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Sustainability in business process management research - a literature review

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Sustainability in business process management research - a literature review

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Sustainability and business process management (BPM) are both on today's IS research agenda. BPM on the one hand is even seen as one of the core aspects of the discipline. Sustainability on the other hand is a practical problem for business managers around the globe. In this paper we investigate if and how aspects of this trend towards more sustainable enterprises have been adopted and incorporated into current BPM research. We do so in form of a structured literature review. This literature review should help to discuss if today's BPM research provides the right tools and methods to green the underlying business activities or if it is rather embracing sustainability only on a descriptive/argumentative level without true incorporation into its methodological foundations. Based on the literature review the paper closes with some ideas for a future research agenda at the intersection of BPM and sustainability. © (2012) by the AIS/ICIS Administrative Office All rights reserved.
Stolze et al. Sustainability in BPM Research
Proceedings of the Eighteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, Seattle, Washington, August 9-12, 2012. 1
Sustainability in Business Process
Management Research – a Literature Review
Carl Stolze
University of Osnabrueck
carl.stolze@uni-osnabrueck.de
Gebke Semmler
University of Osnabrueck
gsemmler@uni-osnabrueck.de
Oliver Thomas
University of Osnabrueck
oliver.thomas@uni-osnabrueck.de
ABSTRACT
Sustainability and business process management (BPM) are both on today’s IS research agenda. BPM on the one hand is
even seen as one of the core aspects of the discipline. Sustainability on the other hand is a practical problem for business
managers around the globe. In this paper we investigate if and how aspects of this trend towards more sustainable enterprises
have been adopted and incorporated into current BPM research. We do so in form of a structured literature review. This liter-
ature review should help to discuss if today’s BPM research provides the right tools and methods to green the underlying
business activities or if it is rather embracing sustainability only on a descriptive/argumentative level without true incorpora-
tion into its methodological foundations. Based on the literature review the paper closes with some ideas for a future research
agenda at the intersection of BPM and sustainability.
Keywords
Sustainability, BPM, Green BPM, Green IT, Green IS.
INTRODUCTION
The global trend towards more sustainable business practices is unbroken and likely to even accelerate in the coming years.
Recent studies show that decision makers’ attitudes towards sustainability are changing from cost factor to being an integral
strategic rationale (Accenture 2011; Deloitte 2012; Lacy et al. 2010). Within the IS discipline this trend has been recognised
and sustainability is still a growing topic within the community (Elliot 2011; Schmidt et al. 2009; Watson et al. 2010). Busi-
ness process management (BPM) at the very core of the IS discipline (Houy et al. 2011) ever since business process engi-
neering has taken centre stage (Baskerville and Myers 2009) should reflect this trend towards greener business practices.
Although a plethora of methods for modelling business processes has been developed and deployed in research and practice
(Becker et al. 2010), there seems to be no widely accepted method, approach or toolbox for sustainable BPM as a whole.
Therefore, the aim of this paper is to investigate how strongly the topic of sustainability is reflected in today’s BPM research
literature.
To answer this question, this paper is structured as follows. First we provide compact background information on BPM and
sustainability in the first section. Based on this we present our approach for a structured literature review. This review starts
with the selection of keywords and the publication outlets to be searched in. In the following the search itself is performed.
The found papers are classified into different categories and shortly put into context. The paper closes with suggesting some
ideas for a future research agenda and a conclusion.
BACKGROUND
Business Process Management (BPM)
Large enterprises, mid-sized and small companies alike are delivering value through their business processes. Out of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) research programme Management in the 1990s, the distinct concept of busi-
ness process reengineering (BPR) emerged as a way to look specifically at those chains of activity. BPR promised to improve
Stolze et al. Sustainability in BPM Research
Proceedings of the Eighteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, Seattle, Washington, August 9-12, 2012. 2
companies’ performance by a radical, top-down enforced change based on a process-oriented rethinking of a company
(Peppard and Fitzgerald 1997). Over time it became evident that radical change initiatives as prescribed by the original con-
cept often fail, especially when critical factors such as teamwork and culture, quality management, participative structures,
change management, information systems, and project management are neglected (Ahmad et al. 2007). Nonetheless, BPR
and the complementary trend of Total Quality Management (TQM), which has a focus on process improvement but is rather
incremental, lead to the emergence of today’s distinct field of BPM (Becker et al. 2010).
