware if stakeholders are not ready to take actions towards sustainability and environmental consciousness.
As it is stated in the literature, increased environmental awareness is a modern tendency in the business world, including the area of operations, but the lack of environmental awareness is still observed among some stakeholders.
Sustainability-Oriented Changes in Operations Management
Specific sustainability-oriented changes in operations management is a topic that was discussed by many researchers who focused on environmental concerns in this area. The definitions of sustainability and sustainable development were also proposed by researchers who studied a range of related topics. Thus, sustainable development invokes “the needs of future generations counterbalanced to the current unmet needs of much of the world’s population,” and it “encompasses three fundamental approaches: economic, environmental, and social developments” (Tay et al. 2015, p. 892).
From this perspective, environmental sustainability is associated with “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” (Tay et al. 2015, p. 892). According to Wong, Wong and Boon-Itt’s (2015) systematic literature review, sustainability is a purpose of various organisations, and one of the first steps on this path is the integration of environmental management into operations and supply chains.
The researchers found out the following key sustainability-oriented changes and practices: internal green practices, supplier-oriented green practices, customer practices, and community stakeholder practices. These practices are required to make operations and processes in organisations more environmentally friendly.
Environmental sustainability is viewed as a target in different firms with specific operations that can affect the community. According to Longoni and Cagliano’s (2015) quantitative study, today many companies set environmental sustainability priorities and goals. These companies are interested in consuming fewer natural resources and energy, decreasing emissions, and eliminating negative impacts on the ecosystem.
As a result, in order to address this environment-oriented vision and environmental consciousness, it is necessary to apply a variety of sustainable practices and techniques (Longoni & Cagliano 2015). Nevertheless, the problem is that the integration of changes associated with the promotion of the ideas of environmental sustainability in an organisation is a complex and challenging task.
One of the problems discussed in the literature is that managers face difficulties when modifying or improving operations management trying to integrate environmental issues into it. Hooker, Denslow and Giunipero (2016) tried to measure sustainability applied in firms, and they claimed that sustainability-oriented changes include the implementation of green procedures, recycling techniques, waste management policies, selection of new suppliers and selection of alternative sources of energy.
Baki (2018) also added that these practices include the reduction of waste and carbon emissions to improve operations and manufacturing processes. As a result, these changes are viewed as requiring significant investments, and they are often rather time-consuming (Ghazilla et al. 2015; Tay et al. 2015; Wiengarten et al. 2019). As it is claimed in the literature on the topic of sustainability practices in operations, it is expected that companies need to perform proactively while changing their operations management with a focus on environmental issues.
The connection between operations management, environmental concerns and sustainability became actively discussed only during past two decades. Currently, only limited research is available on sustainable operations management, especially with reference to environmental sustainability. Following the results of Piercy and Rich’s (2015) study, managers have limited knowledge and experience regarding the work with practices that can be viewed as sustainable, green practices and lean practices in order to effectively implement environmental concerns and policies in operations management.
From this perspective, almost any environment-oriented practice is regarded by an experienced manager as sustainable or lean (Piercy & Rich 2015). Therefore, it is possible to state that there are many misconceptions among researchers regarding the clear connection between sustainability, sustainable development, green development, and environmental issues in the context of operations management (Bromiley & Rau 2016; Dubey et al. 2017; Reid & Sanders 2019).
These aspects indicate the necessity of more research regarding the implementation of environmental concerns and practices in the field of operations management with reference to the idea of sustainability.
Environmental Operations Management
In their studies on environmental sustainability and operations management, researchers paid much attention to the development of the idea of environmental operations management, but this approach is not a typical practice today, as it is noted by experts. This topic was also actively discussed in some seminal works on environmental issues and operations management. Thus, Angell and Klassen (1999) studied the existing research on integrating environmental issues into operations management in detail.
They were also among the first researchers who defined environmental operations management: “the integration of environmental management principles with the decision-making process for the conversion of resources into usable products” (Angell & Klassen 1999, p. 576). In their article, the role of operations managers was accentuated for “developing management systems and implementing decisions that affect environmental performance” to avoid any environmental risks (Angell & Klassen 1999, p. 576).
Another seminal work was written by Hill (2001), who declared the principles of integrating the principles of sustainability, and environmental sustainability in particular, into operations management. The ideas of these researchers were later reflected in other studies on similar topics.
As it is declared by experts and researchers, environmental operations management is observed in companies when manufacturers try to eliminate their negative effect on the environment as a result of their manufacturing operations and processes. The focus is expected to be on minimising the use of energy and consumption of natural resources (Ghazilla et al. 2015; Reid & Sanders 2019). Much attention should be paid to environmentally friendly choices to reduce waste and pollution (Achillas et al. 2018; Bergquist et al. 2019).
The strategy of environmental operations management is based on the integration of the principles of environmental administration into manufacturing processes, design, procedures and operations as well as technology and innovation decisions. In their cross-sectional survey, Graham and Potter (2015) found that attention should be paid to managers’ proactivity when they try to shift to environmental operations management in their organisations.
