Espacios. Vol. 34 (12) 2013. Pág. 19
Ecological Context in the Measurement Business of Eco-Efficiency
Contexto Ecológico en la Medición de la Ecoeficiencia empresarial
Recibido: 01-10-2013 - Aprobado: 12-11-2013
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The issue of environmental damage is a topic which has been studied over various decades, whilst the growth of the world accelerates, so too does the growth of contamination. We now look towards those responsible and see that everyone; agents, producers and society in general contribute to this pollution. In light of this, we ought to keep in mind that there has been a historic increase in the concentration of the population within urban areas due to productive factors, along with the fact that as the economic and human population grows, they simultaneously generate a steady rise in consumption, which in turn has brought about a larger production of domestic waste, Daskalopoulos (1998), OCDE (2002), Martinez-Alier (2004). Thus, the struggle against contamination, and its subsequent environmental costs, is not something which exclusively affects the “irresponsible” industries, owed to the fact that cities also act as polluting agents (urban traffic, heating, solid waste, sewage, etc). In this sense, the aforementioned highlights the type of behavior that should be avoided and shows that the problem of pollution is something which should be a concern of us all (Beker&Mochón 2001) 4.
On the other hand, we cannot simply stop production since we must satisfy our daily needs of life and here is where we start to see the conflict between a production which is completely liberal in regards to the environment and a production which is both responsible and respectful to its surroundings. It is in this context, that new laws and regulations relating to environmental issues come to reinforce the four key factors which contribute to economic growth, namely; human resources, natural resources, formation of capital and technology, and corporative initiatives. As such it can be seen that environmental tax restrictions can be overcome with new technology we can find that the technological innovation could increase economic growth and environmental standards (Samuelson y Nordhaus, 1999) 5. Giving weight to this logic, Porter y Van Der Linde (1995) demonstrate that the implementation of environmental standards yields positive responses and a higher level of competitiveness within companies, encouraging corporations to use resources more productively, be more innovative and to apply environmental reasoning.
New “grand” concepts regarding the environment have been discussed by members of the United Nations for the past 35 years. In a serious and co-ordinated manner, those most responsible for the livelihood of our planet have been transforming the direction of our lives without forsaking our human rights and the rights of each person to act freely in the liberal marketplace. In order to tackle head on this phenomena, this paper aims to look at the ecological context and attempts to distinguish some determining factors in the measurement of eco-efficiency as a technical measurement approach to environmental issues. In this case, the state of the art will give us key information about the subject in question and will try to guide us towards the end which society seeks, specifically the long-awaited sustainable development for mankind.
The study begins with a brief review of the state of the art in an ecological context, reviewing the approach from a general perspective. In a second phase we will focus on a business approach, using the ideas of clean production of creating more value with less impact and thus heading towards sustainability. In the following section we create a bibliographic review of the ecological context, to later observe that the neoclassical theory of business is the strand of theory which can best adjust itself to the phenomena of business-ecology issues. Along the same lines, a bibliographic review is carried out considering merely the aspects of the Eco-DEA – indicating its validity as methodological tool used for generating optimum results within the companies that apply these concepts.
2.1. General Approach
Stockholm 1972, was home to the first ever World Environmental Summit organised by the United Nations. There, the world’s nations agreed that there was an urgent need to address the problem of environmental deterioration 6. Twenty years after Stockholm, at the 1992 Rio de Janeiro United Nations Earth Summit 7, it was agreed that environmental protection, social development and economic development were fundamental to achieve sustainable development. To achieve this goal, they adopted a global program called “Agenda 21” and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. 8 Both acts (the Agenda and Declaration) were ratified at the Johannesburg Summit of 2002. 9 The Johannesburg Summit demonstrated the important progress made towards achieving a world consensus regarding the desire to form a common path toward a world which respects and applies the concept of sustainable development and/or sustainability.
Along with the Rio and Johannesburg summits there have been several major global conferences under the auspices of the United Nations, including the International Conference on Financing for Development 10 and the International Conference of Doha. These conventions defined a broad global vision for the future of humanity and produced a series of key initiatives for sustainable development, one of which, cited in act 85,a. in the Johannesburg Summit Report, says; To urge those developed countries, that have not yet done so, to take concrete measures towards reaching the target of 0.7 % of their gross national product as official development assistance to developing countries and LDCs (less developed countries).