BPM can be viewed from either a pure IT-perspective or be understood as a holistic management practice (Rosemann and de
Bruin 2005). Due to the bandwidth between these two understandings, there is no shortness of different definitions for the
term BPM (Lee and Dale 1998). For the purpose of this paper we follow a more inclusive understanding of BPM as a way of
thinking, shaping, designing and managing organisations through their activity chains (processes). This inclusive understand-
ing also allows subsuming more technical aspects into BPM.
Sustainability
Twenty-five years ago the United Nation’s World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) applied the con-
cept of sustainability holistically on the further development of humankind: “Humanity has the ability to make development
sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet
their own needs.” (WCED (World Commission on Environment and Development) 1987)
After that statement, it took most parts of the business community some time to recognize the issues and challenges in full.
Recently, studies found that managers’ started to incorporate sustainability into their core strategic thinking rather than seeing
it as being of minor importance (Accenture 2011; Lacy et al. 2010). This is especially true for the generally innovation-
friendly IS/IT community: the trend of Green IT made sustainability a premiere subject for its decision makers. Although IT
consumes resources, its intelligent use offers the major opportunity to transform organisations and societies towards more
sustainable and energy-saving behaviour (Boehm et al. 2011; Ozturk et al. 2011; Stolze, Rah, et al. 2011). Nonetheless, it
took IS researchers some time to follow their counterparts from other disciplines. Even these days the IS perspective is still
not reflected as it should be within the research activities regarding sustainability (Melville 2010).
Having in mind that the quality of the environment is not immediately affected by technological artifacts per-se but by human
behaviour (Elliot 2011), technology is a means to an end that can facilitate and support changed behaviour. It should go hand
in hand with on-the-job training towards sustainability (Stolze, Boehm, et al. 2011) and the thoughtful design of the chained
activities performed by humans and machines (Ozturk et al. 2011) also known as BPM. Thereby, BPM could be a tool to
help managers around the globe to tackle questions of sustainability by changing the way activities are performed. Therefore,
researchers should not only solve (theoretical) knowledge problems but offer innovative, relevant solutions to those practical
problems (Wieringa 2010) at the intersection of BPM and sustainability.
LITERATURE SEARCH
Study Design
To investigate the existence of a widely accepted method, approach or toolbox for sustainable BPM as a whole, we regard a
structured examination of published literature as being suitable (see also the discussion about the informing gap at (Gill and
Bhattacherjee 2009a)). We chose to conduct a structured literature review to investigate how strongly the topic of sustainabil-
ity is reflected in today’s BPM research and to derive suggestions for future research. To make the literature search process as
transparent as it should be (vom Brocke et al. 2009), we explain how we defined scope and search strategy for our literature
review in the following.
The scope of a literature review can be defined by subject, period covered and publication outlets searched as boundaries
(Webster and Watson 2002). The subject of our review is sustainability in the business process management area. Since ques-
tions of sustainability have also been discussed under the term Green IT (Boehm et al. 2011), this term should be included in
the search as well. Therefore, our first search terms were ‘sustainability’, ‘sustainable’, ‘business process’, ‘business process
management’ and ‘green IT’. We decided to add ‘green IS’ as a distinct term, because some authors use it to differentiate
between the development and use of information systems for sustainability purposes (‘green IS’) on the one hand, and more
energy consumption-concerned research (‘green IT’) on the other hand (Jenkin et al. 2011). Regarding the time period cov-
ered we chose to include only recent research from 2006 till mid-2011 to reflect the current state in the field.
A difficult decision alike is to choose in which publishing outlets to search. On the one hand, the more outlets are included,
the more published research could be found. On the other hand, a focus on the leading journals facilitates the finding of con-
Stolze et al. Sustainability in BPM Research
Proceedings of the Eighteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, Seattle, Washington, August 9-12, 2012. 3
tributions of a higher quality as well as the major ones in a field (Webster and Watson 2002). In this paper we decided to take
a broad view by searching many outlets from the inclusive so-called WKWI list (WKWI 2008) which includes 118 journals
and 58 conferences from the international, European and German IS discipline. All international top tier journals found in the
AIS Senior Scholar’s Basket of Six are included in this list. Thereby, this list can provide a comprehensive guide to global IS
research outlets.
Performing the search
To do a complete as possible search within the above chosen boundaries, we decided to search in as many fields or ‘bites’ of
information as possible. This translates usually into title, abstract and full text. In case of non-English journals or conferences
the search terms have been translated into the language of that outlet.
