How Environmental Pressures Are Affecting the R&D Function

By Rich, Laurie A. | Research-Technology Management, September/October 1993 | Go to article overview
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How Environmental Pressures Are Affecting the R&D Function

Rich, Laurie A., Research-Technology Management

OVERVIEW: For R&D managers, environmental and health issues have become an integral part of day-to-day operations, changing, in some cases fundamentally, the ways in which they approach their jobs. Although R&D executives spend up to 15 percent move of their work day dealing with environmental requirements and Protocols than they did five years ago, most welcome the additional obligations as an opportunity to improve department and product quality Industry is finding that the long-term benefits of incorporating environmental and health measures into the R&D function far outweigh the difficulties Presented by the added burden on personnel that comes from complying with company-and government-dictate requirements.

U.S. industry's research and development departments are changing, in some cases fundamentally. And R&D executives' jobs are changing with them.

The reason: Increasing corporate attention to and focus on environmental and health concerns. Today, 87 percent of leading companies' R&D functions are affected by environmental concerns; 79 percent of all other companies' R&D functions are affected, according to the consulting firm Booz, Allen & Hamilton, Inc. (1).

All that focus and attention--caused by increasingly stringent laws and regulations, public pressure, the need to stay competitive while preserving and conserving natural resources, and voluntary industry-wide initiative--means that R&D executives and managers are spending approximately 5 percent to 15 percent more of their work days on environmental and health issues than they say they did just a few years ago. And most of that extra time goes to activities new to the R&D executive: dealing with the additional personnel needed to meet environmental and health requirements; interfacing with and involving in decisions on a regular basis non-R&D departments, people and outside consultants; reading up on environmental and health requirements, practices and protocols.

R&D executives' reactions to these extra duties and burdens are surprisingly sanguine. The majority of executives interviewed for this article voiced little objection to the demands that environmental and health concerns place upon them. Rather, they talked about the business opportunities these issues present for their companies, the positive challenge of incorporating environmental requirements into their laboratories, and the ability they had developed to use such protocols as tools for continuous improvement in the quality' of their work.

This holds true, despite what others might consider strong negatives--for instance, the fact that environmental and health requirements have forced many companies to pare back on projects that have no direct positive bearing on the bottom line. Or, that some of the scuttled work, or work not undertaken in the first instance, might have led to worthwhile technology or other developments. Compliance with new protocols has, in some cases, actually slowed overall productivity down, and ma be contributing to the documented, general slowdown of industrial R&D in the U.S.

Precise dollar amounts that U.S. firms are dedicating to R&D to handle these environmental and health issues is unknown; those companies that actually break out their expenses along environmental and health lines consider such figures proprietary. But anecdotally, R&D senior executives say that the numbers are certainly up compared to several years ago (see editorial box, page


The only hard numbers available on what industry is spending is an extrapolation based on information culled from the Industrial Research Institute and the U.S. National Science Foundation, and put together by Brian M. Rushton, senior vice president of Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. NSF data indicates that in 1991, industry spent $78 billion on total R&D. A 1991 IRI survey of 246 member companies showed that approximately 13 percent of their R&D was directed at environmental technology.

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