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By Carmen Grafulla Valdivielso, Mónica Bernabé Fernández
In the western world, since the industrial revolution, human activity has focused on economic growth and raising the standard of living. "Well-being" has been associated with the idea of reaching ever higher levels of production, supply, communications, transport ... "The more you produce and consume the better you are." The problem is that the more you produce, the more resources you need, and the more you consume, the more waste you generate.
Man in particular and society in general have their "being" in the environment, a very broad term that includes the nature, force and activity of living beings, including man himself, and non-living beings such as chemical elements and energy, and the interaction and balance between them and that affects the existence of all.
Man's life is affected by his environment, insofar as his survival and development depend on it, and like coins, it has two sides: on the one hand, the environment supplies him with the resources and energy for his life. sustenance, the habitat in which its activities take place and the landfill where the waste it generates is deposited; on the other, man's life is also exposed to the aggressions of nature, which have manifestations of various kinds: diseases, deprivation of resources, inclement weather, plagues, floods, etc.
Like any other species, man has an inalienable right to fight for his survival, to use natural resources for his own benefit. The primary goals of human activity should be "progress", the improvement of the "standard of living" and the pursuit of "well-being". They are legitimate goals and they are worth it.
Similarly, it is entitled to develop the science and technology that allow it to achieve these goals. In fact, using science and technology as instruments, man has been able to defeat some diseases, he has developed devices that perform painful or costly tasks for people, that manage to reduce time and errors or that simply facilitate work has optimized the generation of some resources, has alleviated the consequences of adverse weather conditions, has created works of art, etc. It would be foolish to ignore that greater or lesser scientific and technological advance has conditioned, in many aspects, the access of communities to a better life.
In the western world, since the industrial revolution, human activity has focused on economic growth and raising the standard of living. People urgently tend toward the consumption of goods and the immediate satisfaction of needs. "Well-being" has been associated with the idea of reaching ever higher levels of production, supply, communications, transport ... "The more you produce and consume the better you are."
The problem is that the more you produce, the more resources you need, and the more you consume, the more waste you generate.
It is true that technology has managed to solve many problems and many companies have begun to manage knowledge, they have embarked on "value creation", they have launched different initiatives to structure and measure their intangible assets that generate or will generate value in the future. They know that, within the business world, there is a current of opinion convinced of the need to record the elements that are not included in the financial statements. But how can you manage intellectual capital without having swept it first? Make your workplace a “safe” place to think!
Problems are not invented to scare people. They are there: the depletion of the ozone layer, deforestation, desertification, the destruction of tropical forests, the degradation of air, water and soil, noise, nuclear and electromagnetic pollution. The pernicious consequences are inevitable: acid rain, greenhouse effect and climatic changes, loss of biodiversity and ecological balance ... And what is worse, they finally translate into damage to the health of human beings themselves: cancer, respiratory ailments, genetic mutations, digestive problems, stress, etc.
Some believe that the most important source of pollution is poverty while wealth defends cleanliness, and they bet without reservation on growth. They are convinced that the economic development that allows scientific and technological advances will prevent the threats, in the mouth of more or less radical environmental groups, from becoming a reality. When the thinning of the ozone layer means a really dangerous solar radiation for the Californian coasts, the ozone layer will fix itself!
However, with a little prudence and a lot of humility, we should ask ourselves to what extent we have the capacity to find the solution, and especially how much time will have to pass. Pollution has a traveling vocation, moving through time and space, sometimes so silently that it goes unnoticed, and manifesting itself where and when it is least expected. Cancer continues to destroy thousands of people, even those who have all the material means at their disposal.
How to reconcile the apparently conflicting interests of a community that installs a telecommunications tower and a family unit with hyperactive children?
Ecology, a term used by Ernest Haeckel more than a hundred years ago, whose etymological meaning is "the study of the house", and which we use to refer to the study of the relationships between living beings and the environment in which they live, is not a new idea but it is beginning to have an important specific weight in our society.
In the current panorama, the new concerns of customers, both internal and external, are increasingly identified with the protection of the environment. Although the public interest focuses on issues of tremendous social importance such as terrorism, unemployment, education, housing, taxes, political tension, monetary stability, etc., society is increasingly concerned about the world that we are going to leave our children.
