From network to business

The Greening of Industry network provides a window onto the changing world of ecological modernization. Emerging in the late 1980s as part of the quest for sustainable development, ecological modernization has developed into one of the ruling doctrines of environmental policy in the late 1990s. But it has also lost a good many of its original ambitions along the way.

On the one hand ecological modernization has tended to fragment into a number of different sub-areas or special interests. Most noticeably the proponents of environmental management have developed a discourse or sub-discourse of their own which has separated out from a technical, or engineering, discourse of cleaner production and green technology. In relation to GIN the management "wing" of eco-modernism has tended to take over, and the engineering, or science and technology, "wing" has tended to move on to other fora and organizational locations, and the environmental activities of engineering associations, both nationally and internationally.

This has meant an increasing specialization, but also a narrowing of the original ambitions. Over time the focus has become more oriented to the business world, and, even more narrowly, to the world of business education. It is indicative of this development that the 1999 conference was held for the first time at a business school, at the University of North Carolina, and that the meeting was framed in a much more explicit managerial language than previous conferences had been. In this respect GIN is part of a larger and more widespread process of managerial "reductionism" that has afflicted ecological modernization as a whole (see Mol and Sonnenfeld, 2000). Greening of industry, as a phrase or slogan, has tended to be supplanted by more explicitly business-oriented terms and conceptual frameworks - strategic niche management, environmental management systems, life-cycle assessment, industrial ecology, cleaner production, product chain management, extended producer responsibility.

Even more serious is what might be called the closing of the autonomous space that the network has represented throughout the 1990s. GIN has been both open and open-ended, which has meant that anyone who wanted to could present a paper, but also anyone who wanted to could be involved in its operations. As Kurt Fischer put it, "you're a member if you do some work." This quality is perhaps what most resembles that of a social movement, and it is something that seems to be challenged by the new kinds of activity that the network is taking on: the expansion to Asia, and the interaction with General Motors in surveying members' interests and in developing further programs.

There has always been a tension in the network among those who were most interested in what might be termed the project of greening -primarily environmental activists and former activists - and those who were most interested in the specific forms of greening industry - primarily business people and management experts. For most of the 1990s, it was a fruitful and creative tension, and the success of the network in holding memorable conferences and in producing interesting literature has been, in large measure, a result of the mixing or recombining of perspectives. With a sharper emphasis on doing business and influencing the world of business, and a more ambitious agenda that will require increasing efforts in fund-raising and acquiring corporate assistance and support, it is an open question how long the network can remain "movement-like."

The changes that can be seen in GIN are in many respects representative of the dilemmas that have confronted green business in general as its proponents have sought to put their visions into practice. Ecological modernization, we might say, has been seriously constrained by the logic of commercialization. As economists and engineers have developed the concepts of environmental management, cleaner production, eco-efficiency, and industrial ecology among many others, they have been forced to seek out market niches in the global economy. The original ambition of "greening" industry has thus been transformed into the business of greening. Members of the network, as well as members of many other such groups, have become competitors, selling their own particular concepts, their own particular expertise, in what has increasingly become a highly competitive market.

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