How do you think the arguments made by Meadows et al should influence the practice of management

This piece of work is analogous to a journey incorporating my personal assimilation and awakening to a completely new subject matter. As I begin to digest the literature from a range of academics, including the revelatory works of Meadows et al in Limits to Growth (2005) and Beyond the Limits (1992), I feel fortunate to receive such timely explanations of the concerns for the future of our planet1.

Accordingly I will give due consideration to these concerns centred on the currently unsustainable use of our planet, incorporating my personal feelings of fear and anger at my lack of awareness, questioning whether or not management practice will be influenced by increasing environmental concerns. Indeed this essay topic is particularly prevalent, as over the next two decades my peers and I in our many guises; as businessmen and women, as consumers and as caring family units may be able to instigate changes towards a sustainable eco-friendly lifestyle.

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Consideration is given to a range of opinions on how management practice responds to the arguments raised by Meadows et al (2005) fused with my personal feelings of opportunity and hope for a sustainable future. The Tetra Pak and 3M cases suggest that businesses are beginning to embrace steps towards environmental responsibility; however the limited nature of these measures, often focussed on corporate image, implies that deeper changes are required to change the current worldview.

The journey then moves on as I express my thoughts and confusion on ‘contrarists’ who, enveloped in a mist of “spiritual autism” (Berry)2, refute the need for any adjustment, clinging to the idea of an infinite globe facilitated by rapid developments in green technology. By amalgamating my feelings and new found knowledge I hope to arrive at a deeper understanding of the problem, and in turn feel confident that the issues discussed can be addressed and managed effectively.

A plethora of media material informs the masses of the consequences of mankind’s ever increasing “ecological footprint”, a phrase coined by Wackernagel (1997, cited by Meadows et al 2005, p. 3) describing the “total impact of humanity on nature. ” Indeed the term has developed into an important measure included in the World Wildlife Fund for Nature’s “Living Planet Report”, a broad indicator of the number of living species and state of the global environment. According to the 2002 Living Planet Report the global footprint was 2. hectares per person in 1999, above the estimated sustainable level of 1. 9 hectares per person. ‘Ecological footprint’ analysis (Loh, 2002, cited by Ballard 2005) suggests that the biosphere’s carrying capacity was exceeded during the 1980s. An understanding of Daly’s Rules cited by Meadows et al (2005), a simple model showing that our planet has limits to its “sources and sinks”, reinforces the notion that mankind’s current (and increasing) footprint is unsustainable.

More poignantly an understanding of the Daly’s model uncovers the severity of mankind’s inability to comprehend the systemic nature of the ecosystem. This naivety is highlighted as mankind continues to reduce the capacity of both sources and sinks. A classic example lies with the natural rainforest, which, according to Daly, serves as both a source and a sink within the global ecosystem. The Geo Yearbook (Anon 2003, p. 13) states that “27. 9% of the total land area of China is affected by desertification”, human factors including “… vergrazing, overploughing and vegetation removal… ” are to blame for reducing the capacity of one of the global ecosystems sources since the area is no longer amenable to cultivation. Unfortunately this is not the end of the story, as the topsoil is “… lost at 16 to 300 times faster than it can be replaced… ” (World Resources Institute, 1998, cited by Meadows et al 2005) the lands capacity to store chemicals and toxins from acid rain is reduced; these pollutants are then transferred via surface runoff into the rivers and seas limiting the capacity of one of nature’s sinks.

The symptoms of mankind’s endemic impact on our planet are reported closer to home “… 13. 5% is the increase in reported discharges of pollutants into the seas around the UK compared with the previous year (2003). ” (The Independent, p. 32, 25th October 2005) The implication is that mankind has surpassed the carrying capacity of the planet, in fact Meadows et al (2005) contend that “… there is pervasive and convincing evidence that the global society is now above its carrying capacity… ” Personally I feel frustrated as this is certainly not a new concept.

I wonder why lessons surrounding the broad nature of environmental concern and pollution have not already been learnt given that Carson (1962) brokered the subject by citing a speech by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands at a wildlife fund dinner: “We are dreaming of conquering space. We are already preparing the conquest of the moon. But if we are going to treat other planets as we are treating our own, we had better leave the Moon, Mars and Venus strictly alone! ” Evidently the concepts of pollution and the degradation of our planet have been acknowledged for many years.

We as a global community, as business leaders, as politicians, as consumers and as family units must change and adjust our behaviour in order embrace a more caring, nurturing side as proposed by Warren (1993). The following abstract by Greffrath (cited by Reason, pers. comm. , 26th October 2005) encapsulates this concept succinctly “… morals are good, politics are better, people who care are best of all… ” Poignantly it appears that a subtle mindset change centred upon caring for our planet, rather than a one off corporate donation or technological development may help to deliver the required adjustment proposed by Meadows et al (2005).

I find the evidence on the impact of mankind’s activities on our planet both compelling and overwhelming. My immediate emotive response is to feel shocked at what has passed me by and gone unnoticed. Reflecting upon the last two decades of my life; I now realise that my imbued worldview, imposed upon me and developed by a draconian education system, has rendered me naive to thinking ecologically and oblivious to the concept of “systemic thinking”.

In some ways I feel ashamed but then I look to my peers and realise that I am not the anomaly, my friends and work colleagues are just as oblivious to these concepts as I have been. Momentarily I draw comfort from this thought, from not being the only one to be so misguided, my mood then darkens to one of concern and fear – how can we make the adjustment referred to by Meadows et al (2005) if the majority of the population are either naive to the situation at best, or, at worst, don’t even care?

