Production Planning & Control: The Management of Operations Sustainability implications for Operations Management: Building the Bridge through Exemplar Case Studies

Production Planning & Control

According to the 2017 corporate sustainability report published by MIT Sloan Management Review and Boston Consulting (Kiron et al., 2017), managers frequently face difficulties in gaining effective returns from their firms’ corporate sustainability actions, unless a robust and comprehensive business case for sustainability is developed and put forward. One reason for not achieving the potential gains of a business case for sustainability might be the tensions that emerge in managing corporate sustainability.  Organisations may encounter difficulties in the harmonisation of economic, social, and environmental measures simultaneously. Thus, organisations may risk failure in the development and provision of adequate business cases for improved sustainability due to the tensions arising from managing conflicting demands from stakeholders (Van der Byl and Slawinski, 2015; Epstein, 2018),

Finding a balance between sustainability tensions is pivotal to the successful management of corporate sustainability. Tensions of sustainability are related to short-term investment versus long-term outcomes and benefits (Haffar and Searcy, 2017; Bansal and DesJardine, 2014), delivering an adequate response to sustainability issues, considering a multi-level decision making perspective (top management versus departmental manager view), and pathways for organisational change towards sustainability (radical versus incremental innovation). Moreover, there is the geographical context of environmental and social issues tensions (location of facilities versus environmental, social and economic regional conditions) (Hahn et al., 2015). According to the literature on tensions of corporate sustainability, organisations can manage such tensions, for example, by means of the perspectives of acceptance of tensions rather than resolution, tension avoidance through choosing one sustainability element over another, or an integrative approach (Van der Byl and Slawinski, 2015).

Operations management decisions such as production capacity, production technology, level of vertical integration, scheduling of production orders, planning for the set up and maintenance of machines, indicators of performance and the integration of management systems, including total quality management and lean manufacturing, all have implications for corporate sustainability (Angell and Klassen, 1999; Corbett and Klassen, 2006). Therefore, operations management decisions may provide a means of finding a balance between the tensions embedded in any corporate sustainability journey.

The literature of operations strategy can help sustainability managers in dealing with the tensions embedded in any corporate sustainability journey by the lenses of trade-offs and cumulative perspectives. There are authors who argue that organisations should focus on a narrow set of competitive priorities if they want to succeed against competitors (e.g. Da Silveira and Slack, 2001). On the other hand, there are authors who claim organisations would develop competitive capabilities that reinforce one another in a cumulative way, achieving superior competitiveness (Rosenzweig and Easton, 2010; Ferdows and De Meyer, 1990). Consequently, the operations management area could lend its expertise to the sustainability area in order to find a balance between sustainability tensions.

 Examples of tensions of sustainability and operations management decisions are: decisions to do with facilities, including where to place factories; such decisions are in turn related, either directly or indirectly, to considerations such as locating a factory in a socially degraded region in order to improve its socio-economic status, or in a region suitable for cost reduction and production efficiency. High level of automation of factories may add to unemployment of low skilled labour. Make to stock production systems would generate a high level of inventory, which in turn requires high flow of materials and high consumption of fuel and generation of CO2 emission. Thus, operations management decisions play a prominent role in analysing and managing the tensions inherent in corporate sustainability.

To what extent have organisations’ attempts to make a concrete business case for sustainability been hampered by the tensions around sustainability initiatives? This special issue expects to shed light on this topic by raising awareness of how and why organisations have or have not overcome the challenges embedded in the corporate sustainability journey, considered through the lens of operations management.

What can I contribute?

This special issue is motivated by the need to engage with practice and to build a greater body of empirical evidence on managing tensions in corporate sustainability from an operations management perspective.

Potential topics for this special PPC issue include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Discussing how organisations have addressed the tensions involved in corporate sustainability through operations management decision-making (e.g. acceptance of tensions rather than resolution, or tension avoidance, or an integrative approach)
  • Analysing approaches to managing tensions in corporate sustainability with regard to operations management decision-making
  • Understanding the critical success factors to manage conflicting sustainability measures for sustainable operations
  • Identifying barriers to deal with tensions of sustainability within organisational operations
  • Analysing tensions of sustainability that may prevent organisations achieving sustainable development goals
  • Developing reflections on other tensions that may arise when organisations have to deal with conflicting corporate sustainability demands

The special issue aims to sharpen the focus on – and raise awareness of – how to deal with the tensions involved in managing the transition to sustainable operations and production systems. This call for papers includes developing economies such as China, India, and Brazil as well as advanced industrial economies.  Developing countries have struggled to reach the sustainable development goals agreed by the United Nations (SDG index and dashboards – global report, 2016); it is thus important to understand how organisations located in developing economies have managed the tensions of corporate sustainability.  The call particularly invites qualitative research. Case studies are therefore welcome, especially if they illustrate research or applications with significance at the international level. Writers should relate their work to the existing knowledge in the field, especially with regard to the implications of the work for management practice and setting the agenda for future research.

Why contribute to Production Planning & Control?

  • Your article will be published in a widely read and cited journal enabling you to effectively contribute to the development of the research area
  • Your research will be validated by a robust single-blind peer review process
  • You can share you research using our open access options
  • You can follow the impact of your research using My Authored Works

Submission instructions

Please prepare your papers to Production Planning & Control publication standards available at:

All submissions should be made online at the Production Planning & Control Scholar One Manuscripts website ( New users should first create an account. Once logged on to the site, submissions should be made via the Author Centre. Online user guides and access to a helpdesk are available on this website. Please make sure the correct Special Issue title is selected when submitting.

Submitted papers should not have been previously published nor be currently under consideration for publication elsewhere. Papers will undergo at robust single-blind, developmental review as per the standard review process followed by Production Planning & Control. Final acceptance of approved papers will be contingent on incorporating reviewers’ feedback to the satisfaction of the Guest Editors.

Important dates

Deadline for submissions: March 2019

Expected Publication:  January 2020

Editorial information