From a local perspective, in countries such as Spain, various authorities apply the agreements regarding sustainable development, made at the world summits. One study concludes that the authorities should have a greater influence of the ethics of businesses towards environmental issues. This is down to the fact that an analysis of the evolution of environmental expenditure trends over a period of time (1997-2000) reveals that business has increased its environmental expenditure by 15%. This indicates that there has been a positive response to the authorities´ demands, but there is obviously still a long way to go (Sales de Aguiar 2004). It’s also worthy to note that on many occasions in certain industrial sectors, they only implement environmental measures when there is significant demand or a big company, applies pressure to ensure that their suppliers align themselves within the market with non-polluting products and services Didonet et al.,( 2012).
Sustainable development rests on three fundamental pillars; economic development, social development and environmental protection. The concept itself was outlined by Gro Harlem Brundtlan in his work entitled “Our Common Future” better known as the Brundtland Report, in which he states that “Sustainable Development is a development which satisfies the needs of the present without compromising the capacity of future generations to satisfy theirs.” This concept, which has been the basis of United Nations’ reports and has been applied by certain governments which today implement sustainable development policies in their nations, be it the formation of new environmental ministries, offices, commissions, forums or debates on the state of the question.
Agenda 21 began life on the 22nd of December 1989 at the conference on environment and development, as was recommended by the Brundtland report and the elaboration of the first drafts of the agenda – as like all resolutions made by the member states of the United Nations – it was forced to undergo a complex process of review, consultation and negotiation. Today, many of the signatories of Agenda 21 have endorsed the agreements and organised their own national and local agendas, following the guidelines which had been set as well as developing different entities associated with the United Nations. A notable absentee is the United States of America, a country which attended the Rio Summit but refrained from signing both the declaration and the agenda, (similarly to those which have occurred in more recent global meetings), for instance Kyoto (1997) and Rio (2012). Agenda 21 has since been closely monitored with revisions and adjustments having been made to the original. Firstly, with the conference named Rio+5, which was held in 1997 at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York; and then with the adoption of a complementary agenda called Millenium Development Goals, with a particular emphasis on globalisation policies and the eradication of poverty and hunger adopted by 199 countries in the 55th United Nations General Assembly in the year 2000, before the aforementioned Johannesburg Summit.
2.2. Business Focus
Nowadays an important factor in the development of the theme is the penetration of the business world in the environmental agenda. This is due to the fact that we are aiming to achieve a win-win situation, in which we all see gains; ecology, society and businesses. From a business point of view, distinctive tools have been developed, such as; cleaner production, eco-efficiency and various local action, which certain industries have implemented with the goal of reducing levels of pollution.
2.2.1. Cleaner Production
Cleaner Production CP (acronym for Latin America and Europe, P+L) or Pollution Prevention P2 (for the USA), is defined as “The continuous application of an integrated preventative environmental strategy in processes, products and services, with the aim of reducing risks for humans and for the environment, increasing the competitiveness of the company, and ensuring economic viability 11.”
Cleaner production is shown by government programmes and/or business initiatives that directly benefit productive efficiency and the environment. In this sense, we can say that in an international and historical context, the majority of the P+L agendas have begun in the last 20 years, using a multinational approach (regional) with the aim of developing a basic national capacity of CP. During this time, multinational organizations have been concentrating on the introduction of CP in Asian countries and the major economies of Eastern Europe (Ashton,et al. 2002).
The instruments/ tools that are applied post-concept should generate long term advantages, such as:
2.2.2. Creating more value with less impact.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD 2000) met in 1991 with the intention of creating a concept to bring together the new environmental requirements without hindering the productivity and efficiency of business. In this sense, it emerges as an alternative concept to eco-efficiency, which in layman terms means creating more products and services with fewer pollution generating resources.
The WBCSD is a union which consists of approximately 150 international companies united by a shared commitment for the benefit of environmental protection, social equity and economic growth, in other words supporting sustainable development. The members come from over 35 countries and 20 major industrial sectors. They also benefit from a global network of 50 international organizations involving 1000 global business leaders.