Early in the search process it became evident that a plethora of articles including the terms ‘business process’ or ‘business
process management’ exists. Therefore, we only included articles with a connection to sustainability or Green IS/IT in our
initial result set. Our initial result set contains of 101 articles that have been identified to be potentially relevant to our re-
search quest. Out of these 101 articles, 41 have been published in journals (Table 1) and 60 at conferences (Table 2).
Journal
Volume:
Issue
Title
Green
IT
Green
IS
Sustain-
ability
sustain-
able
business
process
Australasian Journal
of Information
Systems (AJIS)
16:2
Green business process management
x
16:2
Simulation modelling and strategic change
x
x
x
16:2
The greening of organisational organisational IT
x
x
16:2
Web 2.0 to wicked climate change problems
x
x
x
x
17:1
An Institutional Perspective on the Adoption of Green IS &
IT
x
x
x
x
x
17:1
Examining the contribution of Green IT to the objectives of
IT departments
x
x
17:1
How do Australian Small and Medium Enterprises Com-
municate their Environmental Improvement Activities Online
x
x
x
x
17:1
Impact of Pressure for Environmental Sustainability on Grid
Assimilation
x
x
x
17:1
The Role of IT Service Management in Green IT
x
x
x
x
Communications of
the Association of
Information Sys-
tems (CAIS)
27:1
Green IS: Concepts and Issues for Information Systems
Research
x
x
x
HMD - Praxis der
Wirtschafts-
informatik
274
Erweiterter IT-Wertbeitrag durch Green-Business
x
x
x
274
Green Computing & Sustainability
x
x
x
274
Green IT im Rahmen eines nachhaltigen Informationsmana-
gements
x
x
x
IEEE Computer
42:1
Green Introspection
x
x
42:5
The Road to Greener IT Pestures
x
x
43:3
Trading in Green IT
x
x
IEEE Internet
Computing
13:4
Green IT More Than a Three Percent Solution?
x
x
x
IEEE Pervasive
Computing
8:1
Enviromental Sustainability
x
x
8:2
How Green is Green
x
x
Journal of Enter-
prise Information
Management
22:5
Sustainability a new dimension in information systems
evaluation
x
x
Journal of the
Association of
Information Sys-
tems (JAIS)
10:4
Resource-Based Framework for IS-Reearch: Knowledge
Firms and Sustainabibilty in Knowledge Markets
x
x
Management Infor-
mation Systems
Quarterly (MISQ)
34:1
Information Systems and Environmentally Sustainable
Development
x
x
x
x
x
34:1
Information Systems Innovation for Enviromental Sustaina-
bility
x
x
x
x
Stolze et al. Sustainability in BPM Research
Proceedings of the Eighteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, Seattle, Washington, August 9-12, 2012. 4
MIT Sloan Ma-
nagement Review
(MIT SMR)
50:1
The Green Capital advantage
x
x
51:1
8 Reasons (You Never Thought Of) That Sustainability Will
Change Management
x
51:1
The Business of Sustainability: What It Means to Managers
Now
x
51:1
The Mini-Cases: 5 Companies, 5 Strategies, 5 Transfor-
mations
x
x
51:1
The evolution of sustainability
x
x
52:2
First Look: The Second Annual Sustainability & Innovation
Survey
x
x
52:3
New Sustainability Study: The ‘Embracers’ Seize Advantage
x
The Journal of
Strategic Infor-
mation Systems
(JSIS)
18:4
Managing sustainability with the support of business intelli-
gence
x
20:1
Compliance with institutional imperatives on environmental
sustainability
x
x
x
x
x
20:1
Designing IT systems according to environmental settings
x
x
x
20:1
From green to sustainability
x
x
x
x
20:1
Green projects
x
x
x
20:1
Information technology as a change actant in sustainability
innovation.
