The network in action

The Greening of Industry network is neither a non-governmental organization nor a business firm. Nor is it an academic society or an intergovernmental body. While attracting participants from all of the four types of policy cultures or domains that I characterized in chapter 4 - business, government, academia, and civil society - GIN is something different and autonomous. It is in principle not reducible to any one set of values or organizational pattern. In a sense, then, GIN draws on resources, ideas, and interests from all four domains and makes them into something new. Its leaders continually combine the various sources of influence and inspiration into new packages, which is both the charm, but also perhaps the source of the dilemma of the network.

GIN can be considered as an agent of ecological modernization in that its participants strive for an integration of environmental concern with economics. The point here is that environmental problems are not to be seen as side-effects of industrial development, as they were viewed in the early days of environmentalism in the 1960s and 1970s. Rather, they are to be seen as intrinsic to industrial development; and if these problems are to be solved or at least dealt with more effectively they need to be incorporated into industrial development in a fundamental sense. Industry, in short, has to be "greened" through various preventative measures and approaches. But environmental discourse must be translated into the language of business and economics.

The notion of "greening" is, of course, multifaceted and can be thought of as an application of the concept of sustainable development to the economic or corporate sphere. In the report from the first GIN conference it is put this way: "Companies must attune their managerial attitudes and practices to the goal of sustainable development." The goal of the network's first conference was "to improve our understanding of how companies act on environmental issues and under which conditions companies are becoming 'green'" (Cramer et al. 1991: 1).

"Greening of industry" is a processual term; it focuses on the dynamic elements of change rather than on what might be termed the substantial elements, and it was thus no easy matter to carve out the particular discursive space in which the network could operate. From the outset it was clear that GIN was not trying to develop a new academic discipline; rather, greening was to be seen in interdisciplinary terms and the subject-matter was primarily to be company behavior and procedures, both in theory and practice.

In keeping with the belief system of ecological modernization, the cosmology of the network also includes a strong emphasis on dialog, cooperation, communication, and networking. As a social process, greening is seen to necessitate new forms of institutional and organizational "learning," and, from that very first conference, a good deal of the network's attention has been devoted to learning theories, particularly in management science, and to innovation theories. Greening was defined as a process of changing behavior among business managers, but also among engineers, consumers, and public officials.

Here, however, we can see a rather clear development over the past ten years, a gradual shift of focus from the hardware side to the software, or organizational, side of company behavior. At the early conferences there were a number ofpapers on technological innovation and significant representation from those academics who work in the field of science and technology studies. By the time of the Rome conference in 1998 the technological emphasis had largely faded from the program; there was a plenary session on "Can technology save the earth?" but there were few other sessions on science- and technology-related topics.

At the same time participation from academics in the field of science and technology studies was much smaller as a proportion of the whole. At the first conference about half of the number of academics could be characterized as science- and technology-oriented, and half could be characterized as management-oriented. At the Rome conference in 1998 there was only a handful of academics in science and technology studies among the several hundred participants, and they were mainly academics from management departments and business schools.

In this respect the shift in focus can be viewed as a process of specialization. While other networks and organizations have developed in the areas of cleaner technology and energy-efficient technology, and even sustainable technology, GIN has become more oriented to the study of business management. The result is not only a narrowing of the technological dimension of the network's cognitive praxis, but also a sharpening of the contours of the network's identity.

The character of the organizational dimension has also changed or, rather, expanded in a number of ways since the network was first established. The original idea to hold conferences led to a range of other activities that included projects, publications, and workshops. The network's founders have devoted significant attention to reflecting on the network's organizational form by formulating strategy documents and interacting on a regular, less formal basis with some of the network's core members, particularly those in the corporate sphere. Kurt Fischer and Johan Schot, and, more recently, Theo de Bruijn have visited a number of companies involved in the network and have proposed specific activities that companies can take part in and support, such as the survey of members that was conducted by General Motors in 1998 and reported to the Rome conference.

As befits a "movement" in a commercial age, a good deal of energy within the network goes to fund-raising, public relations, and marketing. As the conferences have become bigger (from sixty-eight participants in 1991 to more than 400 in 1998) so the organizational challenge has grown. The general principle, however, is that the conferences should pay for themselves through (rather high) registration fees, although there is a great deal of sponsorship of particular sections of the program by local firms.