These environmental strategies differ from other managerial approaches by their preventative nature because managers’ goal is to avoid the negative environmental impact altering all the processes and operations in a firm. Therefore, managers’ proactivity is desired when shifting to specific environmental management.
Other researchers discussed a new concept of environmental operations management indirectly or in relation to the ideas of environmental sustainability and the triple bottom line. Thus, in their review, Garza-Reyes et al. (2017) concentrated on achieving environmental sustainability with the help of different greening strategies and lean and six sigma approaches.
The researchers found out that modern companies are often forced to change their traditional approaches, operations and processes to environment-friendly ones, and the creation of specific environmental operations and quality management poses a lot of problems for managers. They are expected to assess all the available environmental issues and policies in order to implement them in their companies in the most efficient manner.
These ideas were supported by other researchers, and the focus on creating a challenging situation for managers is typical for discussing environmental operations management as a concept. The relationship between the notion of the triple bottom line, sustainability and operations management was also analysed in the article by Flores et al. (2017). In the literature review, the researchers found the support for the idea that the focus on environmental operations management is a contemporary tendency.
Challenges in Integrating Environmental Issues
When companies develop their environmental awareness and choose greening operations, managers can experience a lot of challenges and problems associated with integrating environmental issues into operations management. The variety of challenges reported by researchers includes managers’ attitudes toward implementing environmentally friendly practices, the lack of time and financial resources to green operations or make them sustainable and inappropriate organisational structures (Dhull & Narwal 2016; Gelhard & Von Delft 2016).
According to researchers, the process of realising the principle of sustainability in companies is problematic because of these barriers as employees lack resources, motivation and education to adopt and promote changes (Wong, Wong & Boon-Itt 2015). The integration of environmental issues and policies in operations management is viewed as connected with many barriers and affected by external aspects, including governmental regulations.
Research on challenges and barriers to integration of environmental policies into operations management can be viewed as rather limited, therefore, it was also significant to analyse obstacles to promoting environmental sustainability in firms. In their substantial literature review, Tay et al. (2015) identified and examined internal and external barriers.
Thus, internal challenges are usually associated with people issues and the lack of commitment, strategic issues (costs, the size of an organisation, available technologies), functional issues (lack of training and understanding). External obstacles include governmental regulations, competitors’ pressure, customers’ views and various market issues (Tay et al. 2015). Similar challenges were also identified and explained by other researchers in their studies, including the works by Dhull and Narwal (2016), Hooker, Denslow and Giunipero (2016), Piercy and Rich (2015) and Bergquist et al. (2019).
Researchers used different approaches to categorising the identified challenges, in addition to focusing on internal and external ones. According to Baki (2018), it is possible to distinguish between five types of barriers to integrating environmental practices into operations and supply chains.
They include outsourcing, problems with technology, the lack of stakeholders’ knowledge and financial issues among others. The origins of these barriers or obstacles can be different, including internal factors and dynamics of a company’s development and external aspects, such as the impact of customers, legal issues, and governmental regulations (Baki 2018). From this perspective, these findings are correlated with the conclusions by Tay et al. (2015).
However, there are also even more barriers and challenges that can prevent managers from implementing the principles of environmental sustainability in their operations and supply chains. These problems and obstacles include costs of green and environmentally friendly systems, the non-availability of bank loans, costly disposal and recycling procedures, the lack of managers’ and employees’ training and the lack of awareness among stakeholders (Baki 2018; Chan, Okumus & Chan 2018).
Additionally, it is possible to suffer from the lack of required technologies, the lack of knowledge to work with new processes and systems and inappropriate technical expertise (Baki 2018; Bergquist et al. 2019; Piyathanavong et al. 2019). Facing these essential barriers, managers can also suffer from the fear of failure and employees’ resistance to changes.
On the contrary, Gustafsson, Hermelin and Smas (2019) concentrated on external challenges, accentuating the role of politics, legal regulations, dynamics in economy and institutional factors in implementing the principles of environmental sustainability in operations. The findings indicate that researchers were able to identify and study some challenges and barriers to integrating environmental concerns and issues into operations and supply chain management.
Gaps in Research
Despite the fact that sustainability, the process of greening supply chains and other environmental issues are actively discussed in the context of operations management, there is still little research on challenges faced by managers on their paths to changes. Available studies do not provide enough information on what challenges can be faced by managers when they try to address the requirements of sustainable development and incorporate environmental issues into their operations management (Baki 2018; Hooker, Denslow & Giunipero 2016).
The majority of the reviewed studies were focused on challenges related to the field of supply chain management and the process of greening supply chains, as in the studies by Baki (2018), Dhull and Narwal (2016), Hooker, Denslow and Giunipero (2016), Tseng et al. (2019), Wong, Wong and Boon-Itt (2015) and Dubey et al. (2017). Although these authors also directly addressed changes in operations management in their articles, it is important to note that there are no credible studies on integrating environmental issues and policies into operations management.
