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ISSN : 1598-7248 (Print)
ISSN : 2234-6473 (Online)
Industrial Engineering & Management Systems Vol.16 No.4 pp.442-454

Comprehensive Model of Sustainable Production Development through a Transition from Industrial Production Towards Ecological Production

Mohammad ali Shariat, Soleyman Iranzadeh*, Alireza Bafandeh Zendeh
Department of Industrial Management, Tabriz Branch, Islamic Azad University, Tabriz, Iran
Corresponding Author,
20170717 20170821 20170918


In recent decades, there has been substantial environmental pressure on manufacturing companies for predict the economic benefits of their processes and products and assessing the environmental and social effects of their performance. As a result, promotion of production processes and products by preserving the social, economic, and environmental benefits has become one of the objectives of most companies. This demand has also directly pursued by customers who wish their products to be built in a sustainable manner. Therefore, this has caused manufacturing companies around the world face a new challenge of maintaining their competitive position in the market by developing and implementing sustainable production practices and tools and pursue sustainable development aiming at social, economic, and environmental issues in the process of development. The concept of sustainable production, closely associated with sustainable development, was firstly proposed in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. In this conference, it was concluded that the main cause of environmental destruction is the unsustainable pattern of production and consumption, especially in industrial countries. Whereas sustainable consumption is targeted at consumers, sustainable production deals with companies and organizations producing goods or providing services. Focusing on business sustainability, the present paper aimed to identify dimensions of sustainable production with an ecological approach from the perspective of managers of successful industrial companies in Semnan Province, Iran and then propose a model of sustainable production. To this end, 33 successful managers in this province with at least 5 years of continuous activity were interviewed using the repertory grid technique and 33 personal repertory grids were developed. In addition, a total of 175 initial personal constructs of sustainable production were identified. Finally, through the analysis of these constructs, the collective grid of sustainable production consisting of 87 secondary constructs in 11 sections was plotted. These constructs were analyzed and classified using cluster analysis in SPSS and finally a model of sustainable production with 11 pillars and 87 constructs in 4 sections was developed.



    Sustainability is a critical and growing need for human activities and sustainable development is a key to human progress. Sustainable development is a viewpoint aiming at social, economic, and environmental issues in general and simultaneously in the development process. Sustainability is scattered in many areas including engineering, design, and production, and manufacturers are engaging in the issue of sustainability more than ever. For example, recognition of the relationship between production operations and the natural environment is a key factor in industrial communities. Mass-produced goods of companies around us may contain hidden costs and we never understand how much the goods and services we receive and consume every day carry other costs and how much cause damage to land, human health, social environment, and those who work to provide our welfare. Generally, the establishment of sustainable development is a challenging and complicated concept which is associated with factors such as technology and engineering, economy, environmental monitoring, health and welfare of people and society, social demands, strategies of governments and manufacturers, and policies. Specifically, the establishment of sustainable production requires a balance and integration between economy, social and environmental objectives, and supportive policies. The concept of sustainable production, closely associated with sustainable development, was firstly proposed in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 (Veleva and Ellenbecker, 2001). In this conference, it was concluded that the main cause of environmental destruction is the unsustainable pattern of production and consumption, especially in industrial countries. Whereas sustainable consumption is targeted at consumers, sustainable production deals with companies and organizations producing goods or providing services. Although the concept of sustainability is still vague, there is a growing consensus on this concept. In this regard, it is necessary to move from definition towards the development of practical tools to promote and measure achievements. Hence, an interest in sustainable development and its internal challenges came out of these predictions as an opportunity for progress in the 1990s (Erkman, 1997). Concepts of industrial ecology and industrial symbiosis have also entered the sphere of production. Although measures associated with industrial ecology and industrial symbiosis are considered new in the field of production, these concepts are also defined as the science of sustainability, because industrial ecology and industrial symbiosis are the fruit of similarity between the nature that should be analyzed and improvement of collections, logistics, industrial consumers, and flows of energy and materials (Cohen-Rosenthal, 2000; Costa et al., 2010).

