Natural and managerial disposability are two important strategic concepts, whose priorities are economic prosperity and environmental protection, respectively. This study defines social sustainability as the simultaneous achievement of economic prosperity and environmental protection, and then assesses the degree of social sustainability across provinces in China. In addition, this study combines the concepts of natural and managerial disposability with Data Envelopment Analysis window analysis. The method allows for frontier shifts among different time periods and thus can provide more stable and reliable results. This method is applied to assess the energy and environmental performances across the provinces of China during 2003–2014, and provides detailed information about provincial variations, which are valuable and important to policy makers (especially for those in local governments). This study identifies three important findings. First, there were no significant improvements in China’s environmental performance during the analysis periods, since, historically, the governments have not paid enough attention to environmental protection. Second, there are increasing trends in the provincial gaps regarding the environmental performance. In this regard, the central government should help the poor provinces to protect the environment. Third, there are significant differences between the results obtained under natural disposability and those obtained under managerial disposability, since they have different priorities regarding the operational and the environmental performances. Thus, significant contributions can be made by eco-technology progress combined with managerial performance improvements by business leaders and policy makers. This can be a new policy direction for the Chinese government.
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