Green piece of the action

Vitality and Renewal
November 24, 1995

Since the mid-1980s, a number of green activists have turned to influencing corporate behaviour. This strategy, less well known than the confrontational approach of the big guns like Greenpeace, was aimed not only at reducing the number of dangerous and dramatic pollution accidents, but at reducing waste, minimising resource use and changing attitudes to production. If industry and business were responsible for much environmental damage, the reasoning went, why not work with them, persuading, pressurising and evangelising?

Well, the sceptic might answer, why should business pay any attention? A few industries in the 19th century might have had humane attitudes to their workforce, to health and safety, the odd Quaker might have introduced nursery schools and creches, but it took legislation to do something, did it not?

Outside the need to obey regulations and avoid lawsuits, why should managers go green? Some reasons can be found in this book. Following pollution accidents, companies need to improve their image. Companies need to satisfy the greener instincts of their customers, organised as these are by environmental organisations. Company culture can be beefed up and morale improved by bringing in some green ideas. And many a senior company manager or director remembers his or her radical past; pony-tail shed, hand-rolled cigarette forgotten they throb to the call of sustainable development. Many, like Colin Hutchinson and those he cites (Al Gore, for example) believe that production patterns will have to be made more sustainable. Finding an environmental technology niche is lucrative; finding it first is very lucrative. Persuading your government to pass legislation that creates a demand for environmental technology lets you get there first. Otherwise, the creation of high-profile environmental policy often seems to mark the last moments of an industrial giant or its pre-mutation swan-song (Volvo, for example).

Trying to change corporate culture so that people are shamed into cleaning up, into good housekeeping, is a noble aim. And Hutchinson's book belongs to the evangelical camp; we face environmental disaster; imminent famine in some areas, toxic pollution of soil, greenhouse gases I the challenge is to get managers to do more than they have to legally. Any Brit might be forgiven a cynical sense that it would be a good start if the environmental law that exists was fully implemented. Studies of Her Majesty's Inspectorate for Pollution in past times have offered some fascinating examples of over-cosy relationships between officials and managers. In any case, Hutchinson unrolls the panoply of catastrophe for us, and lists the responses, mostly of a non-governmental kind.

There are now a number of business and environmental pressure groups, some founded by a charismatic and concerned businessman, formed to spread the gospel of greening business. Hutchinson, in his most interesting chapter, "How people are responding", lists these pressure groups and later lists companies with "environmental policies", although the effectiveness of the policies is not dwelt on. The book is strong on information on pressure groups, initiatives and personalities active in this area. Its market is the senior manager, but I suspect the charts and diagrams of this environmental management consultant will be less persuasive than the evidence of peer pressure and competitive advantage among major companies. It lacks any kind of critical or evaluative response to these initiatives, charters, agreements and policies, and contains a lot of rather low-level information that could have been cut; but it has a good environmental checklist for managers, and some passages on conflict resolution and mission statements that will help the senior managers to understand the reports of environmental consultants, and spread the message within their companies.

Anna Bramwell is author of The Fading of the Greens.

Vitality and Renewal: A Manager's Guide for the 21st Century

Author - Colin Hutchinson
ISBN - 0 7449 0110 3 and 0111 1
Publisher - Praeger
Price - £40.00 and £20.00
Pages - 310

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