    Focusing on the sustainability of businesses, the present paper aims to achieve a domestic understanding of the concept of sustainable production in industrial manufacturing companies in Semnan Province by recognizing and plotting the constructs extracted from views and opinions of managers with a descriptive-interpretive approach and based on Personal Construct Theory. Thereby, it will be attempted to answer the question what are the personal constructs of managers of industrial companies for understanding sustainable production to achieve an operational model of sustainable production? For this purpose, after the literature review and methodology explanation, principles of repertory grid technique were described and personal constructs of managers of industrial companies in relation to production sustainability were identified and classified within a collective repertory grid.


    For years, companies used standard financial indicators to determine the success or failure of their business. However, a growing number of companies are now applying social indicators (e.g. 3M, Shell, Amoco, and Interface) or those related to the environment, health, and safety (EHS) (Veleva and Ellenbecker, 2001). Although the number of sustainability indicators is on the rise in the literature and articles, none of them contributes to increased understanding of operational corporate sustainability. Studies on 50 corporate sustainability reports (Tan and Hunter, 2002) show that companies are not able to fully control and manage of environmental and social impacts associated with their business. Hence, without agreement on some principles of sustainability in production, we still continue wandering in a sea of confusing, contradictory, incomplete, and incomparable information. Additionally, the lack of “standard measures” is the main barrier to future efforts of businesses for implementation of sustainable business strategies. Therefore, it can be argued that it is not easy to achieve a set of sustainability indicators applicable to any company or organization. For this purpose, in addition to the review of the sustainability course of each company and successful managerial experiences in maintaining corporate sustainability, it is necessary to study all measures of each company in this regard in a comprehensive model and develop the concept of sustainable production in a general model. The University of Massachusetts Lowell proposes the following definition for sustainable production: “the creation of goods and services using processes and systems that are non-polluting; conserving of energy and natural resources; economically viable; safe and healthful for workers, communities, and consumers; and socially and creatively rewarding for all working people. This definition is consistent with the current understanding of sustainable development because it emphasizes the environmental, social, and economic aspects of businesses (Lowell Center for Sustainable Production. Sustainable Production: A Working Definition. Informal Meeting of the Committee Members, 1998). Moreover, this definition is more effective and operational as it focuses on the 6 major aspects of sustainable production including the use of materials and energy (sources), natural environment, social development and social justice, economic performance, staff, and products.

    It is noteworthy that companies that tend to be more sustainable in their daily practices should manage each of these six aspects and should not transfer the risk of various aspects of sustainable production to processes (for example, between environmental protection and the health and safety of employees). This definition also specifies the following 9 principles:

    • Products and packaging must be safe and healthy and ecologically in a good condition (water use, energy consumption, use of raw materials, the introduction of any substance into the soil, energy release, emissions to air, discharge to earth, and things like smell and noise). Services should also be safe and ecologically healthy.

    • Waste and byproducts incompatible with the environment are continuously reduced, eliminated or recycled.

    • Energy and materials are stored and preserved, and forms of energy and materials used are the best forms for desired goals.

    • Chemicals, physical factors, technology, and working practices that endanger the health and cause damage to the environment are continuously decreased or deleted.

    • Workplaces are designed in a way to eliminate or reduce physical, chemical, biological, and economical.

    • Management is committed to collaborative processes and evaluation of continuous improvement is focused on the long-term economic performance of a company.

    • Efficiency and creativity of employees are respected and increased.

    • Security and well-being of employees are a top priority, as the development of their talents, capacities, and capabilities is of special importance.

    • Communities around the business are honored and improved economically, socially, culturally, and physically. Justice and equality are also constantly on the rise.

