An examination of drivers and barriers to reducing carbon emissions in China’s manufacturing sector

Author:Nachiappan Subramanian, Muhammad Abdulrahman
Publication Date:13 Nov 2017
An examination of drivers and
barriers to reducing carbon
emissions in Chinas
manufacturing sector
Nachiappan Subramanian
Department of Business Management and Economics, University of Sussex,
Brighton, UK, and
Muhammad Abdulrahman
Nottingham University Business School,
The University of Nottingham Ningbo China, Ningbo, China
Purpose Carbon Efficient Practices (CEPs) are gaining momentum due to the serious consequences of
climate change. While past studies have focused on the effects of either drivers or barriers to green practices
especially in the context of developed countries, relatively little attention has been devoted to the
simultaneous effects of drivers and barriers on product redesign, particularly in the context of China.
The paper aims to discuss these issues.
Design/methodology/approach Using a blend of the Contextual Interaction Theory and Newtons
second law of motion, this paper proposes a conceptual model that simultaneously examines the impact of
CEP drivers and barriers on product redesign and performance.
Findings Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) analysis on a sample of 239 Chinese manufacturing firms
indicated that drivers had substantially higher effects on product redesign and performancecompared to the
influence of other barriers.
Originality/value Use of Newtons second law of motion as a theoretical framework for understanding the
adoption of CEPs in the context of China is novel. Implications of this pattern of results on academic theory
building and practice are offered.
Keywords China, Drivers, Barriers, Reverse logistics, Manufacturing systems, Carbon efficient practices
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Climate change is a serious threat to humanity given its increasing negative effect in terms
of ozone layer depletion, air and water pollution, and depletion of non-renewable natural
resources upon which life generally depends. One of the major contributors to climate
change, for example, are greenhouse gas emissions and these are generally measured in
terms of carbon footprints. Different societal activities emit varying amount of carbon
footprints and among them industrial and logistics operations contributions are
predominant. These business operations emit wastes, unprocessed effluents, consume
exorbitant energy, and are generally not involved in eco-centric activities. Logistical
operations burn more fuel than other operation in order to transport goods from one point to
another. For example, it is estimated that logistics movement produces 20 percent of all
greenhouse gas emissions, consuming 35 billion gallons of diesel per year (Blanco and
Cotrill, 2013). It is not surprising therefore, that businesses, especially in manufacturing,
have come under global pressure to adopt Carbon Efficient Practices (CEPs) to reduce
emission (Stock et al., 2002; Fleischmann et al., 1997, 2003; Sarkis et al., 2010; Chaabane et al.,
2012; Liljestrand et al., 2015).
Extent literature reports a number of CEPs that includes closed loop supply chain,
extended product life cycle such as product redesign, production planning control for
The International Journal of
Logistics Management
Vol. 28 No. 4, 2017
pp. 1168-1195
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/IJLM-07-2016-0171
Received 14 October 2015
Revised 16 July 2016
12 January 2017
Accepted 15 March 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
remanufacturing, inventory management, product recovery, reverse logistics (RL) and
carbon emission reduction (Chaabane et al., 2012; Liljestrand et al., 2015). In the developed
and/or industrialized countries, stri ngent CEPs regulations and their enforcem ent
mechanisms coupled with consumersawareness drives business operations to implement
CEPs such as Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and extended producer
responsibility (EPR) designed to enforce the collection, treatment, recycling and/or safe
disposal after the end-of-life (EoL) of products, amongst other similar regulations (Rogers
and Tibben-Lembke, 2001; Ravi and Shankar, 2005; Wang et al., 2015).
The need to comply with CEPs regulations necessitates manufacturing firms re-design their
products to overcome barriers to CEPs through means such as ease of disassembly of returned
products for value extraction, recycling, reuse and/or remanufacturing. However, such
re-design innovations require significant initial capital investment for resources, infrastructure,
training and setup which constitutes a major barrier to firms embarking on such redesign
initiatives. Firms invest scarce resources in redesign initiatives (or any initiatives) only when
they are compelled to by clear insights on the real benefits of such investments. Predominant
firmsbarriers to new innovative practices such as suggested redesign are financial support,
infrastructure and the technological systems necessary to provide capability to achieve desired
objectives, in addition to government support (Rogers and Tibben-Lembke, 2001; Ravi and
Shankar, 2005; Lau and Wang, 2009; Zhu and Geng, 2013).
Extant studies indicate that while the initial cost for CEPs may be significant, business
operations and logistics are financially successful to a firms long-term business operations
(Stock et al., 2002; Fleischmann et al., 1997, 2003; Sarkis et al., 2010). Additionally, studies
have empirically demonstrated that CEPs have a direct impact on firmseconomic
performance and their product redesign capability (Chan and Chan, 2008; Lai et al., 2013).
However, most of these studies associate or view the benefits from CEPs largely as by-
products of external pressures to comply with environmental regulations, peer pressure,
green trade barriers, amongst others (Stock et al., 2002; Fleischmann et al., 1997, 2003;
Sarkis et al., 2010; Abdulrahman et al., 2015). These studies failed to examine how firms
could be self-motivated toward CEPs implementation due to its strong attractiveness that
outweighs its inherent barriers. The role of barriers can be viewed as a resistance to change
and progress was well dealt with using Newtons second law of motion. This has paramount
importance in the case of developing economies such as China where, despite being the
global manufacturing factory,China lacked stringent and enforceable environmental laws
allowing for increases in the intensity of these barriers (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2011).
This study posits that a greater motivation for CEPs lies in firmsrealization of the
significant economic and overall sustainability benefits of such practices. We argue that
the enhanced sustainability derivable from CEPs in terms of waste elimination and the
cost savings gained through the reduced need for virgin raw mate rials required, in terms
of value/asset recovery practices of CEPs represents the true attraction for their
implementation and re-design; as opposed to regulations and their enforcements
(Rogers and Tibben-Lembke, 2001; Stock et al., 2002; Lai et al., 2013; Wang et al., 2015).
Again this attraction corresponds to the acceleration observations of Newtons second law
of motion. This is ev idenced in the fact that despite th e existence of similar environ mental
regulations in developed economies, in the case of China there is a lack of corresponding
stringent enforcement of regulations by government (Zhang et al., 2011; Lai and
Wong, 2012; Lai et al., 2013; Abdulrahman et al., 2014) and insufficient levels of customers
green awareness (Smyth et al., 2008; Tantawi et al., 2009; Tan and Lau, 2010).
We therefore, posit that drivers of CEPs in developing economies, such as China, are
entirely different from those in developed economiescontext for business operations and
logistics. It is therefore imperative to examine the situation from the perspective of these
emerging economies.
of drivers and

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