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Organizing life cycle management in practice: challenges of a multinational manufacturing corporation

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Abstract

Purpose

The environmental life cycle management (LCM) literature proposes many factors considered critical in order to successfully conduct LCM. This study contrasts these vague and general factors proposed as critical to LCM in existing literature, with detailed accounts of LCM in practice.

Methods

A literature review of three related research fields, i.e., LCM, life cycle thinking, and sustainable supply chain management, is contrasted with a study of how LCM is enacted in practice in a large multinational manufacturing company recognized for its LCM work. A qualitative study, with mainly a managerial focus, is conducted based on interviews, workshops, part-time observations, and document studies.

Results and discussion

The literature review demonstrates that the three related research fields provide different accounts of LCM: all apply a holistic environmental perspective, but with different emphases and using largely different research methods. The empirical study shows that integration was a common topic at the studied company and that solutions were often sought in tools and processes. Middle management support proved important, and challenging, in these integration efforts. Challenges identified also included further integrating LCM into departments such as purchasing and sales.

Conclusions

The constant focus on integration at the studied company implies that LCM work is an ongoing effort. Several integration paths are identified: (1) inclusion of sustainability aspects in tools and processes, (2) finding ways to work around certain organizational levels, and (3) using networks and social interaction to create commitment and integration. Although the concept of LCM implies a holistic approach, LCM in practice reveals a lack of a comprehensive overview of LCM-related initiatives and of involved sustainability practitioners within the studied organization.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Larger suppliers were also expected to have environmental management systems and to comply with Occupational Health and Safety (OHSAS) 18001 standards.

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Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to the studied organization that funded this research and made empirical data available for the study. The authors are also grateful for the useful comments presented by two anonymous reviewers.

Author information

Correspondence to Hanna Nilsson-Lindén.

Additional information

Responsible editor: Kirsten Schmidt

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Nilsson-Lindén, H., Baumann, H., Rosén, M. et al. Organizing life cycle management in practice: challenges of a multinational manufacturing corporation. Int J Life Cycle Assess 23, 1368–1382 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-014-0818-y

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Keywords

  • Environmental life cycle management (LCM)
  • Integration
  • Networks
  • Sustainability
  • Organization
  • Practice-oriented
  • Product chains