BST153 : Critically discuss the role of ethics in environmental management: Environmental Management for Organisations Assignment, NUI, Ireland

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University National University of Ireland (NUI)
Subject BST153: Environmental Management for Organisations

Assignment title: Critically discuss the role of ethics in environmental management

Planet Earth is now in the age of the Anthropocene; a geological age, defined by the dominant influence of human-driven activities on the earth’s natural systems. This epoch has seen vast changes to our ways of living. The Industrial Revolution heralded vast economic growth for western nations; however, this unfettered growth has drastically increased carbon emissions and degraded the Earth’s ecosystem services, resulting in unprecedented changes to the Earth’s climatic conditions (National Aeronautics and Space Administration 2016).

Environmental management encompasses a range of approaches, intended to prevent damage to the Earth’s biosphere. These approaches may originate from varying attitudes and worldviews. Examining value systems and ethical beliefs relating to the environment and ecological issues, one may better understand approaches to environmental management. Environmental management encompasses many diverse goals, approaches and stakeholders. It can be seen as a process that analyses, and seeks to reduce, the effect of anthropogenic activities on the natural environment. Daley and Kent offer a definition of environmental management as being concerned with ‘meeting and improving provision for human needs and demands on a sustainable basis with minimal damage to natural habitats and ecosystems’ (2013).

Ethics can be seen as the study of, or a set of beliefs about ‘what is morally right and wrong’ (Cambridge Dictionary 2019). Environmental management can be approached from varying ethical or value systems, such as ecocentric, technocentric and anthropocentric approaches.

The ecocentric approach places nature at the core of its value system, emphasizing respect for biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems. Ecocentrism propagates the belief that nature needs to be conserved and protected. Both anthropocentrism and technocentrism are humancentred paradigms.

The technocentric value system propounds the belief that human ingenuity and technological advances can be used to master nature and to resolve environmental issues (Gladwin 1995). Looking at environmental management as a holistic framework, knowledge may be utilised from several different value systems or approaches. In order to devise effective environmental management strategies, diverse and interconnecting factors should be considered, such as social, environmental, and economic factors, combined with the adoption of environmentally sustainable technologies and processes.

An integrative approach to environmental management may be encapsulated by the sustain-centric approach. Gladwin notes that sustain centrism is both human-centered and conservation-centered (1995). This paradigm identifies humans as custodians of the Earth, responsible for preventing transgression of the Earth’s planetary boundaries. Gladwin further states that sustain centrism focuses ‘on interrelationships of causality, such as among poverty, population, gender bias, overconsumption, and ecosystem degradation’ (1995, p. 894).

Regarding technology, Gladwin notes that ‘proponents of sustaincentrism are not antitechnology, but they also do not accept it uncritically. Technologies should be developed and employed in appropriate, just, and humane ways’ (1995, p.893). Sustaincentrism places value on social-ecological interconnection:

Certain organisations are moving beyond solely meeting regulatory environmental requirements, with the adoption of voluntary Environmental Management Systems (EMS), a framework by which sustainable business activity can be conducted. Public sentiment, political will and increased media coverage of environmental issues may be the impetus for organisations to voluntarily adopt an environmental management system.

Further reasons may include the need to meet the growing societal demand for ethical goods and services (Zokaei 2013). Barrow notes that environmental management is multidisciplinary and utilizes the ecosystem approach; this holistic approach recognises the interconnected nature of ecosystems, recognises the importance of drawing on local knowledge, and involving key stakeholders in the management process (Barrow 1999).

Introduction of an ethical framework and language may enable ethical practice to flourish. Research carried out with Australian planners, into their ethical position around sustainable land and community planning, revealed themes of an absence of ‘ethical literacy’ and general professional confusion and inertia ‘about how to resolve ethical dilemmas as planners’ (Sarkissian et al. 2009, p. 218).

Environmental management systems (EMS) such as the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO-4001 and the European Union EcoManagement and Audit Scheme (EMAS) may offer businesses environmental literacy and framing of environmental issues and solutions. Approximately 300,000 organisations in 171 countries around the world have achieved ISO 14001 (ISO 2019). Between October 2018 and April 2019, 108 organisations became EMAS registered organisations (Europa 2019).

Unethical business behaviour can result in legal repercussions, increased regulatory costs, loss of public trust and damage employee morale (Epley and Kumar 2019). Argandoña suggests the voluntary, management-led approach has the greatest potential for the creation of a truly ethical management system (1999).

An in-house, management-led approach to EMS, affords an organisation the opportunity to define their own ethical code and goals; this may involve input from stakeholders in the organisation, such as employees. Defining an ethical code and identifying ethical goals may increase a sense of ownership towards EMS and develop understanding into the reasons for implementing EMS, thereby encouraging stakeholder buy-in (Argandoña 1999).

The United Nations (UN) Global Compact propound a principles-based approach as the foundation for conducting business in a truly sustainable manner. The UN Global Compact is the world’s largest initiative for corporate sustainability.

The initiative highlights the adoption of a principles-based approach as key to companies conducting business in a sustainable manner. This approach outlines ten principles in the areas of environment, human rights, labor, and anti-corruption, stating that ‘establishing a culture of integrity’ enables companies to uphold ‘their basic responsibilities to people and planet’ and in doing so creates a foundation for ‘longterm business success’ (UN Global Compact 2019).

The UN Global Compact highlights the business opportunities provided by operating in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner; connection to social agenda may enable companies to better identify market needs, to attract skilled people and provide long-term benefits to both business and society (UN Global Compact 2019).

Sustainable development principles offer a framework for sustainable ecosystem management. The Brundtland Report defines sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ (1987, p.41).

Barrow posits that sustainability combines environmental and resource management with social and economic development, offering a new standard that illuminates risks, challenges, and opportunities at a local and global level (1999).

Daley and Kent noted the interconnection of environmental management with justice, propagating the idea that on both a local and global scale, environmental management is ‘intimately linked with pressing issues of justice and even of survival’ (2013).

This relates to the concept of climate justice. The concept of climate justice illuminates ethical responses to the climate crisis. Robinson highlights the humanitarian issues created by

climate change, as poor or disenfranchised communities are often most vulnerable to climate change and possess the least resources in which to mitigate the negative impacts (2018).

Robinson calls for climate justice, advocating for disenfranchised communities’ plight to be addressed as a global issue (2018). Martin et al. propound that a movement away from growth paradigm and business as usual activity is not just imperative for continued human well-being, but also bears moral implications for humanity (2016). Martin et al. further argue that a profound transformation of societal values is required, advocating for values that place care of the biosphere at its core (2016).

Now, more than ever before, humanity has been made aware of the destructive impact of anthropogenic activity on the Earth’s ecosystems and natural resources, proven through overwhelming scientific evidence (IPCC 2014).

One may argue that this knowledge carries with it an ethical responsibility to adapt our ways of living; that it is now an ethical duty to adopt sustainable practices or to continue with business as usual (BAU) activity, with the knowledge that such activity may hold dire consequences for planet Earth.

The polarisation of value systems around the environment is not beneficial to global discourse; the adoption of integrative and holistic environmental management practices is required, that provide a progressive framework to create socially just communities that operate within the limits of the planetary boundaries.

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