The reviewed and analysed studies present the detailed examination and explanation of the situation in the field of supply chain management and sustainability policies. Researchers examined how environmental consciousness that has recently developed in organisations could lead to their shift to environmentally-friendly and sustainability-oriented practices in operations management and supply chain management (Magon et al. 2018; Piyathanavong et al. 2019; Ullah 2017; Yang & Zhang 2017).
However, there is little research on the field of operations management in particular. Moreover, only few studies were related to the topic of potential challenges and barriers that can be faced by managers who worked on integrating environmental policies into operations and manufacturing procedures (Baki 2018; Tay et al. 2015; Tseng et al. 2019). As a result, there is a need for additional research in this field to determine these barriers to provide the ground for formulating strategies for overcoming challenges.
In addition, it is also important to note that the existing studies on environmental issues and operations management apply mainly literature reviews as their methods for examining the problem. Therefore, there is a lack of qualitative and quantitative studies in the area in order to address the necessity of examining the problem of challenges in the integration processes and operations management in detail (Achillas et al. 2018; Reid & Sanders 2019).
Moreover, the authors of the examined articles were not focused on providing specific recommendations on how to overcome the identified challenges and barriers (Baki 2018; Tay et al. 2015; Tseng et al. 2019). However, to cope with barriers when making their operations more environmentally friendly, managers need to know what obstacles and issues to address and what efficient environment-oriented performance programs to implement. The current research is critically important to identify a variety of challenges and present useful implications and recommendations.
Methodology and Data Collection
The purpose of this research is to identify particular challenges to integrating environmental concerns and policies into operations management that can be experienced by managers. In this section, the research design and methods selected to be used in order to address the research question on the barriers and obstacles associated with integrating environmental issues into operations are discussed in detail with a focus on the justification of the choice.
The specifics of the methodology and the sampling approach need to be described to ensure that the chosen strategy is effective to address the research question and purpose set for this study. The researcher will be able to answer the set question if the most appropriate methods are selected and supported by effective data collection and analysis instruments. Therefore, this section will also provide information on the data collection procedure and data analysis approaches and tools.
There are several sampling techniques that can be used in order to recruit participants to join a research study. Probability and non-probability techniques are used for different purposes, and probability approaches are appropriate for a quantitative methodology, when non-probability techniques are applied in qualitative studies (Gray 2019). For the purpose of this particular project, the non-probability purposive sampling technique should be utilised to recruit eight managers working in operations management in different organisations.
The reason is that purposive sampling allows for selecting those potential participants who can provide enough information to be used in the study according to certain inclusion and exclusion criteria (Bell, Bryman & Harley 2018; Gray 2019). The key inclusion criterion for the sample in this project is the participants’ managerial position in the operations management unit or department in any organisation located in the United Kingdom. Another important inclusion criterion to focus on is managers’ experience in integrating environmental issues in their organisation.
Thus, twenty-four managers working in the area of operations management in different UK organisations were contacted in order to invite them to participate in the study and to ensure that they have the experience in integrating environmental policies in their operational processes. Finally, eight managers addressing the inclusion criteria agreed to participate in the study and provide their answers to the researcher’s questions. They provided their signed informed consent forms before being involved in primary data collection procedures with the help of email.
To find the answer to the set research question that was formulated based on the literature to address the gaps, it is necessary to apply the mixed methods research as the combination of qualitative and quantitative methodologies. The reason is that the application of both methodologies contributes to answering the question in much detail (Turner, Cardinal & Burton 2017). Thus, the use of both methodologies will help to provide a complete picture regarding the issue (Karlsson 2016).
The mixed methods research combines the advantages of quantitative and qualitative methods to minimise the impact of the limitations of these research designs. Data collection and analysis procedures should be organised simultaneously in order to provide separate clusters of information to interpret and discuss. Figure 1 presents the flowchart of the research process and specific steps to be undertaken in order to collect and analyse appropriate data that can be used for answering the research question.
Mixed methods are applied in those cases when it is necessary to receive not only widely generalisable results with the help of a quantitative methodology but also detailed interpretations of the findings. The combination of both methods allows for the presentation of statistically significant results in numerical forms that are supported by the in-depth analysis and exploration of a certain phenomenon (Turner, Cardinal & Burton 2017). As a result, mixed methods are selected in those cases when it is necessary to guarantee the cross-validation of collected and analysed data, as well as their confirmation (Choi, Cheng & Zhao 2016; Gray 2019).
In this case, the results of the quantitative analysis are used for generalising the findings to determine certain tendencies in the participants’ answers and views (Turner, Cardinal & Burton 2017). The results of qualitative analysis are used when it is necessary to add more detail to the numerical findings in order to explain and interpret them (Gray 2019; Karlsson 2016). Therefore, those studies that apply mixed methods usually provide more complete and credible findings than qualitative or quantitative studies.
A qualitative methodology is used when it is necessary to gain the understanding of certain trends and attitudes. In the context of this research, it is necessary to uncover specific challenges that can be identified by managers as influencing the process of the integration of environmental issues into operations. In this context, it is critical to refer to the lived experiences of managers who can describe what barriers and obstacles they encountered when they tried to integrate environmental policies in their organisations (Bell, Bryman & Harley 2018).
