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Substitution and complementarity dynamics in configurations of sustainable management practices

Wenyan Song (School of Economics and Management, Beihang University, Beijing, China) (Key Laboratory of Complex System Analysis, Management and Decision (Beihang University), Ministry of Education, Beijing, China)
Yi Hubert Han (Department of Economic Sociology, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, Shanghai, China)
Robert Sroufe (Donahue Graduate School of Business, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Article publication date: 18 July 2022

Issue publication date: 4 October 2022




Previous research tends to study various sustainable management practices (SMPs) in isolation, leading to inconsistent conclusions about the effect of SMP on firm profit. This research aims to advance the understanding of the linkage between SMP configurations and financial performance by revealing the dynamics of substitutions and complementarities among these SMPs.


The authors conducted an exploratory study based on the theoretical lens of the practice-based view (PBV). An integrated text-mining approach is used in gathering data from 302 corporate reports of cross-sectional firms, followed by a fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis method to examine the configurations of SMPs in achieving high and low financial performance.


The findings show that green innovation practices (GIP) and cleaner production practices work together as complements for small firms in configurations associated with high profits. However, large companies in high-competition industries often adopt a minimalist configuration focusing on product quality and safety management (PQSM). PQSM and GIP are complements in configuration for small firms in high-competition industries, while they work together as substitutes for small firms in low-competition industries.

Practical implications

This research provides managers with a new way of thinking to support decision-making in sustainable operations management. The complementary and substitutive view of management practice can guide operations managers to design and implement effective practice configurations to achieve synergistic effects.


This is among the first studies to reveal the complex relationship between various configurations of SMPs and firm performance. In addition, this research offers new insights into previously inconsistent findings from a PBV and configuration perspective.



The authors thank anonymous reviewers and IJOPM Editor Dr. Tobias Schoenherr for providing helpful comments on their manuscript. The authors are grateful to Professor Charles Ragin who invented fsQCA for his insightful suggestions on an early version of this article. This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 71971012).


Song, W., Han, Y.H. and Sroufe, R. (2022), "Substitution and complementarity dynamics in configurations of sustainable management practices", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 42 No. 11, pp. 1711-1731.



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