x
x
x
20:1
Integrating the smartphone into a sound environmental
information systems. strategy
x
x
x
20:1
Integrative framework for assessing firms’ potential to
undertake Green IT initiatives via virtualization
x
x
x
x
x
Wirtschafts-
informatik (WI)
50:4
Warum Green IT heute nich ausreicht
x
x
x
51:4
Die Verantwortung der Wirtschaftsinformatik für unseren
Planeten
x
x
x
51:5
Nachhaltiges Informationsmanagement
x
x
x
Total
60
23
9
38
25
18
Table 1. Articles found in journals
Conference
Year
Title
Green
IT
Green
IS
Sustain-
ability
sustain-
able
business
process
Americas
Conference
on Infor-
mation
Systems
(AMCIS)
2009
Sustainability in Information Systems: Assortment of Current Practices
in IS Organizations
x
x
x
2009
IS Solution for the Global Environmental Challenge: An Australian
Initiative
x
x
x
2009
IT Strategy and Economic Sustainability: Formulating a 21st Century
Paradigm
x
x
2009
Green IT: An Implementation Framework
x
x
x
x
x
2010
Unpacking Green IT: A Review of the Existing Literature
x
x
x
x
x
2010
Developing and Justifying Energy Conservation Measures: Green IT
under Construction
x
x
x
x
2010
Reducing Environmental Impact in Procurement by Integrating Material
Parameters in Information Systems: The Example of Apple Sourcing
x
x
x
2010
Green/Sustainable IT/IS: Concepts and Cases
x
x
x
x
2010
Identifying Green IT Leaders with Financial and Environmental Perfor-
mance Indicators
x
x
2010
Organizational Green IT: It seems the bottom line rules
x
x
2010
Predictors of Green IT Adoption: Implications from an Empirical Inves-
tigation
x
x
x
x
2010
From Green IT to Sustainable Innovation
x
x
x
x
Australasian
Conference
on Infor-
mation
Systems
2008
GITAM: A Model for the Adoption of Green IT
x
x
x
x
2008
E-Readiness to G-Readiness: Developing a Green Information Technol-
ogy Readiness Framework
x
x
x
2009
Knowledge Sharing by Organisations in Sustainable Development
Projects
x
x
Stolze et al. Sustainability in BPM Research
Proceedings of the Eighteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, Seattle, Washington, August 9-12, 2012. 5
(ACIS)
2009
The Reach And Richness Of Green IT: A Principal Component Analysis
x
2010
Antecedents to Greening Data Centres: A Conceptual Framework and
Exploratory Case Study
x
x
x
x
2010
Assessing the Carbon Footprint of Paper vs. Electronic Invoicing
x
x
x
x
x
Business
Process
Management
(BPM)
2010
Controlling of Dynamic Enterprises by Indicators - A Foundational
Approach
x
x
2010
Sustainability Performance Measurement - The Case of Ethiopian
Airlines
x
x
2010
Process Performance Management as a Basic Concept for Sustainable
Business Process Management - Empirical Investigation and Research
Agenda
x
x
x
2010
What Is Sustainability in Business Process Management? A Theoretical
Framework and Its Application in the Public Sector of Ethiopia
x
x
x
2010
Towards Green BPM - Sustainability and Resource Efficiency through
Business Process Management
x
x
x
x
2010
Measuring the Carbon Footprint of Business Processes
x
x
x
x
Conference
on Infor-
mation and
Knowledge
Management
(CIKM)
2010
A decision support system for green data centers
x
x
x
European
Conference
on Infor-
mation
Systems
(ECIS)
2009
Environmental Responsability and Green IT: an institutional Perspective
x
x
2009
Green IT: Everything starts from the software
x
x
x
x
x
2010
The Impact of MIS Software on IT Energy Consumption
x
x
2010
Power Control to the People? Private Consumers’ Acceptance of Smart
Meters
x
2010
Influence of Green IT on Consumers’ Buying Behavior of Personal
Computers: Implications from a Conjoint Analysis
x
x
2010
Grid Technology as Green IT Strategy? Empirical Results from the
Financial Services Industry
x
x
x
Hawaii
International
Conference
on System
Science
(HICSS)
2009
Towards a Procedural Model for Sustainable Information Systems
Management
x
x
x
2010
Design and Evaluation of a Social Visualization Aimed at Encouraging
Sustainable Behavior
x
x
2010
Information Theory Perspective on Modeling Sustainability
x
x
2010
The Green IT Practices of Nokia, Samsung, Sony, and Sony Ericsson:
Content Analysis Approach
x
x
x
x
2011
Electronic Transportation Marketplaces: How Can Green-IS Help to
Promote Sustainable Logistics?
x
x
2011
An Introduction to the Green IT Balanced Scorecard as a Strategic IT
Management System
x
International
Conference
on Electronic
Business
(ICEB)
2009
RFID AS GREEN IT: LESSONS LEARNED FROM CASE STUDIES
x
x
International
Conference
on Infor-
mation
Systems
(ICIS)
2009
Organizational Adoption of Green IS & IT: An Institutional Perspective
x
x
x
x
x
2009
IT and Eco-sustainability: Developing and Validating a Green IT Readi-
ness Model
x
x
x
2009
Sustainable Notebooks: Who Carries the Cost?
