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Organisations, environmental management and innovation
Organisations, environmental management and innovation

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2.2 Affected by environmental issues

What kinds of environmental issues do organisations face? Are environmental issues, by their nature, any different to the many other types of issues that organisations are expected to address? Are they any different to the kinds of problems and issues faced by individuals or communities?

Discussion on the nature and origins of contemporary environmental issues is not limited to concerns about organisations, but it does have significant bearing on the way organisations think about environmental issues and how they are affected, so it is important to reflect on this.

Activity 20 Contemporary environmental issues

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

What do you consider to be the main characteristics of contemporary environmental management issues for the organisations you engage with? Do you consider these to be unique or are they shared by other kinds of issues that organisations have to address?

Provide your answer...

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Perhaps the main characteristics centre on the diversity of environmental issues which an organisation may face. My example of a hairdressers reveals a wide range of different environmental connections that the organisation could consider if wishing to improve its environmental performance. Add to this varying geographic scale: does the organisation recognise the connection between the computer it has purchased, the manufacturing plants in China, energy consumed in production and use, and global warming? These multiple connections give rise to multiple stakeholders – who should an organisation consider as being ‘connected’ to its activities? The complexity of interconnections is compounded by uncertainty: is an issue fully understood and is the science and policy clear on appropriate responses? What are the risks of a particular decision path for an organisation? These characteristics are similar to many types of issues, but an organisation’s understanding and skill set to deal with environmental issues is sometimes limited as, until the last 20 years, there has been little ‘precedent’ for dealing with environmental issues in the history of most organisations.

Given these characteristics, many organisations can be affected by environmental issues in many ways. An organisation can be required to meet certain legal obligations on waste and emissions and a wide range of local operating conditions, which are often linked to planning and licence permissions. But for issues which are still ‘in dispute’, such as global warming, the uncertainty can be considerable and hamper an organisation’s medium- and long-term planning. It can be difficult to generalise given the diversity of issues that equally diverse organisations face. Indeed, this diversity can add to the complexity and uncertainty associated with many environmental issues and situations and their interconnections with different aspects of the organisation. One way of representing this in more systemic terms is to think about the connections between an organisation and its environment in terms of flows: what is coming into the organisation and what is going out of the organisation.