Qualitative subjective data that will be collected for this research will present the detailed information on managers’ views regarding challenges and problems they could experience when integrating environmental issues into operations management. According to researchers, a focus group can be viewed as an effective method to discuss the topic in a time-efficient manner with several participants to make them openly express their ideas regarding the issue in the context of a qualitative methodology (Gray 2019; Karlsson 2016). The participation of the researcher in the focus group discussion is limited, and this aspect is seen as the advantage of the method.
A quantitative methodology is typically applied when it is necessary to generalise the collected results related to a certain sample and apply them to a wider population of interest. Findings of quantitative studies are usually presented in a numerical form that allows for relying on objective results and conclusions (Bell, Bryman & Harley 2018).
This deductive methodology is selected by researchers when it is necessary to collect and analyse data that are connected with a large number of people, and samples for these studies are usually large (Karlsson 2016). However, in the context of the mixed methods research, the application of a quantitative methodology to a small sample is also possible in order to support the findings of the qualitative research.
Quantitative data collected during this study project will provide the information on tendencies in the area of operations management regarding the differences between the perceptions of challenges and changing procedures to environmentally friendly ones. When it is necessary to determine the significance of differences between variables or their relationships, the application of quantitative techniques is required (Karlsson 2016).
A quantitative descriptive design will be applied to meet the purpose of this research in order to explain how the collected data are close to the assumptions made in theoretical literature on the application of environmental policies in operations management (Bell, Bryman & Harley 2018; Gray 2019). Since the qualitative data present subjective views of the participants of the study, quantitative results are important to generalise the findings and make them applicable to a wider population.
Primary and Secondary Research
Two types of research can be conducted in order to test certain hypotheses and collect data: primary and secondary. Primary research is associated with the collection of original data with the help of involving respondents. Instruments of primary research include surveys, interviews, focus groups and experiments among others. Secondary research is associated with analysing data that were collected by other researchers, and the main type of this research is a review of literature and studies (Bell, Bryman & Harley 2018).
To address the requirement of triangulation in this study, it is necessary to refer to both primary and secondary research, as well as different types of data collection in the context of primary research (Karlsson 2016). Thus, to ensure the validity of these study results, it is necessary to collect primary research data with reference to quantitative and qualitative approaches that will be described in detail in the following subsections. It is also necessary to apply secondary research methods when analysing the collected data against the results of previous studies determined with the help of a literature review.
To be able to achieve the purpose of this research and address the research question, it was necessary to collect relevant data. The focus was on using effective and valid instruments and methods. In this sub-section, it is necessary to discuss the data collection approaches with a focus on collecting data for quantitative and qualitative analysis. The used instruments will also be described in much detail.
Qualitative data collection
The collection of original qualitative data was organised with the help of a focus group to gather subjective specific data on challenges experienced by eight recruited managers. A focus group is a diverse group of respondents selected by a researcher to participate in the discussion of a certain issue. Focus groups usually include a limited number of participants, but these individuals are diverse and they have the certain experience related to the discussed topic or issue (Bell, Bryman & Harley 2018; Gray 2019).
This approach to collecting data differs from interviewing, and it allows for collecting much data related to several different participants despite time constraints. At the stage of preparing for conducting a focus group session, probing questions were formulated to guide the discussion in this group. The following questions were used to stimulate the conversation:
- Have you integrated specific environmental concerns, policies or issues into operations management in your company? Could you please describe the process, the set goals and outcomes?
- What challenges, barriers or obstacles did you encounter when trying to integrate the policies and issues into operations management? Could you please describe them?
- Have you any thoughts or ideas regarding these challenges and the ways to overcome them? Please share your experience.
The participants were contacted in advance in order to provide them with consent forms and receive their consent on joining the study. The participants were informed on the date and location to take part in a focus group. The focus group session with eight managers lasted about two hours, and all the participants’ narratives were recorded for being further transcribed and analysed by the researcher. ID numbers were assigned to the participants to mark the recordings, related files and transcribed narratives.
Quantitative data collection
The collection of quantitative data included the preparation of a questionnaire to be spread among the participants (Karlsson 2016). Appendix A provides the copy of the questionnaire that was used in the survey. This questionnaire includes 10 yes/no questions the results of which can be used for further statistical tests. The questionnaire was composed with a focus on the information presented in the literature on typical challenges that can be encountered by operations managers and on the narratives retrieved from the focus group session in order to be able to support or not the information received with the help of a qualitative method.
Thus, after the focus group discussion, the participants were provided with questionnaires to complete them during two weeks and send the results to the researcher via email. The received survey forms were marked with the help of ID numbers assigned to the participants in order to address the confidentiality issue and avoid disclosing personal information.
To answer the set research question, it was necessary to choose appropriate methods of analysis of the data with the help of the focus group discussion and a survey method based on the application of a questionnaire. In the following sub-sections, the selected qualitative data analysis approach will be discussed. The quantitative data analysis method was selected in order to be able to generalise this study findings and apply them to a wider population.