The activities of the WBCSD are guided by the belief that the pursuit of sustainable development is good for the businesses and furthermore businesses are good for sustainable development. Its main objectives are:
2.3. Orientation towards sustainability
One can achieve a shared vision about the direction toward sustainability, since we have a map that shows us how to operate the system in general, as such, the WBCSD has designed a scheme that reflects the environmental policies in companies, considering time factors and sustainability.
As is shown in Figure 1, the horizontal arrows illustrate the direction of the companies over time. Where it is shown that the businesses were producing what may be called the complacent direction, legal pressures for environmental policies did not have any relative importance. Then there is a second major step, known as Cleaner Production, which comes as a response to the pressures of sustainable development which in turn recognize legislative order and control, thereby generating a link between environmental improvements and economic benefits 12. Subsequently, as a way to comprehend economic advantages and environmental improvements, a link to eco-efficiency was born, introducing technological innovation as a factor of business and environmental productive efficiency 13. The next step is the relationship that a responsible business must have, by means of a balance with the private sector versus maintaining the three pillars of sustainable development (social justice, economic prosperity and ecological balance).
A method of implementing these concepts in business is to consider the tools needed for the fulfillment of the goals. Therefore businesses must apply tools such as the routine of auditing by the Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and Environmental Management System (SME).
Following the ovals on the left (Figure 1), it can be seen that the idea of sustainable development first emerges before evolving into a more concrete action plan with Agenda 21. Afterwards we were able to list the X Factor, requesting quantifiable objectives to improve eco-efficiency and reducing impacts on the entire economy. Following on from this, a fourth step could be the notion of the ecological footprint or environmental path, which states that the available space for human activity is to be limited and must be distributed more evenly.
Vertically, we have the economic instruments, co-regulation agreements, and order and control legislative, which appear as implementation responses between businesses and regulatory authorities at different stages which have been set-up within the scheme of time/sustainability.
Figure 1 - Orientation towards sustainability
Source: WBCSD – Eco-efficiency Creating More Value With Less Impact p10.
In this case, the business world gives us concrete samples demonstrating it to be within the lines of Sustainable Development, being an exemplary reference to the fact that it is possible to produce and meet different human needs without compromising the future of forthcoming generations. A business proposal about the orientation of sustainability can be found in Hart (1997) which presents the construction of commercially sustainable strategies.
2.4 Bibliographic Review of ecological context.
As a way of having clear “historical” records, a bibliographic search was conducted on ecological context, which covered all papers published between the period 2002-2005. For the criterion of date, the search took the last Johannesburg World Summit which took place at the beginning of 2002 and 2005 as a date for the first sample, so that later one can evaluate the subject in sample of 5 every 5 years. As such, we reviewed the ISI WEB OF KNOWLEDGE (JCR) and ABI/INFORM databases. We must take into account that the vast majority of the studies are dated or are studies carried out at least 2 years prior to publication, for this reason a set date for the second analysis of the topic is the year 2013 and as a result we could have publications which contain parameters that date back 2-3 years.
In order to initiate our search for papers, we introduced the following concepts as subjects (in both English and Spanish); Sustainable Development, Agenda 21, Clean Production, Pollution Prevention, Eco-efficiency.
The results were as follows:
The application of the aforementioned variables generated 201 Journals, which had publications with a ratio of; 1 paper per journal 69%, 2 papers per journal 16%, 3 to 4 papers per journal 9% and more than 5 papers per journal 5%. In total, 359 papers were classified according to subjects relating to the variables introduced. Due to the high number of journals with less than 5 publications (95%), only the most representative journals, taking as a variable the 3 cited journals of each subject with more than 3 publications (111 papers), have been selected for this paper.
Table 1 shows that the topic of pollution prevention, is the one which has the highest frequency, whilst the topic of Agenda 21 has no significant relevance since Table 2 only contains 7 papers published within the last 3 years.
The most cited journal is the Journal of Cleaner Production with 41% of all the publications and is the journal which includes all 4 variables of this study, which then give us a clear reference of the time to decide where to start to see related topics with the variables in question or where to publish them. On the other hand, it has a mere impact level of 0.688 in the JCR. The journal with the highest level is Environmental Science & Technology with a level of impact in the JCR of 3.557 and with 34,474 quotes within the 3 years studied.
