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Environmental management and organisations
Environmental management and organisations

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15.2 Compulsory approaches

As noted with earlier reference to the roots of environmental management and more modern environmental disasters, the recent history of environmental and human relations has been defined by increasing legal obligations on individuals and organisations to improve their practices.

Compulsory approaches to environmental management are essentially determined by legislation (laws) and regulations. Regulations set out how a law should be observed and complied with, and are thus part of the enforcement of the law. However, while one governmental body (or series of bodies) may write the law and regulations, it is often through the judiciary and the attendant court system that the law is interpreted in its application. Both laws and regulations can be legally enforceable, but laws generally take precedence over regulations.

Historical examples of environmental management legislation in the UK include the Factories Act 1833 to improve working conditions, the Public Health Act 1848 and the Clean Air Act 1956 in response to the Great Smog of 1952. The principle of legal obligations in environmental management can be traced back in English law to the 1868 case of Rylands v Fletcher. Following construction of a reservoir on private land, which then flooded a nearby coal mine, the judicial ruling noted that:

The person who for his own purpose brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief, if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and if he does not do so, is primâ facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape.

Taken from an earlier hearing of the case in the Exchequer Chamber; Fletcher v Rylands [1866], p. 279

This ruling continues to inform contemporary UK legislation, although the body of legal statute is now very much more substantial and complex. To illustrate this, the following is a list from the UK Environmental Law Association [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] of key legislation and regulations relating to air quality alone:

Repeating this exercise for land, water, waste and noise, for example, would amount to a sizable list, even allowing for overlaps. You can find out more about UK environmental legislation applicable to organisations by following these hyperlinks for England and Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland. Even a brief glance at these links will reveal that managing compliance with environmental legislation in the UK is a significant obligation for many organisations.

You are not expected to know this legislation for the purposes of this free course, but it is important that you are aware of how significant environmental law has become in recent decades. In part, this is because much of the legislation relating to the environment in the UK (and other EU member states) is defined by European legislation. Chief amongst these are European directives.