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Category: Business

Autor: anton 23 July 2011

Words: 751 | Pages: 4

Introduction

Recently, some authors have argued that there is a

need for a paradigm shift or a fundamental

change in the practice of business, in organizational

behaviour and performance if the ideals of

corporate social responsibility and sustainable

development are to be achieved (Gladwin et al.

1995, Ehrenfeld 2000, Hueseman 2001, Senge &

Carstedt 2001, Welford 1998, 2002). However,

these calls are in a sense a re-statement of radical

calls for sustainable development already presented

in the 1960s and 1970s (M’Gonigle 1999).

This article shows what are the consequences of

the fact that these radical calls have failed and

become overshadowed by the technocentric paradigm,

by the conventional modernity paradigm

that already prevailed before the birth of modern

environmentalism. I concentrate on corporate

environmental management, a major issue within

the existing corporate social responsibility debate.

The article defines sustainable development as

development that does not systematically increase

the underlying causes of negative environmental,

social and economic effects (Robe` rt et al. 2002,

2004). In this way, it is relatively easy to determine

whether a certain activity is sustainable or

unsustainable. We know that, in the long term,

it is not sustainable to use non-renewable natural

resources, such as fossil coal, oil or natural gas.

Ehrenfeld (2000) views sustainable development

as development that sustains itself forever into the

indefinite future. By definition, the world energy

system is not sustainable. Eighty per cent of the

world energy production relies on non-renewable

fossil fuels (Williams 1994), which are emission

intensive, and often on fuels imported to national

and regional economies. We also know that the

production of chemicals and substances foreign to

nature is risky even if there are no currently

known negative impacts of certain substances.

If the over-harvesting of renewable natural

resources exceeding their reproduction capacity,

as is currently the case in tropical areas, continues

systematically, this is not sustainable over the long

term. The social dimension of sustainable development

is under risk. Twenty per cent of the

world population possesses roughly 80% of the

resources (Hueseman 2001). The (systematically)

increasing gap between the rich and poor, both

between and within countries, is systematically

decreasing the opportunities for education, social

and healthcare services, security and communitybuilding or is reducing the accessibility to

resources and information to a small elite in the

developing countries.

When sustainable development is defined in such

a broad and qualitative manner, i.e. as development

that does not systematically increase the

principle mechanisms of negative impacts, it can

be possible to agree on what should be done. A

situation in which one would try and define more

specific, detailed and quantitative limits or thresholds

for impacts in ecological systems and social

systems is more difficult in terms of consensus.

First, we do not know enough about current and

future environmental effects. �The relationship

between ecological and economic systems from

the local up to the global level are too complex to

set proper standards for many pollutants’ (Ring

1997: 244). There are millions of species that have

not yet been identified and, therefore, have not

been tested as target species or organs for negative

effects of many substances or pollutants.

It will never be possible to define all the negative

impacts that synthetic chemicals will have on the

environment or human health (Hueseman 2001).

It is also clear that environmental problems and

the �environment’ must be redefined, because of

the intimate connections of environmental problems

to societal problems; direct and indirect

implications on national security; social justice

and human health (Lubchenco 1998). Second,

because of these uncertainties, it is impossible to

define, in terms of detailed and quantitative

numbers, ecological and social limits and thresholds

for sustainability. It is very difficult to reach a

consensus on numbers. Third, it is relatively easy

and straightforward to use current knowledge in

science for determining the principle mechanisms,

which are the causes of current known and future

unknown negative social and environmental

impacts (Robe` rt et al. 2002). Unlike detailed

quantitative limits and thresholds for known and

unknown impacts, the principles describing the

root causes can be derived from current knowledge

in science, in physics, chemistry, biology,

ecology, engineering, economics, management,

social sciences and cultural studies.

The objective of this article is to show that the

prevailing focus on detailed impacts (many of

which are uncertain and unknown) and on the

efforts to get rid of them does not alone

contribute to corporate environmental management.

Practical examples of what can be called

�problem displacement’ or �problem shifting’ in

corporate environmental management work are

given to support this claim. A new theoretical

approach for corporate environmental management

is suggested. This approach has two parts.

First, knowledge derived from social science,

economics and cultural studies is employed to

focus on the norms, visions, concepts and paradigms

of modernity that are argued to cause

environmental and social problems. Second,

natural science and engineering science knowledge

is used to concentrate on the root causes and

underlying principles upstream that are the

mechanisms (most of these are well known and

clear through existing science) of current known

and future unknown negative environmental

impacts downstream. The structure of the paper

follows this argument.

References

Allenby, B. and Cooper, W.E. 1994. �Understanding

industrial ecology from a biological systems perspective’.

Total Quality Environmental Management,

3:3, 343–354.

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