Qualitative data analysis
Thematic analysis of qualitative data was effectively used in order to identify particular themes and challenges in the participants’ narratives. Researchers state that thematic analysis is effective to assist in finding patterns in bulks of qualitative data. Referring to the identified themes, researchers conclude regarding the prevalent views regarding the examined problem (Bell, Bryman & Harley 2018; Turner, Cardinal & Burton 2017).
According to this approach, the collected data are transcribed, and then the transcribed data are coded for the purpose of determining similarities in the participants’ views with the help of NVivo software. This software allows for organising the process of working with detailed narratives of many participants to identify codes in their speeches and then unite these codes into thematic categories. This approach is widely applied in research because of its contribution to minimising time needed for analysing qualitative data (Gray 2019).
Thus, one of the most important stages in the qualitative data analysis process is the classification or categorisation of codes to determine particular themes in the participants’ answers. These data can be later interpreted depending on existing ideas in previous studies.
Quantitative data analysis
To analyse quantitative data, chi-square tests should be used to conclude on the presence of any differences between identified challenges and their role in the integration of policies into operations management. The reason for choosing chi-square tests is that they are effective to determine statistically significant differences between variables that are helpful to indicate the presence of any relationship (Bell, Bryman & Harley 2018; Karlsson 2016).
At the stage of working with descriptive statistics, it is important to calculate the number of “yes” or “no” answers in order to determine what challenges were reported by the participants as most critical to influence the effectiveness of integration environmental policies into operations and manufacturing processes.
A series of chi-square tests is selected because they allow for working with categorical data that are collected with the help of the questionnaire proposed to the recruited managers. The determined variables included different challenges as groups and managers’ positive or negative experiences in implementing environmental policies as categories. Finally, quantitative data should be discussed and interpreted with reference to previous studies in order to address the research question and demonstrate significant results.
In order to conduct the data collection procedure, it is necessary to receive the participants’ consent. The informed consent form was sent to the participants in advance to be signed and sent back to the researcher before starting any study procedures. The consent form included the purpose and the description of the nature of the study, as well as the statement about confidentiality (Bell, Bryman & Harley 2018; Karlsson 2016). It is important to ensure the participants’ confidentiality with the help of assigning ID numbers to the protocols with their answers to probing questions, survey forms, and recordings.
It will be impossible to determine the identity of the participant with the help of data collected for this study, any personal data should be removed from the documents used in this research. The recordings and protocols used for the study will be stored on the researcher’s drive disk and protected with the help of a password to avoid the unauthorised use of findings.
Data Analysis and Findings
The problem to be addressed in this research was that, when integrating environmental issues and concerns into operations management, managers could face different challenges, but only limited research was available to explain how to consider and address those barriers.
Referring to the methods of qualitative and quantitative research proposed in the previous section, the collected data need to be analysed in detail, as well as carefully evaluated to present findings regarding the challenges to integrating environmental policies into companies’ operations. In this section, the focus is on listing the findings of data analysis with their interpretation. Thus, the discussion of the findings in the context of previous studies is presented in this section. The findings related to qualitative data analysis and quantitative data analysis are to be provided separately to be discussed in much detail.
For this research, eight managers working in operations management units in different organisations were reached with the help of focus groups and survey questions. Referring to the demographic section of the questionnaire, it became possible to retrieve data to describe the participants representing the sample. Table 1 shows descriptive demographic data related to the participants of this research. It was important to determine participants’ age, gender, race, job position, and the years of working as a manager in a company.
Table 1. Descriptive Demographic Data.
|61 years and above||0||0%|
|Operations and Production Manager||1||12.5%|
|Years in a Position|
|More than 10||0||0%|
The descriptive data indicate that 37.5% of the participants were aged between 31 and 40 years. There was the equal presentation of males and females in the sample, as well as the equal presentation of representatives of White and Non-White races. The majority of the participants take the position of Operations Managers (87.5%), and the title of one of the respondents is Operations and Production Manager. Furthermore, the majority of the participants have a considerable experience of working in their managerial position: 62.5% of the respondents have been working for 2-5 years in their position and 25% have been working for 6-10 years in their current position.
Qualitative Data Analysis Procedure
The procedure of analysing the collected qualitative data included several important steps. These steps are
- the transcription of recordings with the participants’ narratives;
- the manual review of the transcribed data for identifying possible codes;
- the entering of transcribed data into the NVivo software for further analysis;
- the determination of invariant constituents (codes) and themes;
- the analysis of the identified themes (Bell, Bryman & Harley 2018).
Thus, all the transcribed data were entered into the NVivo software to identify recurrent codes in the participants’ narratives. After determining and analysing several codes and grouping them according to the shared topic, it became possible to focus on the three key themes that reflect the ideas that were most often discussed by the recruited managers.
