Environmental Education in Small Business: The Owner-Manager's Perspective

By Redmond, Janice; Walker, Elizabeth | Australian Journal of Environmental Education, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview
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Environmental Education in Small Business: The Owner-Manager's Perspective

Redmond, Janice, Walker, Elizabeth, Australian Journal of Environmental Education


Environmental education began in the early 1960s as a response to concern about environmental degradation and focussed on creating public awareness (Gough, 1997). By 1966, the focus turned to the next generation, with emphasis placed on school and university curriculum that introduced ecological content. Environmental education took a new direction in the 1980s and looked toward sustainable development, with the term now widely used in the business and industry sectors.

Over time, many large businesses have taken steps to reduce pollution and environmentally harmful work practices, whereas those in small businesses continue to be generally unaware of the impact of the business on the environment or the need to address environmental issues (Melton & Tinsley, 1999). Williamson and Lynch-Wood (2001) suggest that some small businesses consider themselves to have an awareness of environmental issues, however, other research has shown that many small businesses consider the environment to be a "peripheral" rather than core business issue and do not perceive that they have a significant impact on the environment (Peters & Turner, 2004; Redmond, Walker, & Wang, 2008). This is a serious issue as it indicates that small businesses are not yet engaged in the environmental debate, despite all the global political attention environmental issues are receiving. It would appear that small businesses are continuing to "fly under the radar" when it comes to being actively engaged in changing environmental behaviour (Walker, Redmond, & Goeft, 2007).

Jenkins (2004 cited in Roberts, Lawson, & Nicholls, 2006) suggested that while small businesses are often viewed as the problem because they fail to demonstrate corporate social responsibility, it may be that the difficulty lies in the failure of governments to actively engage with small businesses. The truth may lie somewhere in between. It could be that small businesses do not understand their role in the environmental agenda as Madden and Scaife (2006, p. 5) found: "[small businesses] generally lacked an overall vision or purpose for their community involvement and what it could achieve for their business". If this is the case, education has a vital role to play.

Education as a Driver of Small Business Environmental Behaviour

Early approaches to inspiring environmentally friendly practices in small businesses involved the use of shock tactics (e.g., talk of the devastating effects of environmental disasters) to highlight the impact that society was having on the natural world, however this strategy has proven to be relatively ineffective (Kuhtz, 2007). Therefore, to achieve a more appropriate response, particularly from small business, other more direct interventions are being targeted.

A range of studies note that considerable effort has been made to determine the best ways to engage small businesses in environmental management (Condon, 2004; Revell & Rutherford, 2003). Although few programs exist (Thomas, Jennings, & Lloyd, 2008), researchers none-the-less encourage the use of education as a key strategy to engage small business in environmental management practices (Condon, 2004; Hilton, 2001; Katos & Nathan, 2004; Tilbury, Adams, & Keogh, 2005; Tilley, 1999). For example, Tilbury, et al. (2005, p. 8) argue that:

   Sustainability is not a destination for business organisations to
   reach, but an ongoing learning process. Educators need to build the
   capacity of business and industry to address sustainability issues
   at a more systemic level, and to collaborate with multiple
   stakeholders for their resolution.

A recent study has shown that small business owner-managers also see education as the best strategy to change environmental behaviour within the sector (Walker, Redmond, & Goeft, 2007). Paradoxically, research has also found that small businesses owner-managers are usually wary of formal education and training (Billett, 2001; Matlay, 2000), are less likely to train staff than large businesses (Bryan, 2006), and view training of any sort as a cost and not an investment (Webster, Walker, & Brown, 2005).

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