By Lic. Aldo Guzmán Ramos
Despite the growing theoretical discussion regarding the positive or negative relationship between companies and the environment, it is impossible to ignore the impact of major environmental problems caused by our way of producing and consuming.
Despite the growing theoretical discussion regarding the positive or negative relationship between companies and the environment, it is impossible to ignore the impact of major environmental problems caused by our way of producing and consuming. The alternative, currently followed by some businessmen, is to incorporate the environment (that is, protection of the environment) as part of the business business, as one more tool to compete in the market.
In this way, the business sector, and in particular the industrial sector, faces a double challenge in the face of the environmental objective; on the one hand, incorporating the environmental component into the company's strategy, making the necessary investments in research and development of clean technologies, modification of processes, corrective measures, waste management, training, etc .; and on the other, to position itself competitively in a market in clear expansion.
Thus, at present, environmental management (1), in the field of business management begins to become a crucial factor that decisively influences both the image of the company, as well as the quality of the product, its cost, its commercialization and ultimately in competitiveness. It is necessary for companies to plan ecologically, this implies conceptualizing the environment from its natural and artificial aspects, it requires detecting current and future problems. To this end, it is necessary to cross sectoral and disciplinary, temporal and spatial boundaries, to address reality with its systemic interdependence, its limits and its complexity (Morán, 1999).
The environmental history of the planet shows us that "during the first great wave of concern for the environment in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many of the problems appeared to be local in nature: products from sewer pipes and individual chimneys, the answer seemed to lie in the regulation of these sources of pollution "(Schmidheiny, S. 1992). Thus, the anti-pollution measures were applied to the factories from quite early stages in order to alleviate the negative effects of their operation, these were actions on a very local scale, since only at that scale were such effects perceived. Environmental problems really become more acute when it begins to be detected that the specific actions were not only not enough, but that some of them even contributed to the generation of new problems or to expanding the scale of existing ones. But "when the environment issue returned to the political agenda in the 1980s, relatively recently, the main problems had become international issues: acid rain, the deterioration of the ozone layer, warming global, etc. Now the analysts did not look for the causes in the drains and chimneys, but in the nature of human activities. It is impossible to maintain the current methods of energy use, agricultural and forestry exploitation, protection of plant species and animals, management of urban growth and production of industrial goods "(Schmidheiny, S. 1992).
A good example of what happened with acid rain is a good example of what happened, since until the 1960s it was mainly concentrated in the environment of polluting sources, "but as fuel consumption and the chimneys of power plants increased their height increased to favor dispersion and reduce local pollution, polluting gases were concentrating at higher levels of the atmosphere, facilitating their circulation over long distances "(Jiménez Herrero, L. 1989), going from being a local problem to a global one.
Faced with this situation, the need to solve the environmental problem arises, justifying the growing importance of the environmental issue in our society. In addition, the environment is a great source of employment, for example the environmental industry in Canada in the mid-1990s grouped 4,500 companies that recorded profits of 16.7 billion US $, of which 9 billion were for services and the rest by products for the care of the environment (Korn, M. 1998); It is also imposed as a factor for locating economic activities, it manifests itself as an important spur for industrial modernization, it is perceived as a fundamental element of the quality of life and finally it behaves as a testimony of the management of a society.
Slowly, the greater awareness by consumers and the pressure of public opinion, seems to induce the business world to adopt sustainable practices with respect to the environment, thus in 1992 there appears Changing Course: A Global Business Perspective on Development and the Environment, whose author is Stephan Schmidheiny, but which brings together the opinions of business leaders from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) (2), Changing the Course sets the steps that governments and other businessmen must follow to ensure the survival of future generations.
The demand for public knowledge, coupled with public awareness, has led many companies to broaden their scope of who has legitimate interests in their operations.
Also, the adoption of an environmental awareness in the design phase of products and their processes is one of the most effective methods to prevent contamination (let's not forget that contamination is a sign of inefficiency, since it implies the loss of energy) In addition, the negative effects of the industry on the environment are not limited to the manufacturing process, but extend to previous and / or later stages, the first in relation to the raw materials and the energy they consume and the second with the products, waste and discharges that they cause, for which it is necessary and essential to attend to the entire life cycle of the product (from cradle to grave). Finally, we must bear in mind that the success of industrial transformation through new technologies, innovative projects and better management and control systems will largely depend on the global readjustment of the markets. This means that the prices assigned to the products must be modified to reflect the true environmental cost of production. Today's markets offer very few incentives for the development of responsible environmental behavior, mainly in underdeveloped countries.
On the contrary, in developed countries, this entire process of bringing companies closer to the environment takes more and more force. For example, environmental policy in the European Union has currently adopted the idea that: environmental problems are nothing but a reflection of the behavior of social agents: companies and consumers. It is to them that public action is directed in the idea that the environmental adaptation of industries will have a favorable impact on their management and that consumers are motivated by the environmental behavior of those. In this way, the environment has a strong impact on business management, which must attend to increasingly restrictive legislation and market pressures. In this, environmental quality is inseparable from the quality / price ratio, constitutes protection against less demanding third parties, reduces risks, saves raw materials and energy, improves relations with the administration and provides a good corporate image. In short, the competitiveness of a company and its survival in the medium and long term, require the inclusion of the environmental factor in its management.
This environmental pressure on companies in the developed world is also transferred (on many occasions) to companies in underdeveloped countries, which must invest in clean technologies in order to enter the market of the former.