Table 1: List of topics with number of published articles in the period 2002-2005.
Source: Author´s elaboration
Table 2: List of major journals according to classified topics.
Source: Author´s elaboration
In Tables 3 and 4, two topics are related to one another in an exploratory manner, in order to see whether both subjects (Sustainable Development and DEA-Ecological) have any numerical parity in publications, since for this paper, sustainable development is the justified foundation of DEA ecology.
The results show that according to JCR there is a numerical relationship, but according to the ABI/INFORM the difference is increasing; a possible explanation could be that in the ABI we find journals that do not have very thorough reviews (anonymous assessors). However in the very same ABI we see three journals that are the same as those which we find with JCR. Therefore, we are warned that we cannot do a review of this type with two distinctly different databases, without considering the possibility that information may be duplicated.
The strength of this review is that it gives us the leading journals in the two topics under study. The journal which has most publications on the topic of Sustainable Development is Environment, Development and Sustainability, with 13 publications in the period 2002-2005 found in SABI, and for that reason it has no impact factor.
The European Journal of Operational Research with its two publications has more publications in the same period for the variable DEA-Ecological emphasised by the number of citations which the journal possesses (over 6,200) which gives us a clear choice, for publishing matters of eco-DEA.
Table 3 List of topics with published articles in the period 2002-2005, according to two databases.
Source: Author´s elaboration
Table 4: List of leading journals according to classified topics, from two databases
Source: Author´s elaboratio
3.1. Neoclassical Theory
The search for answers to questions regarding environmental efficiency, are aimed at the agents whom have a greater responsibility for the production of goods and services. As such there is no escape for any organisation, be it for profit or not. Given this perspective, Porter and Van der Linde (1995), show that the implementation of environmental standards encounters positive responses and higher competitiveness within businesses, encouraging the firms to utilise resources more productively, to be more innovative and to apply environmental reasoning.
Facing the measurement of environmental standards, one tool which can help us to measure environmental problems with final objective results, is the measurement of “eco-efficiency”, which was born as a response to the need of productivity and efficiency indicators in clean or green productive processes.
The so-called neoclassical theory of the firm considers the company at the basic production unit - a utility maximizer, which exercises its claim for productive factors and, in turn, as a supplier of goods and services (Salas, 1984). Thus, "the company is responsible for transforming factors (inputs) into products (outputs) according to a given production function. This defines the maximum output achievable with a certain number of factors - those that minimize the cost of production at the current prices of said factors - and that are affected by the state of technical knowledge "(Rialp 2003.54). As such, this theory could be applied to public, private or even non-profit companies, which are seeking efficiency.
Álvarez (2001) points to the fact that there are three types of efficiency: the first is efficiency of scale: when a company is producing on a scale of optimal size, which is the one that maximizes profit. The second is efficiency of allocation: when the company combines the inputs in the proportion that minimizes the cost of production. The third one is technical efficiency: when the company gets the maximum output possible with the combination of inputs used.
The notion of applying inputs and outputs as ingredients to determine whether organizations are efficient or not, has been analyzed in various studies, in the application of eco-efficiency 14, and has been shown to be a valid and objective tool to measure various environmental situations in which a business or organization can be found, since we can measure the negative environmental production of output (bad or contaminated output), here we review the concept of eco-efficiency, which states:
"Eco-efficiency is achieved by the delivery of products and services at competitive prices that meet human needs and quality of life, whilst progressively reducing ecological impacts and resource intensity in the long-term life cycle, to a level at least in line with the estimated production capacity of the earth." (WBCSD, 2000, 4)
In order to measure the eco-efficiency of the selected units of study (Decision Making Units - DMUs') 15 Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) methodology is applied (DEA). This methodology was originally proposed by Charnes, Cooper and Rhodes (1978) and applied in Diaz (2008). The input and output variables are considered related to the chosen production management within a given period. Therefore, a reference standard (frontier) is determined empirically. This applies a non-parametric frontier model Farell (1957), making an assumption about the properties of the technology that define the series of feasible production processes, whose frontier surrounds the observed data (Alvarez, 2001.32).
