Environmental Management in Northern Ireland Business: The Green Initiative

Article excerpt

Introduction

Environmental considerations are rapidly emerging as a very important issue for business and management in the 90s (Klassen, 1993; Hutchinson and Chaston, 1994; Green Economy Working Group Report, 1994). Legal and public pressure in Europe on the attainment of good environmental practice is mounting. A significant proportion of this pressure has been directed at business which is often identified as the major source of pollution. In addition, the 1991 British Social Attitudes report (Jowel, 1991) indicates that consumer buying patterns are changing with environmental considerations permeating society more widely. Consequently, organisations are having to respond to the demands of the modern, environmentally aware consumer by developing products/ services which, for example, use less packaging, cause less pollution and/or reduce energy consumption.

Government has played a significant role in putting pressure on companies through environmental legislation. For example, environmental considerations have been built into the legislative framework for many years, with legislation covering air and water pollution, public health and safety, as well as more recent measures to control the use of products, processes and wastes which may harm the environment. The United Kingdom Environmental Protection Act (EPA) which builds on previous measures, is a key piece of environmental legislation which has drawn together and overhauled the regulatory structures and requirements of environmental protection in the UK. Much of the content of the EPA has been motivated by the activities of the European Union and will better enable the framework of UK pollution control to meet the demands of European environmental policy. It should be noted that within Northern Ireland, the EPA does not come into force for at least another year.

Until relatively recently, the environment debate in organisations has largely been one of rhetoric rather than action. Business Advice Guides for environmental improvement provided the first guidelines for business environmental improvement (Davis, 1991 and Ralston and Church, 1991). These were swiftly followed by more formalised environmental management systems, such as BS7750. This British Standard provides a generic model that assists organisations in establishing, developing and maintaining their own environmental management system.

In recent years, a number of authors have conducted surveys dealing with environmental management issues. For example, Polonksky et al (1992) investigated environmental commitment in large firms within the Australian context. In the United Kingdom, there have been a number of regional studies dealing with the difficulties that SMEs have experienced in developing and implementing environmental policies (Hutchinson and Chaston, 1994; Patton et al, 1994; Welford, 1994). With regard to Northern Ireland only one study was found which dealt with the existing and potential employment opportunities created by environmentally based activities (Green Economy Working Group Report, 1994).

The study reported in this article concentrates on the management perception of the environmental threats and opportunities arising, both currently and in the future for businesses in Northern Ireland. It is anticipated that the findings from this survey should be of interest to strategic planners in the public and private sector, as well as environmental groups, industry trade associations and management consultants who are involved in designing and implementing environmental policy. The objectives of the survey were to establish:

* The level of awareness, analysed by size and sector, regarding current and impending environmental legislation/management systems and their implications to the organisation in terms of affecting the strategic and operational planning process.

* To identify the main factors influencing environmental policy within an organisation. …