    These efforts have continued by a growing number of companies and organizations to develop the knowledge of sustainability, the most important of which include International Organization for Standardization ISO 14031, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and Center for Waste Reduction Technologies (CWRT). However, most models focus on environmental and economic issues and employee and community development, social justice, and products have been less taken into account. The use of materials and environmental protection have been well covered and emphasized in all frameworks evaluated, while social issues, employees, and products have been less considered in prominent existing frameworks. However, health and safety of the staff have been highlighted more than their welfare and job security, except for GRI that provides a list of complete list of indicators for the assessment of workplace practices and human rights (e.g. quality management, child labor, wages and benefits, non-discrimination, and freedom of communication and associations). Most frameworks also try to consider the economic performance but still use old economic indices (e.g. market share, sales, stock price, and profitability) that are not genuine and accurate measures of sustainability. Hence, there is a clear trend towards the development of standard criteria applicable to any organization. GRI, WBCSD, and CWRT have proposed common measures for the evaluation of sustainability performance of businesses (e.g. water use, energy use, market share, and stock price). Although most frameworks are also trying to address and control global issues, they mainly involve environmental issues (e.g. global warming, ozone depletion, and oxidation). Chertow (2000) also uses industrial ecology at three different levels in terms of performance measures in order to achieve sustainable production (Chertow, 2000).

    As a result, Bhattacharya et al. (2011) also argue that industrial symbiosis (the middle level in Figure 1) is one of the most widely discussed applications of industrial ecology in the field of sustainable production and its related activities not only include inter-organizational exchanges of materials, products, water, energy, and waste but also involve the exchange of human resources, technologies, experience, and knowledge (Posch, 2010). In this regard, Table 1 presents a summary of thoughts and opinions in the field of sustainable production and their differences.

    In recent decades, manufacturing companies have been under more pressure to predict economic benefits of their processes and products and assess the associated environmental and social effects. As a result, improvement of production processes and products that reduce environmental effects, while maintaining social and economic benefits, has become a key objective of many companies. This demand has also directly continued by customers who wish their products to be built in a sustainable way. Therefore, this has caused manufacturing companies around the world face a new challenge of maintaining their competitive position in the market by developing and implementing sustainable production practices and tools.


    In recent years, the interpretive paradigm has developed its methods in order to dominate the process of knowledge production (Danaifard and Kazemi, 2010; Danayifard and Alvani, 2008; Danayifard et al., 2010). Using Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory (1955) as the theoretical basis, the present study aimed to deal with the area of interpretive paradigm, particularly constructivism. In his theory to explain how similar events can lead to quite different behaviors in different people, Kelly studied individuals and Psychological processes involved in one’s interpretation of the surrounding world. Based on this view, Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory deals with the theories individuals create to make sense of the world around them (Ma and Norwich, 2007). As a result, personal theories can be considered on par with scientific theories. Hence, in the present study, personal theories of managers about sustainable production were extracted and analyzed based on the same view and by using the repertory grid technique as the applied method of Personal Construct Theory (Danayifard et al., 2015).

    3.1.Repertory Grid

    Based on Personal Construct Theory, any person in the context of thinking about the world around, in general, or certain aspects of it, in particular, carries a “repertory” of mental and personal constructs that use them to organize their thoughts and experiences and make sense of what is going on at any time (Senior, 1997). Achieving such subjective qualities requires a tool through which the world can be observed from the view of others and their interpretation of the phenomena and events around the world which form their expectations, attitudes, opinions, and thoughts can be understood (Fransella et al., 2004).

    • - The first step (selection of the topic and elements): Whatever the repertory grid is formed around is called “grid”, what is the author aims to know how other have conceptualized and made sense of which in their mind. Thus, each grid is always based on a specific topic and the author tries to extract merely those mental constructs that one uses to make sense of their experiences on that particular topic (Danayifard et al., 2015). Since the purpose of this study is to achieve a cognitive understanding of sustainable production, repertory grids will be formed around the topic of sustainable production. In addition, elements of a repertory grid include certain objective instances or examples which cover the scope of the research topic and represent it. Elements can be expressed in various shapes of objects, people, events, activities, and even abstract entities. Based on the systemic view to production and development of approaches to production in the present study, as factors ensuring sustainable production and specifying a wide spectrum of sustainable production, the elements representing the research topic were defined as follows: competitive production, lean manufacturing, green manufacturing, sustainable production, and two elements in relation to companies that are the current status of production and the most ideal status of production in a company.