A characteristic of the network conferences on the organizational level is the continual commitment to innovation and interaction. Plenary debates are sometimes carried out in a mass-meeting format, with a moderator (such as the longterm member Eric-Jan Tuininga) circulating in the audience with a microphone and quizzing the panelists and the audience much like a television talk show host (which he has been). What makes GIN conferences interesting is that they are explicitly meant to be innovative meetings, reducible to neither trade fairs, academic conferences, organizational meetings, nor policy deliberations. What GIN tries to produce are events that are both memorable in their own right and are also part of a process of network-building. The conferences are supposed to be noteworthy and informative but also catalytic, providing opportunities for people to meet across the normal societal domains and to catalyze initiatives across the different areas of society, and the world.

The catalytic nature of the network is not just confined to the conferences. Several attempts have been made to formulate research agendas and to use conferences and workshops for projects and publications. The network has established relations with a journal, Business Strategy and the Environment, which publishes contributions to the conferences both in theme issues and separately; and with a publisher, Island Press, where several volumes have been produced (Fischer and Schot 1993; Groenewegen et al. 1996).

One of the special features of GIN is its transnational quality. While it is a central "discourse coalition" in regard to ecological modernization, what gives it a good part of its special identity is the confrontation and/or dialogue that has been established between North American and European variants of eco-modernism. To compare the two conferences that I attended, Santa Barbara in 1997 and Rome in 1998, provides a way to explore the differences between these variants and reflect on what the differences depend on. For while both the Santa Barbara and Rome conferences were organized around similar topics and themes - pollution prevention, environmental management, sustainable transport, etc.-their presentation differed in intriguing ways.

To begin with the emblems were different: the Santa Barbara conference was entitled "Developing Sustainability: New Dialogue, New Approaches" and there was an emphasis on terminology, on ideas, on values - on what might be termed the ethics of greening. The American presence was as usual quite strong and the plenary sessions sometimes had the tone of a camp meeting, with different preachers, ministers, "believers" promulgating their new ideas on the eco-modernist discourse. The emblem of "responsibility" was significant and, like a new denomination, the Coalition for Environmental Responsibility and Sustainability (CERES) also had its day, with plenaries and parallel "break-out" sessions, one of which I chaired.

The religious tone was hard to miss, especially since CERES' new executive director had been recruited from the Harvard Divinity School. He spoke of the values and the ethics of the sustainability transition and the greening process. CERES has a list of principles that companies are encouraged to sign, a kind of "ten commandments of greening," and these principles are urged as the way to alter the values of the firm.

The emblems in Rome were quite different. Here, the business of greening was in the hands of a new national actor, the co-host Legambiente, an NGO-cum-think-tank-cum-consulting firm which has all but replaced the public authorities in Italy, and which is secular, rational, and pragmatic in its presentation of the green message. Entitled "Partnership and Leadership. Building Alliances for a Sustainable Future," the Rome conference emphasized the business of greening, the process of operating: in short, green entrepreneurship. There were sessions on financing and marketing, on substance chain management, and on life-cycle analysis. The emphasis was on the mechanics of greening. The session I chaired on Local Initiatives in Sustainable Development became a kind of marketing session where we discussed techniques to mobilize local activists. A leading member of Legambiente spent some time in defending his own organization's activities; like a salesman for a particular business concept he stressed the significance of strong leadership and professional management skills in the taking of local initiatives.

I took part in a plenary session on technology organized by Johan Schot, which included a representative from General Motors. Johan Schot had prepared a multi-media show with film clips from newsreels from the 1939 World's Fair. In his speech he criticized some of the technocratic dreams that had been so prominent at the fair and which had reappeared in the 1990s among many ecological modernists. My own comments stressed the continued hold of the "myth of progress" over the environmental agenda which was, of course, disputed by the corporate representatives on the panel. We ended up disagreeing about the role of technology in the greening of industry. Minds had not met: they had stated opposing positions.

A broad social assessment of technology, which had been one of the prime concerns of GIN when it was brought into being, had become marginal at best and highly suspect at worst, for many of the influential members of the network. As cleaner technologists moved their products and their product concepts closer to the commercial marketplace, the "space" for critical discussion and reflection seemed to be getting smaller. The marketers of cleaner and greener products apparently no longer needed the benefit of an open-ended public arena; rather, they increasingly joined more focused and specialized fora for exchange and communication, such as the Cleaner Production Roundtable, national and international industrial branch associations, and the commercial trade fairs at which they could sell their products without the scrutiny of academic critics.

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