Stakeholders and their contribution in the future sustainable value chains

Future value chains, which can be described as operators and activities needed to create a product or service, are not yet known. However, it is evident that the operative value chains and respective stakeholders, their requirements and contributions, should be analyzed and incorporated on research and technology development. This approach can also be adopted in strong technology push type development. Sustainability – how can we define who represents sustainability in research and development, and what sustainability actually is in each future value chain?
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Design for X and X capability creation

Design for X is the process of considering X (e.g. sustainability) as a stakeholder during the research and development process. The general idea of implementing the Design for X concept is to acknowledge all critical X’s (stakeholders) in the research and development process to create a downstream operation and future value chain. This is done to ease the downstream lifecycle flow of the technology and product and, at the same time, reduce the overall costs and negative impacts in the operative value chain. The main idea is to develop economically sustainable products throughout their product lifecycle.

Increasing concerns about sustainability and environmental degradation have generated a range of studies to produce products that are more sustainable and environmentally friendly. The environmental impact of a product throughout its lifecycle is mainly influenced by the decisions made during the development and design process. This has resulted in several approaches for the environment technologies in the development – like Design for Sustainability (DfS). However, there is no single metric for environmental impact. The various stages of life of a product or the stakeholders of the operative value chains are always influencing the environment in a variety of ways at different points in time.

The comparable concept for Design for X (sustainability) is X (sustainability) Capability Creation. In Design for Manufacturing (DfM), requirements of manufacturing are incorporated into the product enabling high manufacturability and high quality already in the research and development stage. However, Manufacturing Capability Creation (MCC) does not take place in research and development, but in manufacturing – the manufacturer plans, develops, and implements efficient processes. The former must be implemented parallel to research and development to enable an efficient start for manufacturing immediately after final product specification. The key question is - what is the efficient manufacturing process, its organization, and details. In case of Manufacturing Capability creation, manufacturing should be able to provide answers to these questions. Of course, manufacturing is an easy example since on the level of the company, manufacturing takes place inside the organization, where it can be directly nominated and discussed.

Respectively, Sustainability Capability Creation (SCC) becomes challenging because who represents sustainability, sets or provides requirements, or creates sustainability into value chains while research and development takes place? Anyhow, sustainability must be built into technologies and products to enable sustainable value chains.

Stakeholder identification, analysis and management

Future value chains are, at least in the early research and development phase, usually complex, containing multifunctional and multidisciplinary collaboration and different operators. Typically, both private and public sectors are involved, not to mention the final consumers or citizens. In future value chains complexity, uncertainty and dynamism might even increase, because the operators might not yet exist or the regulation may not reach the level of future value chains.

An operator, i.e. a stakeholder, can be defined as a group or individual who has a vested interest in the outcomes of a project. Stakeholder management is critical when designing sustainable products and their sustainable manufacturing. Unfortunately, the number of stakeholders increases very easily from tens to hundreds. Sometimes they can be very difficult to identify and define. In theory, we would only need to select stakeholders and involve them in research and development activities, but the reality is an exploding level of complexity.

Stakeholder analysis can be described as a stepwise process comprising identification of stakeholders, analyzing and describing them, their interests and resources, and prioritizing and classifying stakeholders according to their salience. Understanding the complexity, uncertainty, dynamism and institutional context of a specific process entity, i.e. the stakeholder landscape, offers management a platform for decision making – for the questions ‘who’, ‘so what’ or ‘what next’.

Currently, stakeholders and their contribution in the future sustainable value chains needs more research and development to create a holistic framework – how we can define who represents sustainability in research and development and what sustainability actually is in each future value chain.

Professor Harri Haapasalo leads the Research Unit of Industrial Engineering and Management at the University of Oulu. His research areas involve product management and related value chains containing also business case, model and ecosystem analysis. Foundation for his work and research is on extensive industrial collaboration and co-operations.