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Championing Environmental Supply Management Initiatives


RaeAnn Slaybaugh

July/August 2010, eSide Supply Management Vol. 3, No. 4

A May 2010 CAPS Research report examines the importance of influence tactics, company climate and individual values for gaining buy-in.

A May 2010 report by CAPS Research — in conjunction with supply chain management and logistics professors from Boise State University, University of Nevada, University of Tennessee and Miami University of Ohio — examines how supply management sustainability initiatives take root within organizations. The report also investigates the factors that solidify buy-in from key players.

"According to Championing Environmental Supply Management Initiatives, securing key stakeholders' buy-in is especially important, given the cross-functional nature of many environmental projects. Also, as the researchers point out, these efforts are frequently driven by middle-level managers who lack the positional power to simply mandate the compliance of other key stakeholders.

Editor's Note: Bob Willard, author of The Sustainability Champion's Guidebook, echoes this stance in part 2 of the eSide series, Becoming a Sustainability Champion — From the Middle Up. "The trick to for middle managers to gain the support and position-power of more senior executives to institutionalize the changes," he explains.

All report findings were based on interviews conducted with 130 practicing managers, all of whom are MBA students or have received their master's degrees in business. Each manager watched several videos that made the case for a fictional environmental project and completed a questionnaire to assess their own environmental values.

Overall, the report found that gaining commitment for environmental initiatives requires a mix of the right influence tactics, organizational climate and appeal to personal values. A few key elements emerged as most instrumental.

Legitimating (appealing to rules, regulations and positional power) is a tried-and-true approach. By definition, legitimating means appealing to sources of legitimate power — one's job position, organizational policies and other rules — to influence another person. Given its "hard tactic" nature, which relies on pressure and power, the researchers admitted that it might not readily seem like the best approach.

"However, this may not hold when it comes to environmental issues," they continue. "After all, there are many rules and policies that govern behavior in the environmental arena, such as EPA regulations."

As such, to gain support for environmental projects, they suspected — and rightly so — that legitimating would be frequently used, and perhaps with effective results. Based on their findings, it was indeed the second most often-employed tactic, and it had at least a marginal positive effect on securing commitment to environmental projects.

Championing Environmental Supply Management Initiatives.

Take the time to learn something about the target individuals' values. It pays off. As the researchers explain, self-transcendence, or altruistic, values are often positively associated with attitudes that support environmentally significant behavior. To this end, they assert that understanding a target individual's values can be a powerful tool in gaining buy-in for these projects.

In fact, they add, even if nothing is known about a target's attitudes toward particular environmental management projects, it is simple to at least partially gauge his or her values through previous workplace interactions or observations. For instance, does that person carpool? Does he or she recycle?

"Understanding a person's values can be a powerful tool because values are transsituational and enduring," they explain in the report. "In other words, a small set of values guides an individual's attitudes and decisions toward a large number of issues and behaviors."

Practical Steps to Get the Ball Rolling

Based on their findings, the researchers put forth several managerial recommendations to help supply management professionals gain the necessary commitment to engage in environmental initiatives.

Create the right organizational culture. Based on the findings outlined in the report, the appropriate culture for ensuring buy-in for environmental projects fosters the employees' belief that they can involve themselves in such projects without risk — to their careers or to their images within the organization. In practice, such cultures promote innovation in general and include the use of cross-functional teams, broad spans of control, performance-based compensation, work-role rotation, employment stability and a tolerance for failure.

Other proven buy-in elements include a comprehensive environmental policy that is linked to other goals and goes beyond compliance; recognition of the environment as a source of competitive advantage; the presence of environmental management practices (recycling, rewards for environmental performance and so on); environmental partnerships with other organizations; and pro-environmental messages from top management.

Be aware that how you say something might be more important than what you say. "Interpersonal styles differ," the researchers concede. "Some managers, for example, make a habit of being positive, animated and upbeat every day."

Those who do not, however, would do well to consider a change of demeanor when they need to promote sustainability projects among peers and others, they add.

Beware of age and gender stereotypes. Based on their findings, the researchers warn against stereotyping when attempting to assess attitudes about the environment. In fact, with respect to age, gender and amount of work experience — as well as company climate, influence approach and individual values — age and gender were not determined to be difference-makers.

According to the researchers, the bottom line is this: When the right company environment is created, and environmental projects are packaged and promoted skillfully, individuals are likely to commit to these projects regardless of age, experience or gender.

CAPS sponsors can download the complete report online.

RaeAnn Slaybaugh is a writer for the Institute for Supply Management™. To contact this author, please send an e-mail to

For more research and survey findings, visit the ISM articles database.

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