Environmentally Responsible Manufacturing (ERM) is a relatively new concept viewed as a product of the 1990s. ERM is defined as an economically-driven, system-wide and integrated approach to the reduction and elimination of all waste streams associated with the design, manufacture, use and/or disposal of products and materials. Fundamental to ERM is the recognition that pollution, irrespective of its type and form, is ultimately waste.
Based on past experiences with the concepts of Just-In-Time (JIT), Total Quality Management (TQM), and Time-Based Competition (TBC), we know that waste is any activity or product which consumes resources or creates costs without generating any form of offsetting stream of value. By minimizing waste, a firm can reduce disposal costs and permit requirements, avoid environmental fines, boost profits, discover new business opportunities, rejuvenate employee morale, and protect and improve the state of the environment.
When viewed in this light, one would think more managers may be interested in the development and use of ERM-based systems. However, for most firms, ERM has yet to achieve the same degree of acceptance like JIT, TQM, and TBC.
Industry research suggests that organizations with TQM systems in place are more inclined to undertake ERM-based systems than companies with less commitment to TQM, which implies that a company’s ability to reframe learnings from TQM is crucial to the successful implementation and use of ERM-based systems and procedures. Limited evidence is available to validate that TQM systems are being used as models for ERM systems and the normative literature and case studies that dominate the ERM field suggests, but does not explicitly recognize, that in TQM, there’s an explainable, understandable, and documented path to ERM.
Does a Relationship Exist Between TQM & ERM?
While case studies and deductive arguments have emphasized TQM’s role in ERM, researchers have yet to support these arguments with extensive systematic empirical analyses. Therefore, the overarching goal of our study was to investigate the theoretical linkage between TQM and ERM by answering the following two questions:
- Is there a relationship between TQM and ERM systems?
- If there’s a relationship present between TQM and ERM, then what is the nature of the relationship?
These questions collectively reflect an interesting premise — that ERM systems can be viewed as being TQM systems modified to deal with environmental issues.
The gradual evolution of quality to include aspects of the environment was anticipated by several authors. The “no waste” aim of ERM-based systems closely parallels the TQM goal of “zero defects.”, the difference being that TQM focuses on waste as it applies to process inefficiencies, whereas ERM focuses more on pollution in the form of air emissions and solid and hazardous waste. Because the two concepts share a similar focus, it makes sense to use many of the TQM tools, methods, and practices in implementing an ERM-based system.
Given this perspective, the structure of ERM systems can be expected to be very similar to that found in TQM systems; a linkage between overall TQM and ERM systems is also expected. Given this premise, our study was interested in assessing whether such a relationship between TQM and ERM systems existed.
More important and of greater interest, the findings presented in our study paint a unique picture of the TQM and ERM process. To attain TQM and ERM status, a firm must first attain certain performance requirements, as captured by the various measures. As these performance traits are attained, the firm can achieve the implementation of certain critical TQM and ERM subsystems (i.e., Strategic Systems, Operational Systems, Information Systems, and Results); each subsystem is required to be in place before the firm can hope to claim it has a complete TQM and ERM system present. What makes this finding so strong is that it is not based on simply anecdotal or case data, nor is it based on the experiences of “leading edge” practitioners. Rather, what we have here are findings based on a cross-section of experiences of firms within a specific industrial sector (e.g., automotive).
ERM’s Stronger With TQM Systems Already in Place
It was hypothesized that the presence of a TQM-based system encourages the emergence and acceptance of an ERM-based system. The empirical results of our research support the TQM-to-ERM linkage. The results suggest that firms with advanced TQM systems in place also have more advanced ERM systems than firms just initiating TQM. In other words, ERM-based systems will be stronger in firms as TQM-based systems become more developed.
Companies can utilize TQM approaches to developing a system-wide and integrated approach to the reduction and elimination of all waste streams associated with the design, manufacture, use, and/or disposal of products and materials. Relevant TQM principles which can be integrated into waste minimization programs include:
1) a systems analysis process orientation that aims to reduce inefficiencies and identify product problems
2) data-driven tools, such as cause and effect diagrams, quality evolution charts, pareto analysis, and control charts
3) a team orientation that uses the knowledge of employees to develop solutions for waste problems
ERM systems can be viewed as TQM systems modified to deal with environmental issues. Because the two concepts share a similar focus, it makes sense to use many of the tools, methods, and practices of TQM in implementing an ERM-based system. There was no reason to believe that the structures associated with TQM- and ERM-based systems would be different. Our results suggest that TQM can serve as a ready bridge for an ERM-based system.
Our research clarifies much of the confusion surrounding the relationship between TQM and ERM. It does so by pointing to the potential synergies between TQM and ERM. Meaning, firms that have developed capabilities in TQM will be more likely to develop the capabilities necessary for being environmentally responsible. Furthermore, they’ll be able to develop the capabilities for being environmentally responsible more quickly than firms without a TQM-based system because they will be able to reframe their learnings from existing quality tools, methods, and practices.
Our study has developed an integrated theory about how TQM-based capabilities can be leveraged for ERM and suggests that efforts should be coordinated to take advantage of the potential synergies between TQM and ERM.