(Dr. Bert Bras, advisor)
Commensurate with their importance to worldwide economics, small-and-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are collectively the greatest industrial contributors to global pollution. While individually diverse, SMEs uniformly suffer from a paucity of resources that hampers their ability to pursue environmentally benign manufacturing alternatives. In addition, more and more SMEs are discovering that they are no longer exempt from global competitive and legislative forces. There is a need to promote self-sustaining, environmentally conscious thinking and practices in these companies.
This research begins by stepping back to holistically examine the intersection of three key areas – organizational issues in SMEs, the role of information systems and technology in business, and sustainability and the environment. This study attempts to combine past works in Environmentally Conscious Design and Manufacturing (ECDM) with Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations framework to better understand adoption and implementation of environmental practices in organizations. The specific focus of this project is the synthesis of environmental and cost data for capital investment decision-making in SMEs. This is accomplished through the design and development of a decision-support tool driven by integrated environmental and cost data models and analysis.
The tool’s usefulness in comparing environmentally superior process alternatives, particularly for capital investment decisions, is demonstrated via a real-world example of a metal finishing SME. In this particular case, the tool is used to 1) model the company’s wastewater treatment system, 2) compare the current system to a new wastewater treatment alternative, and 3) perform sensitivity analysis to identify critical performance drivers and win-win opportunities. In addition, issues concerning model complexity and functionality, the potential of information technology in ECDM, and the role of the supply chain in the diffusion of ECDM practices among SMEs are also explored.