Qualitative Data Analysis Results
The first thematic category is managers’ commitment to integrating environmental issues and policies into operations. The following ideas were presented by the participants with reference to this theme: “When I am thinking about the implementation of environment friendly technologies and innovations in my department, I understand that I will need to overcome a range of barriers and a lot of misunderstanding before I will be able to notice some positive changes. This makes me frustrated” (Participant 3).
In addition, Participant 5 stated that he is “not sure whether executives should change something in operations and procedures if all processes work in a stable manner and positive results are obvious.” Participant 8 also demonstrated the lack of motivation to implement complex strategies and techniques when realising the plan of integrating environmental policies into operations.
She stated that “any changes in processes and procedures mean prolonged periods of employees’ resistance, misunderstanding, absenteeism and mistakes.” Therefore, managers tended to report their scepticism regarding the implementation of environment-oriented practices in operations management and demonstrated limited commitment and motivation.
The problem is that managers often demonstrate resistance to changes because of the impossibility to motivate employees to accept them or organise the change process effectively. This finding is supported by the conclusions made by Dhull and Narwal (2016) and Gustafsson, Hermelin and Smas (2019) regarding the role of managers’ attitudes in the success of such changes. According to Dhull and Narwal (2016), managers’ commitment to protecting the environment can be a driving factor, and the lack of this commitment and motivation can work as a barrier to critical changes and new policies.
Following Baki (2018), the lack of managerial motivation and commitment does not allow for empowering environment-oriented changes in an organisation. Thus, managers’ responses regarding their attitudes towards the implementation of environmental issues in operations management are important to be taken into account because they can influence the success of the integration of environmental concerns into operations and manufacturing processes.
The second theme is the lack of resources as time and cost constraints are reported to prevent managers from implementing environmentally friendly strategies. Participant 2 claimed that his company “could not shift to environmental strategies ten years ago and completed this task only about two years ago because changes in operations were based on increasing product prices.”
Other respondents also noted that the process of integrating environmental issues into operations management is a costly process as it is necessary to change overall processes of production and operations in terms of moving to minimising waste, using recyclable material or using environment-friendly packaging. Participant 4 declared that the shift to “green procedures and operations in a firm” was associated with “firing the staff to minimise expenses, and it was rather unethical.”
Participant 1 claimed that the implementation of environmental policies was associated with a range of “economic measures because the focus was on implementing costly technologies.” Other participants also noted that the decision to integrate more environment-oriented strategies and policies in their enterprises’ operations and production processes led to decreasing funding for other departments. It was necessary to search for the cheapest approaches to integrating new principles into operations.
Participant 7 stated that when they started to search for material resources and available technologies to achieve sustainability with reference to their operations, they faced the necessity of changing a lot of operations and processes, and this fact in its nature was a barrier to initiating important changes in a company.
The participants noted that they could not use all the available resources efficiently to refer to alternative sources of energy, improve waste management or adopt recycling in their organisations. However, time constraints were mentioned only by some participants, and they did not accentuate listeners’ attention on that barrier.
The problem of limited financial resources for managers who start the integration of environmental or sustainable issues and policies in their organisations was also mentioned in the studies by Baki (2018), Gelhard and Von Delft (2016), Longoni and Cagliano (2015), Tay et al. (2015) and Wong, Wong and Boon-Itt (2015). According to Tay et al. (2015), many managers try to reduce their costs when implementing green practices in their organisations because all the associated processes are costly, and they experience the lack of required material resources.
Baki (2018) stated that challenges are reported when there are certain impossibilities to receive bank loans or support from investors or sponsors to realise environment friendly strategies and plans in enterprises. Wong, Wong and Boon-Itt (2015) also supported the idea that managers try to achieve cost efficiency when integrating innovative policies into operations.
The third theme is the limitations of organisational structures and corporate cultures to integrate environmental policies. In this context, Participant 6 pointed at the lack of flexibility in the management to adapt to the proposed and promoted changes. Thus, “they initiated greening processes in operations, but they did not provide employees with opportunities to adequately adapt to these vital changes.”
It was also stated by other participants that their top management seemed to be uncommitted to greening tendencies and acting under the pressure of shareholders. Other respondents described their organisational culture as not ready for adopting environmental issues and concerns in operations management because of all associated alterations and improvements.
Thus, two participants stated that their companies were not prepared for acting in a green way, adopting innovations and eco-friendly processes. Participant 2 claimed that they experienced problems because of the firm’s size (this aspect “affected our inappropriate and ineffective structure and hierarchy”) and availability of resources. Others pointed at the lack of diversity in approaches and resources to apply for this particular task of improving operations.
As it is noted in the literature, in some cases, organisations are not prepared for changing their structures, processes and operations to become more sustainable because a range of amendments is to be implemented. The role of corporate culture and internal factors in the process was also discussed by Wong, Wong and Boon-Itt (2015) and Tay et al. (2015) in their works.
