3703 Using the life cycle approach for structuring organizational studies of product chains

Henrikke Baumann , Chalmers University of Technology & Erasmus University, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Full Papers
  • BaumannGIN2012.pdf (737.1 kB)
  • Justification of the paper: A novel form of life cycle study that focuses on the organization of product chains is presented. The method has been tested in three studies: on a diaper fluff chain (Gullbring & Nilsson 2010), rare earth metal product chains (Eriksson & Olsson 2011), and on a cocoa chain (Borg & Selmer 2012).

    Purpose: Organizational studies on the greening of industry sometimes focus on environmental practices in a single company, a particular sector or phenomenon. To further enrich the methodologies of this field, a novel approach where the life cycle product flow (from the LCA method) is used as a structuring principle for studies of product chain organization is proposed. While an LCA study is highly technical in content, a product chain organization study does not require much technical knowledge. The mentioned studies were largely conducted by management students. Alternately, an LCA holds much information about industry and society but engineers might not be the best suited to draw conclusions on the management and governance of product, which makes it is necessary to find ways of involving social scientists and management scholars into life cycle studies. The development of an organizational life cycle method for product chain organization studies is just one way of reaching out by attempting to make the life cycle method accessible to the social sciences. 

    Theoretical framework: The life cycle, or rather the material flow from raw material extraction to waste management, forms the backbone for the organizational study. The organizational study covers the companies, organizations, etc, that enables the material/product to “flow”—without them, no product flow! In the conducted studies, different organizational issues were studied. The method is based in actor-network-theory thinking, which allows for attention to both physical and human actors (cf. Baumann 2004, 2008).

    Results: The three studies cover very different topics, ranging from the relation of environmental management in the companies along a particular product chain, to issues of resource security, and the organization of sustainable sourcing.

    Conclusions: What the three product chain organization studies show is that the method is versatile and that it can provide interesting findings, even when no environmental LCA calculation is performed. They also show that it is not necessary to be an engineer to be able to carry out a life cycle study :)

    Baumann, H (2004). Environmental assessment of organising. Progress in Industrial Ecology, 1(1-3): 292-306.

    Baumann, H (2008). Simple material relations handled by complicated organisation by or ’How many (organisations) does it take to change a lightbulb?’ Proceedings of What is an organization?, May 21-22, 2008, HEC Montréal, Québec, Canada.

    Gullbring, AS & H Nilsson (2010). Fluffets väg - Miljömanagement i en produktkedja, Management 2010:20, School of Business, Economics and Law, Göteborg University.

    Eriksson, T & D Olsson (2011). The Product Chains of Rare Earth Elements Used in Permanent Magnets and NiMH Batteries for Electric Vehicles. ESA report 2011:8, Chalmers, Göteborg.

    Borg, J & J Selmer (2012). Securing sustainable cocoa supplies—an organization study of a cocoa chain from Ghana to Unilever. ESA report 2012:X, Chalmers, Göteborg. Forthcoming