x
x
2009
How Green is my Outsourcer - Environmental Responsibility in Global
IT Outsourcing
x
2010
Green Information Technology, Energy Efficiency, and Profits: Evi-
dence from an Emerging Economy
x
x
x
x
x
2010
CORPORATE ECOLOGICAL RESPONSIVENESS,
ENVIRONMENTAL AMBIDEXTERITY AND IT-ENABLED
ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY STRATEGY
x
x
x
x
x
International
Conference
on Service
Oriented
Computing
2010
Carbon-Aware Business Process Design in Abnoba
x
x
2010
Business Process Improvement in Abnoba
x
x
2010
Creating Environmental Awareness in Service Oriented Software Engi-
x
x
x
Stolze et al. Sustainability in BPM Research
Proceedings of the Eighteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, Seattle, Washington, August 9-12, 2012. 6
(ICSOC)
neering
2010
Towards Green Business Process Reengineering
x
x
x
x
2010
An Energy Aware Context Model for Green IT Service Centers
x
Multikonfer-
enz der
Wirtschaftsin
formatik
(MKWI)
2010
Betriebliche Umweltinformationssysteme
x
x
2010
A systematic review of sustaible supply chain management research
x
x
x
2010
Sustainable Supply Chain Management in Recyclingnetzwerken der
Elektro- und Eletronikindustrie
x
x
x
Pacicfic Asia
Conference
on Infor-
mation
Systems
(PACIS)
2008
Environmentally Sustainable ICT: Developing Corporate Capabilities
and an Industry-relevant IS Research Agenda
x
x
x
2009
Does Green IT Matter? Analysis of the Relationship between Green IT
and Grid Technology from a Resource-Based View Perspective
x
x
x
2010
Seeking the "Green" in "Green IS": A Spirit, Practice and Impact Per-
spective
x
x
x
x
x
2010
An Explorative Study for Business Models for Sustainability
x
x
x
2010
The Challenge of Energy Management - Status-Quo and Perspectives
for Reference Models
x
x
x
Wirtschaftsin
formatik
(WIco)
2007
Modellbasierter Entwurf strukturanaloger Architekturen auf Basis der
Positionierung von Graphen
x
x
2011
Hybride Leistungsbündel für energieeffiziente Planung, Steuerung und
Betrieb von IT-Infrastuktur
x
x
x
2011
Development and Simulation of a Balanced Scorecard for Sustainable
Supply Chain Management - A System Dynamics Approach
x
x
x
Total
60
42
16
51
44
6
Table 2. Articles found in conference proceedings
Please note, the same article could be found for different keywords. Therefore, the numbers cannot just be added up to get the
total. This was done manually upon completion of the search. Furthermore, not all articles explicitly had ‘business process
(management)’ in their content but were included after a review of their content.
CLASSIFICATION AND INTERPRETATION OF RESULTS
Looking at time and geography
As first step in our classification of found articles we analyzed their publication year. Before 2009 surprisingly little attention
was given to sustainability in BPM research, before the topic exploded in 2010 (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Identified articles per year
In early 2010, an article in MISQ called for more attention towards sustainability from the IS community (Melville 2010).
That might have led to the peak in conference publications in that year as conferences usually have shorter turn-around times
from submission till publication when compared to journals. Surprisingly, in 2009 more articles were found in journals than
in conference proceedings. For the time analyzed in 2011 the number of relevant articles seems to decrease again. This could
have two reasons: first, the topic is not perceived as “hot” anymore – thereby being on the dipping side of a typical IS fashion
wave (Baskerville and Myers 2009). Second, for a new topic the theoretical foundations have to be laid at the beginning.
Those foundations often get discussed heavily so many publications are written on that specific topic. Later, when only
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Conferences
Journals
Stolze et al. Sustainability in BPM Research
Proceedings of the Eighteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, Seattle, Washington, August 9-12, 2012. 7
incremental progress can be reported, the acceptance of papers gets harder especially in journals. That might also be an
explanation why the number of articles in journals declined.
