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A robust network DEA model for sustainability assessment: an application to Chinese Provinces


This paper constructs an Environmental Sustainability index in order to investigate regional efficiency in China between 2000 and 2012. The Environmental Sustainability index consists of a Production Efficiency index and an Eco-efficiency index. A multiplicative relational network data envelopment analysis model is applied, and a window analysis is conducted to capture the efficiency trends over time. The results reveal significant heterogeneity among Chinese provinces for the Environmental Sustainability and the Eco-efficiency indices, while there is a high level of Production Efficiency across all provinces. Furthermore, there are large differences among geographical areas. Specifically, high Production Efficiency levels are reported for the eastern area, whereas, high Eco-efficiency levels are reported for the western area. The reported results provide valuable insights to decision makers, revealing a high potential for improvement in the overall Environmental Sustainability score, especially for the eastern and middle areas. In addition, regional heterogeneity should be taken into account when considering new legislation.

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  1. 1.

    In this study, priority is given to the efficiency of the second stage because we primarily want to focus on the environmental intensity index and the relationship between economic production and environmental pollution.

  2. 2.

    There are four municipalities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing. Meanwhile, there are five autonomous regions, including Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Guangxi and Ningxia. They all have the same the administrative status with other provinces.

  3. 3.

    Similar tables have been created for all Chinese provinces and are available upon request. Here we present only one due to space restrictions.

  4. 4.

    Bright green colour depicts the most efficient countries and red colour depicts the least efficient countries. The range among each class is 0.10 for all classes. Starting from the better classes in terms of efficiency scores they are classified as bright green, dark green, blue, light blue, turquoise, yellow, rose, pink, orange and red. The map is a visual representation of the regions were data is available, it does not represent China’s boarders and jurisdiction.

  5. 5.

    The eastern area includes the eight coastal provinces, Liaoning, Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan, and the three municipalities of Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai. The middle area consists of 10 inland provinces, Heilongjiang, Jilin, Inner Mongolia, Henan, Shanxi, Anhui, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi and Guangxi, it is the agricultural base for the country. The western area contains 1 municipality and 9 provinces, Chongqing and provinces of Gansu, Guizhou, Ningxia, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Tibet, Yunnan, Xinjiang and Sichuan.

  6. 6.

    According to the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law, the government decided to restrict the SO2 emissions in some provinces since 1998, including Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Jilin, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia, Shandong, Jiangsu, Henan, Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia and Xinjiang. As the regulation on carbon emission has not launched until the beginning of twenty-first century.


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Correspondence to Stavros Kourtzidis.

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Chen, Z., Kourtzidis, S., Tzeremes, P. et al. A robust network DEA model for sustainability assessment: an application to Chinese Provinces. Oper Res Int J (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12351-020-00553-x

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  • Chinese provinces
  • Eco-efficiency
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Network data envelopment analysis
  • Production efficiency

JEL Classification

  • C61
  • C67
  • P25
  • P28