Managers often suffer from the inability to cope with strategic, cultural and organisational issues to unite all the employees and prevent their resistance to change and to motivate them for training, development and adoption of new rules and principles of operations (Ghazilla et al. 2015; Tay et al. 2015). The participants also named some other challenges and barriers that were also reflected in the previous literature on the problem: an inappropriate technical base, the lack of training, misunderstanding between employees and managers, governmental regulations and associated barriers and legal aspects.
Quantitative Data Analysis Procedure
After participating in a focus group discussion, the participants were provided with a questionnaire to answer the questions about the challenges they experienced in their practice as managers implementing environmental strategies in operations management. The participants marked “yes” or “no” in response to the proposed questions depending on their experience. The filled-in digital copies of questionnaires were sent to the researcher for their further analysis.
Quantitative Data Analysis Results
In this sub-section, it is important to present the results of the quantitative data analysis applied in this project. The descriptive statistics results need to be supported by the inferential statistic results to demonstrate whether the determined challenges can have a different effect on the process of integrating environmental issues into operations management according to managers’ views. Therefore, the results of a series of chi-square tests are provided in the following sub-sections in detail.
Descriptive Statistical Results. The results of the survey were analysed to present descriptive statistics on the challenges named by the participants during the focus group session and reported in the questionnaire. Figure 2 provides the identified percentages to illustrate the challenges reported by the respondents.
According to descriptive statistics, 30% of the participants named the lack of resources and other cost constraints as the key challenge to focus on in association with their negative experiences in implementing environmental concerns in operations. Additionally, 23% pointed at the importance of managers’ attitudes and their motivation to influence the success of the implementation procedures. Furthermore, 16% referred to the organisational structure as an important obstacle to affect the changes in the organisation, and 15.5% named the corporate culture as a challenge. Additionally, 15.5% of the respondents named other barriers, including time constraints, external factors, and legal aspects.
Chi-Square Test Results
The results of a chi-square test to conclude regarding the difference between negative and positive experiences of managers in relation to different challenges were summarised in Tables 2-5. Table 2 presents the data on the cross-tabulation for groups of challenges and categories of experiences (positive or negative) for 8 participants.
Table 2. Chi-Square Cross-tabulation for Groups and Categories.
According to Table 2, managers’ attitude was named as leading to negative experiences in three cases, when organisational structure was named as associated with both positive and negative experiences of the participants. The total number of reported negative experiences was 5 cases for two groups of challenges. Table 3 illustrates the chi-square statistic for the study at p< 0.05.
Table 3. Chi-Square Test Results.
|Value||df||Asymptotic Significance (2-sided)||Exact Sig. (2-sided)||Exact Sig. (1-sided)|
|Fisher’s Exact Test||. 321882||.341242|
|N of Valid Cases||8|
The purpose of this test was to determine whether there is a statistically significant difference between managers’ experiences depending on challenges. According to the test results, X2(1, N = 8) =0.5333, p=.465209. The test result is not significant at p <.05. There is no statistically significant difference in managers’ experiences depending on the type of challenges. The results of the second chi-square test were summarised in Table 4, presenting the data on the cross-tabulation for other challenges and managers’ experiences (positive or negative) for 8 participants.
Table 4. Chi-Square Cross-tabulation for Groups and Categories.
|Challenge||Lack of Material Resources||Count||1||4||5|
According to Table 4, the lack of material resources was named as leading to negative experiences in four cases, and corporate culture was named as associated negative experiences of the participants in two cases. The total number of negative experiences was six cases for two groups of challenges. Table 5 illustrates the chi-square statistic for these groups at p< 0.05.
Table 5. Chi-Square Test Results.
|Value||df||Asymptotic Significance (2-sided)||Exact Sig. (2-sided)||Exact Sig. (1-sided)|
|Fisher’s Exact Test||.56121||.66124|
|N of Valid Cases||8|
The purpose of the chi-square test was to state whether there is a significant difference between managers’ experiences in implementing environmental policies in operations management depending on such challenges as the lack of material resources and corporate culture. According to the results, X2(1, N = 8) =0.1778, p =.67329. The test result is not significant at p <.05. There is no statistically significant difference in managers’ experiences depending on the type of challenges.
These results of qualitative and quantitative analyses indicate certain challenges that were named by the involved managers as important to affect the process of integrating environmental issues and policies into operations and processes. However, no statistically significant difference can be observed between the pairs of these challenges and their effects on managers’ negative experiences. These findings will be discussed in the next section in detail.
Conclusions and Implications
The purpose of this research was to determine a range of possible challenges that could be associated with the integration of environmental concerns, issues and policies into operations management in order to contribute to the existing theory and practice related to this topic. After applying the mixed methods techniques for collecting and analysing data, it is possible to focus on some important findings of this research. The results of the study indicate that the most important challenges and obstacles that influence the process of integrating environmental issues in operations in organisations are the lack of material resources and cost constraints as well as the level of managers’ commitment and their attitudes.
Additional challenges that were determined as associated with the process of integrating new environmental policies into the existing operations management procedures were the problems in the organisational structure and corporate culture. However, the findings show that these challenges are not regarded as critical in comparison to other two groups of barriers.
