A learning and knowledge approach to sustainable operations
Manufacturing's choice of environmental technologies is expected to be partly driven by the organizational context and receptivity to new ideas and innovation. More specifically, we hypothesize that the organizational learning and knowledge system of a manufacturing plant tends to favor the adoption of pollution prevention technologies and environmental management systems over pollution control technologies of that plant. The organizational learning and knowledge system is hypothesized to be split in two different stages, organizational learning antecedents and organizational learning processes. The choice of environmental technologies is hypothesized to be partially related to the organizational learning antecedents, and mediated by the organizational learning processes. Survey data exploring these relationships are presented from a sample of manufacturing plants in Canada. We found that the actual trade-off is not only between pollution prevention and pollution control, but also between pollution prevention and environmental management systems. The plant's social climate and external knowledge exchange are positively related to pollution control, while the stock of knowledge of managers, stock of knowledge of workers, and internal knowledge exchange are negatively related to pollution control. Environmental management systems had the opposite results. These results are counterintuitive, since we expected that all constructs from organizational learning culture would contribute to the choice of pollution prevention and environmental management systems. We found, however, no empirical support for the mediated model, and the organizational learning and knowledge system explained very little variance in the choice for pollution control. Our study makes three significant contributions. First, it explains, at least in part, the linkages between the stock of employee knowledge, knowledge exchange and managerial choices of environmental technologies in manufacturing. Second, it refined and validated scales that capture organizational knowledge within operations. Finally, this research highlighted the important role that plant-level social climate has on fostering a greater emphasis on pollution prevention. The managerial implications of this research are twofold. Managers, in order to promote pollution prevention and creating long term value with this kind of technology, should promote both the social climate and the external knowledge exchange in the plant. Managers also should craft their environmental management systems not as a bureaucratic process of documentation and regulatory compliance, or just to fulfill clients’ or parent company requirements, but as a source of process improvement and innovation.
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