Environmental management: an issue of corporate responsibility - Business Environment

Organisations accepting responsibility for the impacts of business process upon air, land and water is just one of the issues to be addressed within the debate on business attitudes towards corporate responsibility. It is, however, the one area where governments, communities and business have worked most closely to improve their understanding of the issues and resolve the identified problems; in particular, to reconcile the perceived need for economic growth with the demand for greater environmental protection and reduced levels of ecological degradation.
Historically, economic development and growth through business activity have been portrayed as beneficial to the well-being of a society and as an important influence on the quality of life of its citizens. Accordingly, organisational practices and processes designed to increase production and consumption have generally been encouraged and welcomed, even though their detrimental effects on the natural environment have been recognized for some time.While growth invariably remains an objective of governments, its environmental impact has become part of the political agenda at both national and international level, where particular concern has been expressed about the extent of ecological degradation, the rate at which limited resources are being depleted, and the frequency and scale of accidents caused as a result of business practice. Pessimists have argued that in the pursuit of growth many countries may have already surpassed levels of usage of essential resources and sustainable levels of pollution, and have blighted future generations for the sake of present consumption. The more optimistic view is that individual and collective action can give rise to sustainable development which allows for present requirements to be met without compromising the ability of successive generations to meet their own needs. The concept of scarcity and choice is not new, but the way in which human needs are to be met while seeking not to compromise the future is the practical challenge that will face society and therefore all business organisations. It is the philosophy of sustainable development that many argue is the only way forward for the world economy. The problem of environmental degradation is closely related to the issue of economic growth, and both industry and society need to balance environmental protection with economic development. The difficulties in finding an appropriate balance lie not just in the need to reconcile a range of conflicting interests but also in the relative lack of information on the relationship between economic development and its long-term impact on the natural environment.
The seriousness of the situation and its potentially disastrous consequences suggest that an environmental revolution is needed which may require a dramatic change in the behaviour of society and industry as both consumers and producers.

Much attention has, of course, been focused on political initiatives which are testimony to the widely accepted view that environmental policy needs to be formalized and co-ordinated at international level if it is to be effective in tackling the salient issues. ‘Top-down’ approaches, however, can only be part of the overall solution and much depends on the actions of firms and individuals in the marketplace and on their willingness to accept responsibility for their own behaviour and its consequences. In short, concern for the environment needs to be expressed through the actions of a myriad of actors, and for a revolution in environmental responsibility to be successful it must permeate all levels of society.


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