Environmental Management

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Environmental management evolves in stages: being reactive, developing management systems, adopting a strategic approach and finally organisational transformation

The page is divided into two sections:

Four evolving stages

Stage 1 - being reactive to issues

The first stage is often stimulated by the need to deal with an issue that has arisen. This may be an accident, media interest in a sensitive issue or public suspicion that there are hidden environmental effects of a product you manufacture or market. The spotlight may be on your industry rather than directly related to your organisation. However, your organisation is expected to react in some way. During this stage of environmental management each issue is treated in an ad hoc way, as it arises. This stage can continue for several years, dealing with a succession of problems usually by applying appropriate technical solutions.

Stage 2 - developing management systems

Ad hoc solutions, when applied frequently, are less efficient than a systematic approach. Typically this leads to devising or adopting some form of environmental management system. Many organisations are familiar with quality management procedures and have used these as the basis for environmental management. For these organisations ISO 9000 (quality management) leads on to ISO 14001 for environmental management (web site). Throughout Europe a lot of attention is being given to Environmental Management and Audit Systems (EMAS) and these are being widely adopted. There is a useful toolkit for small and medium sized enterprise on the web. Some organisations prefer to devise their own system. Whichever system is implemented the focus is often on cutting pollution and using resources more efficiently, both of which can lead to reduced costs and/or a quick return on capital expenditure.

This stage of environmental management often includes the use of Life Cycle Assessment, Life Cycle Economic Assessment of Environmental Impact, Eco-efficiency of investment projects, and use of the International Standards represented by the ISO 14000 series.

Many companies now publish a Corporate Environmental Report (CER). Comparisons between different CERs are discussed frequently in articles in Tomorrow Magazine.

Many organisations have found cost-effective ways of implementing environmental management but in due course realise the need to go further. This might be driven by the need to comply with the law, to enhance reputation, to respond to stakeholder concern or gain competitive advantage.

Stage 3 - adopting an integrated strategic approach

At this stage environmental management, social responsibility and business strategy are considered in an integrated way. This means that environmental and social factors take their place alongside economic factors in strategy planning and decision making. Several companies describe this as adopting a 'stakeholder' or 'inclusive' approach. This enables emerging opportunities to be recognised, understood and taken into account at an early stage of strategy formulation. Some companies find it helpful to work with professional bodies like The Natural Step or the Centre for Tomorrow's Company when they reach this stage (see routes to sustainability for various professional options). Sound professional help is available to help organisations understand how sustainable development can be applied in their business, which often leads to re-thinking their corporate vision and values. This is now emerging more clearly in environmental and social reports and new standards are being set by the Global Reporting Initiative.

Stage 4 - Organisational transformation leading to the sustainable enterprise

The transition from strategic integration to sustainable development requires a major shift in values and beliefs. For this to be accomplished requires enlightened leadership which understands the implications and is willing to stimulate learning right through the organisation. A few companies, are now contemplating this challenge as can be seen from statements they are making. None is approaching a sustainable enterprise, but the first steps towards sustainability are being taken by a few of tomorrow's companies.

What triggers action?

Organisations have taken action on environmental issues for many different reasons, some provoked by external pressure (externally induced), some as a result of their own strategic decisions (internally induced) as indicated below:

This is not a comprehensive list of the "triggers" but demonstrates that there are several possibilities. If your company has not yet accepted the challenge, or got stuck far short of investigating its sustainability it is worth looking at the potential links between current dilemmas and the challenge of sustainable development.

Return to top of page or visit routes to sustainability

Last modified 20 September 1999.