For some years now, it has been common to associate, at least partially, "quality of life" with the enjoyment of an environment that is as clean and as unpolluted as possible. Clear water, clean air, silence, landscapes, ... are values of singular importance in the current concept of development of human societies and are increasingly taken into account when planning or executing any economic activity.
The environment must be protected, and it is everyone's job: administrations, markets, companies and the general public. As Margaret Thatcher said in her 1988 speech, "Earth cannot be the fiefdom of any generation. All we have is a life lease, with the obligation to keep it in perfect condition."
We are at the moment of modifying the objectives in decision-making, of weighing the restrictions and alternatives in a more ecological way, of definitively assuming that short-term interests have to coexist with the urgent need for sustained growth in the economy. weather. Neither of these questions is easy to address.
What everyone agrees on is that a reasonably ecological horizon cannot be drawn behind the back of the industry, since without their collaboration the technology that allows meeting human needs with the least possible environmental damage will not be developed. The industry has the means to develop this technology and it does not lack stimulus for innovation, but how to incentivize the industry to behave cleanly?
Traditionally, industry and the environment have been and in certain aspects continue to be antagonistic: the main environmental damage is caused by the industry and the industry perceives the environment as an obstacle in its activities and a brake on its development and job creation. New approaches in the way of doing business and managing them, new policies and strategies have to be continuously adopted, which requires making decisions, coordinating actions and directing activities, all of them aimed at ensuring the future.
The time when everything that was produced was sold belongs to an increasingly distant past, and although socioeconomic concerns fluctuate depending on circumstances, now the search for competitiveness necessarily involves understanding and not disappointing the expectations of clients, people and Society as a whole, for whom the preservation of the environment is a common objective and problem.
Some think that the additional resources to protect the environment are resources that could be used to develop new products, or new technologies, or to capture new markets, or simply "to be more competitive." Naturally, few would object to using resources to carry out these projects, but would you be so kind as not to make a mess? Do not invent fumes or noise, innovate but do not generate waste.
Another argument that has been used very frequently to avoid the environmental challenge is the increase in costs due to having to incorporate new technologies, less toxic materials, less waste, collection and treatment of the product and the packaging at the end of their useful lives, etc. . The questions are immediate, who will bear these additional costs? Do consumers agree with the increase in prices of products that respect the environment? Are they motivated and willing to bear the costs? And even more, can the poor and the less favored groups afford the "luxury" of paying them?
This is the wrong way to approach the future. The public is increasingly scrupulous about health and nutrition issues, and more reluctant to accept the grime, in part thanks to the "green" efforts of governments, agencies and associations of all kinds aimed at increasing awareness and education of the consumer, to demand clean products. According to the theory, consumers will impose the necessary discipline by buying green products and thus supporting the development of environmentally friendly companies.
Therefore, those who consider the environment as a key strategic factor have hit the mark. The environment is becoming a source of competitive advantages: it rationalizes the consumption of natural resources, promotes technological development, improves the image of the company's brand and the product, increases the possibilities to enter other markets, and almost always increases the satisfaction of your employees.
Some pioneering companies have anticipated and adopted profound and very important changes in their environmental culture, in the way they approach problems and seek solutions. They use their commitment to caring for the environment as an asset of the organization. If we pay adequate attention to the work of Phil Crosby "Quality is free" we will find that the environment, like quality, does not cost more. The furthest behind can, of course, "do nothing." In the short term, this attitude has no repercussions since they do not introduce any modification. But what will happen in the long and medium term? It is clear that if the environment in which the company operates requires that the environment not be harmed, and the company ignores this requirement, the immediate consequence will be the loss of competitiveness and in some cases the disappearance.
A product conceived under the guideline "from the cradle to the grave", that is to say, a product that from its design, through its production, use and enjoyment and ending its life in a landfill, in an incineration plant or in a container of recycling has minimal impact on the environment can become a differentiated product, attractive to customers and valued by society in general.
On the contrary, if the industry, or the company, is not honest, the pressure groups can create endless problems for it. A demonstration or attack on a product can waste a lot of time and resources and would be well spent. Certain NGOs know how to boycott certain activities, how to inform the public, how to put pressure on administrations, how to provide help and how to collaborate and contribute to the improvement of the environment. Do not lose sight of them.