We can say that, taking into account the high environmental risks derived from contemporary industrial practices, any significant expansion could be considered as ecologically unsustainable. However, it is precisely towards such expansion that global development leads as the industrial economy grows, and developing countries meet their needs and meet ever more demanding expectations. In the next 60 years, the global economy is likely to increase fivefold. In this world of the future, maintaining the current (and unsustainable) levels of pressure on the environment will undoubtedly require reducing the environmental impact per unit of gross national product by 80%.
But, industrial sustainability cannot be achieved by isolated companies acting alone. An alternative approach is the practice of preventive measures against pollution, green design and the adoption of generalized closed-loop systems for the treatment of materials. Of course, this requires a close relationship between suppliers, producers, distributors, users and companies dedicated to the recovery or elimination of waste. The approach known as industrial ecology pursues the structuring of the industrial base throughout the world following the guidelines set by natural ecosystems, whose cyclical flows of materials and energy are both efficient and sustainable.
Industrial ecology avoids traditional linear models of industrial production, according to which waste is unavoidable. In a natural ecosystem there is no waste. Resources are maintained, for example, when an organism uses the waste products or waste of another organism as food. Similarly, an industrial ecosystem would be made up of complex food webs that allow used products, residues, and wastes to fluctuate through industries (and consumers) through a multi-dimensional system of recycling and reuse. Incorporating the waste stream into the manufacturing process for new products would be an integral part of the entire industrial process. Industrial ecology redefines waste as source materials and origin of another industrial process. The idea is that the processes can be conceived, designed and organized taking into account both the residual products that they originate and the primary and fundamental articles that they give rise to. All this in theory, but in practice, putting in place a recycling infrastructure and a consumer culture that supports industrial ecosystems is a complex challenge (3).
It is a challenge for humanity, because it is fundamentally a management problem. Thus, the factor that has most limited preventive anti-pollution measures and the key impediment to achieving the transition towards sustainable practices is not technology, but management and control practices. In this way, the transformation must begin in the boardrooms, where the attitudes of managers, organizational structures and incentives for action are developed and shaped. Without a change in the corporate culture that advocates an ethic of prevention and the strategic values of sustainable practices, any change that affects only the technological part will generally be based on very short-term commitments.
Achieving harmony between the environment and economic activities will depend in part on technological progress regarding environmental protection, but fundamentally, a serious and profound change must take place throughout society, without exceptions, in terms of attitudes and behaviors towards it. environment, that is, it is necessary to build an environmental culture, which is imposed on the culture of consumption. As Claude Martín, General Director of World Wildlife Fund International based in Gland (Switzerland) explains, "20 years have passed since the issue of sustainable development began to be seriously debated throughout the world. However, during this same period, We have witnessed the ever-increasing dominance of market forces and the precipitous advance towards globalization of trade, and everything seems to indicate that the place occupied by the noble ideals of sustainable development on the international list of priorities will continue to decline even further. ".
This decline in sustainable development as a global priority is occurring despite the fact that there is no human being who can argue the need for balanced economic, social and environmental development based on the satisfaction of present and future generations. It is necessary to implement more drastic changes, and not timid attempts to improve the environmental situation. Thus, if we do not reduce the level of consumption and exploit natural resources in a rational way, they will simply be exhausted and life for human beings will be, perhaps not impossible, but much more difficult.
1) Environmental management is sometimes used as a synonym for environmental management, this "... can be defined as an attitude of the company's management that implies a commitment to effect a cultural change generated in the concern that its activities have on the environment, but this cultural change not only remains in the organization but there must be an attempt to transfer it to the rest of society "(Cassino, 1995). Environmental management has the following scope (Rodríguez Garay and Trentini, 1993):
a) It covers functions that range from the detection and conception of the business in companies, to the permanent activation and transformation of the external and internal relationships necessary for development;
b) Given the breadth of this perspective, management is not reserved only for those who make up the management system at different hierarchical levels, but encompasses all the people who perform functions included in the process, although they are only limited to operate or mobilize resources;
c) management functions can be performed without having people in charge. It is the typical situation of the self-employed of small sole proprietorships or the partners of similar organizations;
d) It also includes the liberal professions and specialists who enjoy a high degree of autonomy in certain organizations in the technostructure or in the staff, even when they are functionally dependent on some line hierarchical position (ecologists, agronomists, environmental, industrial engineers, economists, administrators, etc.);
e) Likewise, it is possible to carry out management functions that alternatively imply sending other people or receiving orders or instructions, such as members of the intermediate levels of the managerial cadres.
2) The World Business Council for Sustainable Development is a union of 150 international companies aligned by the commitment to work for the environment. In Argentina its representative is the Argentine Business Council for Sustainable Development (CEADS).
3) But there are places where it has been put into practice: for example, in Kalundborg (Denmark), where industrial waste and the heat generated by the disposal of this waste are exchanged in a joint arrangement to give rise to a power plant, a refinery, a drug factory, a plasterboard factory, a cement factory, farms and also heating for the domestic use of its inhabitants. The agreement, which is proving beneficial, constitutes a small model of an industrial ecosystem. (Schmidheiny, Stephan. 1992)
JIMENEZ HERRERO, L. M. Sustainable development and Ecological Economy. Integration of environment-development and economy-ecology. Madrid. Ed. Synthesis. (1996).
KORN, Manuel. Pending subject. In Ecology & Business Magazine. Year 2 - Number 8. 1998.
SCHMIDHEINY, Stephan. Turning the tide: a global perspective of entrepreneurship for development and the environment. Mexico Economic Culture Fund. 1992.
* Master in Eco-Audits and Business Planning of the Environment.
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