The second analysis we performed was about the geographical distribution of authorship. We based the assessment of geo-
graphical original on the institutional affiliation of the authors and not on the outlet or nationality of authors. Thereby it is
possible to examine how strong the topic of sustainability is driven from specific countries. There are two options to assess
geographical origin for this purpose: One option is to count on how many papers authors from a country have been involved.
In this case a paper X with 3 authors form country A would count only once for country A whilst a paper Y with 2 authors,
one form A and one from B, would count once for A and once for B. The other option is to count each author separately. In
this case paper X would count as thrice for country A whilst nothing changes for paper Y in our example.
Applying both options yields interesting results: most papers have at least one author from the United States, but counting
single authors most come from Germany. Independently, Australia, Canada, the UK and Italy follow afterwards (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Results of the geographical analysis (option 1 left, option 2 right)
Examining the geographical distribution further one can notice that most articles have European authorship followed by
North American one. Australia is quite strong before Asia, Latin America and Africa. Nonetheless, the chosen scope of out-
lets could be considered biased towards European and especially German authorship. However, the underrepresentation of
research by authors outside of North America and Europe still should be a wakeup call for the global IS community to en-
courage participation and become more inclusive. Another interesting point is to think about different cultures, traditions and
needs regarding collaboration and assignment of authorship. For example, a researcher from Liechtenstein has only access to
a limited domestic community whilst a US researcher finds a huge and differentiated IS community inside his/her country.
When taking a closer look on the cross-border cooperation patterns of the top three countries, it becomes clear that US re-
searchers are although having a huge domestic community to tap in could be interpreted as being most open to interna-
tional cooperation. Over one fifth of all articles with at least one US author are co-authored by at least one author from anoth-
er country. Interestingly, the articles with Australian authorship were Australian only, which is quite surprising considering
the huge share of articles in our initial result set.
Making sense of the content
To understand the current state of the art at the intersection of BPM and sustainability we divided our initial result set into
different categories based on how strong both topics are related within a paper. For this we use three categories:
A Articles with a clear focus on business process management combined with sustainability and/or Green IT.
B Articles showing some connection between BPM and sustainability
C Articles only mentioning sustainability, Green IT and/or BPM
As a result of this assignment, out of the 101 articles 8 could be seen in category A, 34 in category B and the majority of 59
only in category C. Out of the 8 articles in categories A, 4 have been accepted at the BPM conference 2010, 3 at the Interna-
tional Conference on Service Oriented Computing 2010 and the least one for the Australasian Journal of Information Sys-
010 20 30 40
Trinidad and Tobago
Romania
Spain
Singapur
India
Finland
China
Chile
Brazil
Sweden
Norway
Netherlands
Liechtenstein
Ireland
Ethopia
South Korea
Switzerland
Italy
UK
Canade
Australia
Germany
USA
other
8%
China
2%
Romania
2%
South
Korea
2% Norway
2%
Switzerland
2%
Italy
3%
UK
3%
Canada
5%
Australia
20%
USA
23%
Germany
28%
Stolze et al. Sustainability in BPM Research
Proceedings of the Eighteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, Seattle, Washington, August 9-12, 2012. 8
tems. Therefore, it can be assumed that integrated, holistic approaches towards sustainable BPM are limited in numbers of
approaches and places to be discussed.
Digging deeper into the content, different labels have been attached to address sustainability questions in BPM: „Green Busi-
ness Process Management“ (Ghose et al. 2009; Hoesch-Klohe and Ghose 2010; Houy et al. 2010), „Green Business Process
Reengineering“ (Nowak et al. 2011) und „Sustainable Business Process Management“ (Cleven et al. 2010). Independent of
the label there seems to be consensus about the fact that sustainable practices for BPM need to consider all relevant stake-
holders and thereby facilitating corporate sustainability (Hailemariam and vom Brocke 2010; Houy et al. 2010). The authors
of the label Green Process Management stress the bidirectional dependence between Green IT (setting requirement for BPM)
and BPM (being enabler as well as user of IT) which create complex relations with multiple variables between the two areas
of consideration (Ghose et al. 2009; Houy et al. 2010; Nowak et al. 2011).
One concrete example of a BPM method incorporating sustainability aspects is the activity-based emission (ABE) analysis
(Recker et al. 2010). The ABE analysis extends the concept of activity-based costing with indicators for resource consump-
tion and (carbon) emissions. Thereby, each activity could be checked for its individual impact on the environmental bottom-
line of an enterprise. Similarly, process performance measurement is presented as suitable for an extended measurement and
improvement of sustainability (Cleven et al. 2010). All this is based on measuring the ecological impact. For this indicators
are needed (Nowak et al. 2011) and could be in practice annotations on business process models (Hoesch-Klohe and Ghose
2010).
