This paper investigates whether environmental management is an economically sustainable business. While firms invest in green production and green supply chain activities with the primary purpose of reducing their environmental impact, the reciprocal relationships with economic performance need to be clarified. Would firms and suppliers adjust their environmental strategies if the higher economic value that environmental management generates is reinvested in greening actions? We found out that environmental management positively influences economic performance as second order (long term) target, to be reached conditioned by higher environmental performance; in addition, firms can increase their performance if they reinvest the higher economic value gained through environmental management in green practices: While investing in environmental management programs is a short term strategy, economic rewards can be obtained only with some delays. Consequently, environmental management is an economically sustainable business only for patient firms. In the evaluation of these reciprocal relationships, we discovered that green supply chain initiatives are more effective and more economically sustainable than internal actions. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.