These findings are in line with the results presented in some other studies on similar topics. Thus, the lack of financial resources is usually regarded as a more influential factor than the lack of time or support of the team in order to promote the change in the organisation, as it was also noted by Baki (2018), Ghazilla et al. (2015), Gelhard and Von Delft (2016), Hooker, Denslow and Giunipero (2016), Longoni and Cagliano (2015), Tay et al. (2015) and Wong, Wong and Boon-Itt (2015).
When managers suffer from the shortage of material resources, they cannot apply effective strategies for changing the specifics of operations management processes and procedures to make them more environmentally friendly and addressing the norms of sustainability. When top managers and operations managers seem to be resistant to the implemented changes because of associated barriers, it is rather problematic for them to motivate employees to accept changes and complete required training.
From this perspective, managers’ positive attitude to the innovation is important in order to contribute to the effective realisation of sustainability and environment-oriented practices and policies in operations management because these changes require much commitment.
Application and Implications
The determination of challenges in implementing environmental policies that can significantly affect their integration into operations is important to contribute to knowledge on the topic, and the focus on a particular extent is critical. The literature on the topic can be expanded when typical challenges associated with integrating environmental policies into operations are clearly identified.
It is important to note that the review of the literature on related topics indicates that there is a lack of studies on the problem set for this research project. Therefore, this study can significantly contribute to theory and determine particular challenges that can be faced by operations managers in comparison to specialists who work with supply chains, for example, as it is mostly discussed in the existing literature.
Moreover, the implications to practice are also significant because, using this information, managers can develop effective strategies in order to mitigate these barriers and guarantee successful integration. Managerial strategies can be adjusted to minimise negative effects of identified challenges according to the information on the obstacles that are most correlated with the process realisation.
The results of this study can be directly applied to practice by managers who can focus on the list of barriers and challenges and try to prevent or address them when integrating environmental issues into operations and manufacturing processes. This project is concluded by the list of recommendations for operations managers who can apply them in their work to achieve success when implementing greening or environment-oriented practices to improve operations and minimise a negative effect on the nature and community.
The first limitation to pay attention to is connected with problems in finding participants who have required experience and references to provide subjective data on possible challenges to integrating environmental policies into operations and procedures. As a result of applying a purposing sampling technique and referring to inclusion and exclusion criteria, it was possible to recruit only eight managers who had agreed to participate in this project.
Therefore, it is important to note that more research is needed with a focus on a larger sample of participants. The application of a larger sample will contribute to conducting more accurate chi-square or other statistical tests, and depending on the number of participants, the results of these statistical tests can be different.
The second limitation to consider in this project is that the results indicating the presence of the difference between the variables do not determine the relationship and the cause and effect interdependence of categorical variables. Thus, the application of chi-square tests has certain limitations because the categorical data are used in these statistical tests, and the findings illustrate only the presence or absence of a statistically significant difference between groups and categories.
The results of the quantitative descriptive part of this study do not indicate the presence of the relationship between certain challenges identified by the participants and their experience of problems in integrating environmental issues into operations management. Therefore, additional correlational research can be required to determine the relationship between the variables. All the listed limitations can be addressed during further studies on the problem.
Concluding the study and referring to the findings, it is possible to provide operations managers with the following recommendations:
- When orienting towards environment friendly practices in operations management, it is necessary to forecast real costs associated with the change in organisations and refer to the assistance of sponsors and investors.
- It is necessary to guarantee that the management team is motivated to realise changes and face all the possible barriers and challenges.
- It is important to start the change or integration process after the proper examination of an organisation’s resources, structure and corporate culture to address potential obstacles and risks.
- All the employees need to be provided with efficient and well-organised training to effectively work with new systems in their departments.
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- Please provide the information regarding your age, gender and race________________________________________________
- Please provide the information regarding your current position in a company and the years of working in this position ____________________________________________________________________
- Did you experience some challenges/barriers/obstacles/problems when integrating environmental practices/issues/concerns/policies into operations management (Yes/No)?
- Did these challenges affect the process of integrating environmental practices into operations management negatively (Yes/No)?
- Did you experience the lack of financial/material resources (cost constraints) when integrating environmental practices into operations (Yes/No) that could affect the process negatively (Yes/No) or had no significant effects on the process (Yes/No)?
- Did you experience some negative attitudes or the lack of commitment/motivation when integrating environmental practices into operations (Yes/No) that could affect the process negatively (Yes/No) or had no significant effects on the process (Yes/No)?
- Did you experience the problems with the organisational structure when integrating environmental practices into operations (Yes/No) that could affect the process negatively (Yes/No) or had no significant effects on the process (Yes/No)?
- Did you experience the problems with the corporate culture when integrating environmental practices into operations (Yes/No) that could affect the process negatively (Yes/No) or had no significant effects on the process (Yes/No)?
- Did you experience other challenges (time constraints, the lack of training, etc.) when integrating environmental practices into operations (Yes/No) that could affect the process negatively (Yes/No) or had no significant effects on the process (Yes/No)?
- Please specify these challenges ______________________________________________.