POTENTIAL FUTURE RESEARCH AGENDA
Having analysed the literature, the fields of sustainability and BPM offer many research opportunities at their intersection for
at least two reasons: First, there aren’t many works that integrate both topics yet as our study has shown. It is a vast field of
research opportunity (see also (Melville 2010)). Second, sustainability concerns in companies grow, so most likely there will
be practical demand for problem-solving artifacts. In the following we would like to present a few points for a future research
agenda for this highly relevant topic.
Develop standardized means to integrate sustainability into BPM. Business process management usually uses established
and/or standardized modelling languages. The languages, such as BPMN, UML activity diagrams, petri-nets, flow charts or
EPCs, are on the one hand an enabler for process designer to express his/her thoughts, but on the other hand they also limit
the space for expression by a limited number of elements: So how could these languages being extended to integrate ques-
tions of sustainability? Do we need dedicated and standardized elements or attributes for sustainability? How much standard-
ization is needed to keep results comparable? How could these extensions and standards be developed? Besides languages:
Which frameworks used to structure BPM endeavours need to be extended in the same way?
Create inter-disciplinary and international discussion spaces. Due to the inter-disciplinary nature of sustainability re-
search, the IS community as one of the main drivers behind BPM research should actively seek for an inter-disciplinary ex-
change of ideas. So far many conferences are only attended and visible by always the same community. So, how can we
develop and implement new concepts for idea exchange with other communities? How do we foster international collabora-
tion? What needs to be done to overcome stereotypes such as US researchers being not very open to international cooperation
although our study results indicate they are very much?
Agree on a common brand name. As simple as this point sounds, it is of major importance for the future relevance and
success of research in this field. Without having a catchy but accurate name, an idea can hardly be “sold” to practitioners,
donors, and those giving research grants. At the same time an umbrella term might also make researchers realize they work
on the same topic, just under different titles so far. In this sense, a common brand name would stimulate the community in-
side and at the same time sharpen its image to the outside. What would be the right name? What is the umbrella term that
does not exclude parts of the community?
Relevance. Although our time analysis showed a peak in 2009 for published research, the practical relevance of sustainabil-
ity is still increasing. As mentioned in the beginning of this paper, managers only incorporate sustainability as a concept now
into their strategic thinking. So questions would be: Are we as IS researchers ahead of companies in our thinking? Or is our
research triggered not by relevance on its own, but by “steered” relevance through (often public) funding or trends in society?
What does this mean in terms of innovation for our discipline? Or did we just miss to give it a catchy name? These questions
around relevance are not exclusively tied to sustainability and BPM research but could be relevant for the IS discipline as a
whole (see also the discussion around the so-called informing gap (Gill and Bhattacherjee 2009a, 2009b; Myers and
Baskerville 2009)).
Stolze et al. Sustainability in BPM Research
Proceedings of the Eighteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, Seattle, Washington, August 9-12, 2012. 9
CONCLUSION
In this paper we examined how strongly the topic of sustainability is reflected in today’s BPM research. To answer this ques-
tion, we introduced the concepts of BPM and sustainability before conducting a structured literature study. The result set was
first analysed for time of publication and geographical authorship. This already yielded the interesting result of US research-
ers being pretty open to international cooperation whilst sometimes their image is different. Then the found articles were
categorized depending on how strong sustainability aspects were integrated into BPM concepts. We found BPM research is
largely touching sustainability only so far. In the future, a real shift towards green/sustainable business processes manage-
ment might be desirable. For this we drafted a short research agenda.
We are also aware of the limitations of our study: first, the outlets are certainly biased towards European and especially Ger-
man ones. We also did not include practitioners’ reports or working papers (e.g. publications on the Sprouts platform of the
AIS by the SIGGreen). Second, the time frame might be too short. Third, different search terms might have yielded more
results. Thereby, by no means our study can be claimed exhaustive. Nonetheless, we believe our paper can serve as a starting
point for fruitful discussions and as a guide for future research.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This paper has been written in the context of the research project SPEAK which is founded by the German Federal Ministry
of Economics and Technology (BMWi). The authors are pleased to acknowledge the support by BMWi and all involved
project partners. Furthermore, we would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their insightful and very constructive
remarks.
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