    • - The second step (extraction of constructs): Kelly (1955) defines “construct” as the cornerstone of making sense of something and argues that individuals use personal constructs created based on their own experience to understand and interpret the events that happen around them. Accordingly, Kelly believes that the process of making sense of the world around is based on personal similarities and differences. In his opinion, individuals never acknowledge something without denying something else, as the concept of “good” makes sense only besides the concept of “bad.” In the present study, the triple method based on differences was used for extraction of constructs. In this method, extraction of constructs is based on the selection of a tripartite collection of elements out of all existing elements in the repertory grid and identification of similarities and differences between them. Accordingly, out of the 6 elements written on three distinct forms, three elements are randomly presented to the interviewees and they are asked to explain what are the differences of two similar elements with the third one until the saturation point when the interviewees are not able to detect no more significant difference or similarity between the elements, fail to raise new constructs or their constructs are repetitive. In the present study, 33 interviews were made and a total of 175 personal constructs were extracted.

    • - The third step (connecting the elements to constructs): After selection of elements and extraction of personal constructs, the research objective (extraction of personal theories of managers about the foundations of sustainable production) was provided. However, to conduct some statistical analyses such as prioritization of constructs, it is necessary to connect elements to constructs. To evaluate the elements in terms of each construct in this method, each of the elements is given a value on Likert scale and each of the two limits of the scale is determined by the two poles of a construct. A 7-point Likert scale, one of the most common scales widely used in previous studies (Tan and Hunter, 2002), was used in the present study.

    3.2.Statistical Population

    The statistical population of this research included all active companies with at least 5 years of continuous production that were registered on Behinyab website of Ministry of Industry, Mine and Trade and obtained at least one or more top rankings in national and provincial assessments, such as the top industrial unit, top standard unit, top entrepreneurial unit, supporter of consumer rights, top exporting unit, and top safety unit.

    3.3.Sampling Method and Sample Size

    In the present study, the participants were selected based on their suitability with the topic and their power of influencing the topic, rather than their representativeness for generalizability of findings. Therefore, purposive sampling method was used for the selection of managers who were in the best position for acquisition of information. As a result, the main studied group included members of the board of directors of companies, CEOs, management representatives, and managers of factories. The nature of the repertory grid technique usually suggests a small volume of sample, as enough constructs can be obtained using a sample of 15 to 25 people. To determine the sample size of repertory grid, the saturation point was also taken into account. This means that no new construct is added to the list after extracting constructs from a certain number of participants. Based on the saturation point this study, 33 interviews were performed with 33 managers to be used a basis for classification and interpretation of constructs.


    Since the nature of some of the 175 primary constructs was the same, they were merged and categorized using the content analysis technique. It is noteworthy that, in order to reduce potential bias, constructs were also evaluated by 3 professors and experts in the field of organizational sustainability, in addition to the author. Then, the final content analysis was conducted by two faculty members based on similarities and congruence in an inductive process around the more general construct (secondary). Based on the level of consistency, 87 secondary constructs were classified under suitable titles in 11 sections (Figure 2) (some of the secondary constructs have been presented in Table 2). Ultimately, the collective repertory grid was formed in the form of a matrix consisting of 87 secondary constructs, 6 elements, and gradations resulting from 33 personal grids of managers (Table 3).