The environmental performance indicators (EPIs.) can be expressed in absolute or relative terms, in order to quantitatively measure the environmental aspects, based on monetary or non-monetary units (waste costs, the amount of waste expressed in tons, recycling/ amount of waste costs). The EPIs are integrated in various environmental monitoring instruments, but it also represents an information and planning instrument which can be very useful for making comparisons over time or benchmarking projects.
To have a standard criterion of inputs / outputs that make up the DEA measurement system, we should point out that there are three types of returns, the good (positive), the bad (negative) and the neutral. Where, the positive value does not necessarily mean monetary advantage, but represents a positive output such as recycling or a desired product. The negative value means an output harmful to the environment, such as contaminated water. Neutral values in this case would be those that do not produce significant damage to the environment, such as heat leaving a power plant (Allen, 1999) 16. At the same time, six categories are given to the different ecological conveniences. According to Dyckhoff and Allen (2001) they are the factor, no factors, reducers, product, not products, and waste products. See Chart 1.
Chart 1 standard case, categorization of relevant ecological objectives, in the “normal case”.
Source: Allen (1999)
As an example we can cite the model of an energy generation plant from the perspective of waste 17 where desirable, undesirable and neutral inputs enter the production process where these elements are transformed and then converted into outputs, equally, desired, undesired and neutral, (see Figure 2). Other examples of application of this model can be found in Prior and Rovira (2004), for non-profit organizations such as the Catalan municipalities (local context), in Korhonen andLuptacik (2004) where 24 electrical plants in European countries are measured (business context) and in Melanen, et al. (2004) where they measure the eco-efficiency in developing region of Kymenlaakso, Finland, taking as parameters the economic, social, ecological and cultural development (regional context).
Figure 2. Categorisations for an electricity generation plant from a waste perspective.
Source: Dyckhoff (1998) p.97
3.2. Bibliographic Revision of Eco-DEA
In the DEA literature there are several articles dealing with theoretical applications in the ecological context, some items do not directly mention the word DEA but are related to the use of distance function approaches in the ecological context. Table 5 shows a compendium of papers made by Katirn Allen 18, published in "DEA in the Ecological Context - an Overview". P213 Ranging from 1989 to 1998.
In addition to the contribution of Allen (Table 6), we performed a search of the same theme of the remaining period (1999 to 2005) in the databases JCR and ABI / INFORM, introducing the variable DEA and a sub-search ECOLOGIC . In this search we realized that progress on publications is scarce, only 6 items in six years. This leads us to reflect on the matter and see that the subject matter is not well documented and can be a powerful theme and projection within the field of scientific research and likewise for the practical application in organizations.
Table 5 Revision of the literature regarding DEA en the ecological context.
T= theory; A= application Source: Allen (1999)
Table 6 Complementary 1999-2005. A Revision of JCR and ABI/INFORM.
Source: Author´s elaboration.
Sustainable development is itself the main pillar of the whole framework of environmental issues, in the measurement of eco-efficiency and in the DEA from an ecological perspective.
In the case of eco-efficiency measurement it is suggested to follow the five steps that lead us to logical and empirical results. In this sense, the picture proposed by Allen, 1999, (figure 3) is the most suitable, passing first by an analysis of the inputs and outputs to be analyzed (inventory analysis), then categorizing these inputs / outputs in desirable, undesirable and neutral (step 2), then by choosing the EPIs, dividing them into the stated categories, applying DEA on each indicator and then formulating the indicators or observations that may be concluded.
In this way we will be able to have a more finished, sequential and logical orientation to the steps to follow and to measure the eco-efficiency of an organization, be it for profit or nonprofit and then to orientate ourselves to the market with practices that deliver aggregated value to their products (Didonet, 2012).
Figure 3. Concept and application of the DEA in the Environmental Performance Indicators.
Finally, the immediate future (in the short-term) shows the measurement of ECO-DEA, as an issue that has already been made in preliminary studies, but it is still not established in the business world, this is a trend that will be seen strongly . Allen (1999), shows a framework for future research that can be followed as a basic guide (Figure 4).
