Sustainability performance frontiers

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When the concept of strategic trade-offs was introduced by Skinner in 1969, an intense academic debate followed. On one hand, World Class Manufacturing proponents rejected the idea whilst others recommended the careful consideration of trade-offs when designing production systems. Today, history repeats itself, and the same debate exists in the field of sustainable operations management, with some researchers documenting trade-offs between economic and environmental performance, and others rejecting this view. This paper shows how this debate has profound implementation implications: the first view calls for incremental improvements, whereas the latter calls for radical innovation. This paper combines the behavioural theory of the firm with Schmenner and Swink’s (1998) theory of performance frontiers to define sustainability performance frontiers. These frontiers define legitimate managerial boundaries for searching for sustainability and remove the perceived conflict between the two views of sustainability trade-offs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-30
Number of pages29
JournalUniversal Journal of Operations and Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2023


  • Behaviour
  • sustainability
  • strategic trade-offs
  • Performance frontiers

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