    4.1.Cluster Analysis

    Cluster analysis includes algorithms and methods for grouping similar items (e.g. people, objects, events, etc.) in various classes. Cluster analysis categorizes items based on their relations. Therefore, individuals of a cluster have the highest level of relation with each other and the lowest level of relation with individuals of other clusters. As a result, it can be stated that cluster analysis is used to explore the data structure without describing the reason for their existence. This analysis is an exploratory tool which reveals the structure and relations between data that were not previously visible and tangible. This type of analysis assumes no assumption about the number of groups or their construction and carries out the classification based on similarities and intervals. If the number of observations is low and selection between several different methods of organizing clusters, conversion of variables, and measurement of dissimilarities between clusters are the case, hierarchical cluster analysis is recommended. In this method, final clusters are given a hierarchical structure, usually like a tree, based on their generality. This hierarchical tree is called dendrogram. In order to classify the poles in this study, hierarchical cluster analysis based on Ward Linkage was used. In fact, using this analysis, we aimed to categorize the poles in such a way that values of each of the six elements are close to each other within each category but significantly different from each other between categories. In this study, the poles and elements were analyzed and clustered using appropriate statistical methods in SPSS-22.

    Since clustering of constructs based on cluster analysis in SPSS was at odds with the theoretical logic and the author’s intuition, the conducted clustering was presented to 20 experts to elicit their comments. Finally, constructs were analyzed using the binomial test and categorized in 4 clusters (Table 4).


    Producers of goods and services are not obliged to make changes. In other words, there is no compulsion in survival. There is no doubt that change is the key to survival and many humans, societies, institutions, and companies are always adapting themselves to the changing circumstances of the surrounding environment, a condition they may never had an active role in its creation. The review of the history of companies with a long life indicates that they are constantly trying to survive and adapt themselves to their surrounding environment. It seems that the condition for stability and sustainability is to adapt themselves to forced changes by applying gradual optional changes. However, given the rapid changes in technology and work processes in today’s competitive world, the need for sustainable production processes and, at a higher level, sustainable businesses has become more prominent. Hence, dimensions of sustainable production were identified and the required constructs for each dimension were defined in the present study. In addition to the higher number of constructs identified in this study compared to previous ones, constructs related to industrial development, industrial ecology and symbiosis, supply chain, organizational leadership, industrial heritage, and products were also determined as critical elements to achieve sustainable production.

    A review of theoretical texts and research literature also shows that the findings of the present study are consistent with theories related to sustainable production and the significance of these dimensions has been reflected in most theories and studies, which suggests external adjustment and internal consistency of constructs. In addition to the high compliance of the model with previous studies, the results of this study are consistent with the findings of Siemens vision 2020 report (Vision 2020, 2014), Nambiar (2010) at the University of California, Feng and Joung (2009), Loures (2008), Chatterjee et al. (2012), Bhattacharya et al. (2011) in Boston Consulting Group, and Hamner (1996) (who refer to relations between key environmental concepts as the “stairway”) in terms of constructs related to the staff, product and supply chain, product and leadership, impact on future and industrial heritage, industrial development and progress, industrial ecology and heritage, products, the environment and use of resources, environmental issues, use of resources, products, and industrial ecology, and the environment and ecology, respectively.

    The present study also is of special importance due to environmental issues and national laws and identification of sustainable production constructs from the perspective of managers and owners of industrial manufacturing units, which account for a significant portion of the economy and often have achieved a good degree of stability in recent years, can facilitate the operational use of the constructed extracted in the present study and add new principles of sustainable production to the literature of industry and production. In addition to the use of this model for evaluation of companies, their move towards high degrees of stability, and increased competitiveness, it can encourage the fundamental transparency of production processes and a new approach to customer evaluation in order to use sustainable products and services.



    Measures of industrial ecology performance.


    The 11-part model of sustainable production.


    Thoughts and opinions raised in the field of sustainable production

    Some of the secondary constructs extracted from primary constructs (Coding instruction: the construct declared by the manager/manager’ or company’s code)

    Collective repertory grid

    Repertory grid


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