An adequate management of environmental variables, in general, will save raw materials, energy, water,…, And these economies will not only denote a behavior in solidarity with the preservation of the environment but can also generate significant savings.
Controlling waste can be another important source of savings to the extent that it is minimized, reused or recycled. And sometimes, minimization, reuse or recycling is just a matter of re-education and training within the company itself.
The principles of "who pollutes pays" and "who consumes polluting products must also do so" are making the cleanest procedures increasingly attractive:
- Saving taxes, fees, royalties, environmental taxes, etc.
- Savings in fines and penalties
- Savings on insurance premiums
- Deductions for "green" investments
- Access to advantageous credit conditions.
- Obtaining grants and prizes
Significant quantities can be saved by defining an adequate purchasing strategy and possible areas of collaboration with suppliers and customers to change specifications of ingredients, components, production process, final product, packaging, transportation, and its Final "grave".
Attention the financial and insurance sectors that have drawn up the agenda for the coming years. Its managers are convinced that its activity has a potential multiplier effect to prevent or at least minimize environmental problems. And they are willing to act by implementing environmental management in their own organizations (some bank has obtained ISO 14001 certification), updating the financial risk assessment for the integration of environmental variables and promoting the offer of financial products that favor the development of projects. ecological, such as eco-investments or green investment funds.
In relation to the labor market, clean companies often attract high-quality employees and often prevent them from leaving. Clean companies are usually well managed and they know that taking care of the health of employees and the environment is taking care of the health of the company itself. A company that respects the environment is a company with a future, and employees know that too.
These savings, although not yet recorded in the general ledger, are especially relevant if measured in terms of opportunities; therefore, any environmental management decision must be made from a prismatic perspective that reconsiders and redefines costs and benefits. The concept of eco-efficiency is increasingly used as the prevention of pollution and the generation of waste from an economic point of view. Are ecological efforts translated into economic savings? Is the relationship between the natural resources we take from the Earth and what we give back to it fair? Let's not forget that some resources may be "free" or have a very low cost, or that today are profitable, but is it necessary to waste water? Why not use alternative energy? Those gases that escape!
Auditing and quantifying are excellent actions to get an idea of the situation.
- What is spent
- what is worth
- What is paid
- What is saved
Numbers are stubborn and have great persuasive power.
On the other hand, the supply of environmental goods and services has good prospects for growth and job creation, at the level of training, information, consulting, audits, engineering, implementation of management systems, and the public administrations themselves need experts in The matter.
In short, companies face a double challenge in the future: on the one hand, incorporating environmental variables into their company strategy, and on the other, positioning themselves competitively in a market with a future. The following ideas can help:
1. The concept of sustained profitability only makes sense within the framework of adequate environmental protection.
2. The active leadership of the company management should promote the integration of the environment into the business strategy.
3. Eliminate barriers: it is not worth saying, “this is not our job” or “it is too expensive”.
4. Putting an “excellent” professional in charge of environmental management
5. All members of the organization must be involved and take responsibility for good environmental practices.
6. Auditing and quantifying environmental impacts are the first step in taking the appropriate actions.
7. Identify the main strategic lines of action, promoting preventive measures.
8. The environment must be an element present in the configuration of all the processes of the organization.
9. Provide reliable information. Communicate both internally and externally the environmental situation and actions.
10. Environmental protection is a sign of quality for customers, employees, shareholders and society in general, because it implies sensitivity and concern of the company for its environment.
From an ethical point of view, the philosophy on which many companies base their environmental management goes one step further. People cannot be deceived, and not only because the company risks its future, but because people, in general, do not deserve to have their health, their future, or their well-being at stake. Do not cheat, they are usually noticed.
Citizens have only two weapons: elect our rulers and govern our behavior. Sometimes a certain pessimism can creep in, especially when the leaders of the main emitter of gases with harmful effects do “their” accounts and reject the application of the Kyoto protocol because their companies could not “bear” the costs it entails, or when they decide to find out if their nuclear "heads" have become "hollow." But any effort is important and will be welcome.
* Superior Industrial Engineers - Professors of the Department of Business Organization of the University of the Basque Country - Superior School of Engineers of Bilbao - Alda. of Urquijo s / n
48013 Bilbao - SPAIN - E-MAIL [email protected]