Figure 4 – Framework for future research of ECO-DEA
In the quest to generate an ecological context and to see what would be the determining factors in measuring eco-efficiency, we have discussed the issue of Ecology by highlighting different methods that mankind has taken. This has been demonstrated via the differing achievements that have been accomplished (Stockholm, Rio, Kyoto) and by actions promoted by the United Nations. It is clear that countries with greater economic development have not tacitly joined these agreements (USA), and it is also evident that for the time that mankind has been around, there has been environmental progress. This is evident since there is now an understanding of the problems of global warming and the depletion of misused productive factors. It is also clear that not all problems solely involve the environment, but we must be aware that humanitarian problems are also related to food, water and opportunities for different countries to achieve a certain development.
It is also apparent within the business focus, that it is mainly private organizations that have generated different tools to benefit the environment. Examples of this include; the market for cleaner production, creating more value with less impact and generating a productive orientation toward sustainability through the policy of applying eco-efficiency in the different production processes. Today we may materialize this policy partly by what we call ´entrepreneurship´ geared towards sustainability. Obviously, these changes reflect a corporate vision which seeks to make profit, so we cannot move past the fact that the business sector will seek to make money over environmental issues. It is therefore the responsibility of the whole of society, that the environmental issue makes good business sense, as posed by the WBCSD.
Along the same lines, and as a way of complementing our study, we carried out a bibliographic revision regarding the ecological context, looking for a certain encroachment between practice and theory. The results, in our opinion, are not very encouraging, showing, (similar to the ecological theme for the covered period, 2002-2005) that there are not a high number of publications, which in turn distances the practice from the theory. This is, perhaps, down to the topic in itself, which should have a greater effect in the natural as opposed to social sciences. In any case the analysis from 2005-2010 remains as way of generating a detailed bibliometric analysis.
Eco-efficiency happens to have a major role in our findings, since it appears as a tool that can be tailored to business and social contexts. From the identification of some determining factors of their acceptance in the business world, it can be shown that the most appropriate theoretical approach to their actions is that of the neoclassical theory of the firm. It is shown that there is a strong tendency for companies to survive in different markets, leading the company to adapt itself to various institutional changes experienced by the market (supply and demand) for environmentally ecological products or accepting products/ services with “green” processes in its production phases. Whilst an organization is not born with a mindset to generate green products, it is clear that social pressure (laws, norms, customs) have highlighted environmental protection and this has passed to the production process.
Whilst it is clear that identifying a company as "clean" or "green” is motivated mainly by the size of its "capital" it is no less true that businesses with little capital have been innovative in environmental issues. This is observed in the market, by the foundation of an environmental industry with companies operating at all levels, such as compost, collection, the reuse and recycling of waste, changes in fuels, etc... Therefore, we can say that the concept of eco-efficiency and business has penetrated the walls, but we see its application in the public and private sector mainly in larger companies. This is encouraging to the "green" cause but not enough at the time of reckoning, we must consider that over 80% of companies (in most countries) are family organizations with no more than 5 employees (micro-firms). This is a major challenge in environmental issues at the micro-ecology level (small businesses with environmental responsibility).
In the study above, we have seen that there are certain basic measuring parameters to generate optimal levels of clean production, one of them is to generate rankings which shed light on what the company is doing and what are the major factors for the rest of the industry to copy or follow. Environmental Data Analysis (DEA) is a tool that can be modeled in such a way as that we can analyze the different inputs that occur in the production of a good, and to determine what inputs would eventually generate unfriendly waste for the environment. Therefore, it is imperative that businesses have a clear division of their input and output and that their output of products is divided between positive outputs (products acceptable to the market) and negative or environmentally unfriendly outputs (pollutants). As such, we present the production process of an energy company, which shows clearly that the residual heat will become a negative output.
From the aforementioned, we must ask if this tool (DEA) is applicable to different environmental issues, for this, we performed a sequence of work by Allen (1999) and it was observed that there is an orientation towards strengthening these studies (academically speaking). Tables 5 and 6 are a reference point for future research regarding the topic. This leads us to the understanding that you can work on the issue by following a few basic steps (technical) we have also generated indicators that can be used in different business markets. Figures 3 and 4 of the study generate an order where we can conclude any such Eco-DEA investigation. Where we can see that the future of the Eco-DEA as a tool for measurement and guidance of the various markets is applied, we would be able to envisage a successful future for both business organizations and the environment.
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