Hawken et al (1999) likens the scale of the adjustment required to, “… the next industrial revolution… ” A consideration of why mankind is unable to fully comprehend the natural world as a self organising body whose development is driven by continually evolving, intricate, interdependent feedback loops, links into the work by Shiva, Orr and Meadows on philosophical viewpoints. It is arguable that of the four great cycles of the western mind, the ‘mechanos’ worldview has had the most profound impact on our planet’s ecological systems.

Scholars such as Bacon (cited by Foulkes et al 1990), Galileo (cited by Foulkes et al 1990) and Descartes (1954) gave momentum to the prevailing paradigm at the time that man must establish domination over nature and that nature could be understood through mathematical analogies and therefore controlled by mankind. Reason (2005) summarises the prevailing paradigm at the time suggesting that “… objects of nature are composed of inert matter, operating according to causal laws. ”

The symptoms of the mechanos worldview, realised predominantly since the industrial revolution are now unquestionably well publicised to the extent that newspapers produces supplements on the disappearing world, “100 Things Your Grandchildren May Never See”. (The Independent, 17&18th October 2005). The paradoxical nature of such rapid economic and technological development is exposed by Hawken et al (1999): “Since the mid-eighteenth century, more of nature has been destroyed than in all prior history.

While industrial systems have reached pinnacles of success, able to muster and accumulate human-made capital on vast levels, natural capital… including all the familiar resources used by humankind: water, minerals, oil, trees, soil, air… is vastly declining. ” There is growing consensus among ecofeminists and economic environmentalists of a shift away from the mechanos viewpoint towards a more participatory worldview, indeed “Increasing pollution levels are no longer seen as a sign of prosperity, rather as a sign of inefficiency and waste. ” (Reason, pers. omm. , 12th October 2005). The implication is that there is a developing arena for management to listen and change their business models towards ‘ecodesign’ (Hawken et al 1999). Ironically, the need for a change of mindset is endorsed by Einstein, “The world we have created today as a result of our thinking thus far has problems that cannot be solved by thinking the way we thought when we created them. 3” Drawing on issues raised at the Schumacher Briefings, Robertson (1998, p. 10) concludes “We must re-orientate our own way of economic life… o convey the systemic nature of the transformation needed to turn the present economic system into a 21st century economy. ” David King (2004) Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK government stipulates that the greatest challenge of the 21st century is addressing climate change. Ballard (2005) develops the theme of acknowledging the necessity for change by purporting that there are three main challenges to sustainable development, incorporating agency and association concerns, relating to the difficulty of popularising ecological solutions, in addition to the aforementioned problem of awareness.

An appreciation of Gaia theory, particularly the concept of viewing our planet as a living being, gives momentum to the paradigm of mimicking nature in designing environmentally friendly practices. Accordingly using nature as “… model and mentor… ” (Hawken et al 1999) represents a significant step towards living within Mother Nature’s carrying capacity, “… we should aim to live within the limit, not on it… ” (Reason, pers. comm. , 26th October 2005)4.

The aforementioned concepts represent real changes in management practices that would have a significant impact on the sustainability of our planet, unfortunately there is little evidence suggesting the corporate world has the bravery to embrace these steps. Both Hawken et al (1999) and Shrivastava (1995) give momentum to the prevailing paradigm among academic environmentalists stressing the importance of systemic thinking. This concept is inextricably linked to Gaia theory developed by work undertaken on behalf of NASA by James Lovelock in the 1960s.

Lovelock’s findings imply that our planet should be viewed as a self-regulating, evolving body comparable to a living being. Reason (2005) summarises this relatively contemporary notion suggesting that “Gaia is a way of describing Earth as an interconnected whole with emergent properties of self regulation. ” The appreciation of our planet as a system serves to concentrate our focus on the flows and underlying processes that drive its “living” nature.

Indeed it is these previously unrecognised flows and processes that must be understood in order to incorporate effective management practices addressing societies increasing ecological concerns. Meadows et al (2005) contend that an understanding of system dynamics, particularly feedback loops, highlights the salience of promptly adjusting mankind’s impact on our planet. Ballard (2005) underlines the necessity for urgent change; “If we delay even by 20 years, the options will have reduced and the world will be set for a turbulent and probably unsuccessful path. More explicitly Meadows et al (2005) suggest “To delay any longer would be catastrophic. ” The evidence of a shift toward a more systemic viewpoint serves to considerably increase my hopes and aspirations for sustainable development whereby the needs of the present are met “… without harming the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987). I feel such a development goes a long way towards addressing the concerns for our planet.

By contrast, the emphasis on the urgency for change plays on my feelings of frustration and concern – why haven’t we acted faster? I began this essay by comparing it to a journey, a learning process. I feel content that having read around the subject I am now able to abate my initial feelings of frustration at our delayed response due to an understanding of worldviews among other limiting factors incorporating political and economic systems.

By looking at the current and future steps we can take to address the aforementioned ecological concerns I can also appease my initial feelings of fear of the scale of the problem, albeit temporarily as I question whether technological developments by Tetra Pak are too superficial and only deal with surface issues: could this be the case throughout the business world? Both Tibbs (1993) and Shrivastava (1995) proclaim to uncover a surfeit of solutions available to management in addressing the concept of sustainability. The contention centres upon moving away from the current “… xtract and dump… ” (Tibbs 1993) pattern of the industrial system towards “biometric design” using lifecycle analysis tools in order to “… examine the product’s environmental impact, from the sourcing of the raw materials from which it is made, to end of life disposal and everything in between, such as the way it is filled transported and handled. ” (Murray 2005). Indeed de-materialisation and cyclical ‘cradle to cradle’ production processes are some of the theoretical concepts proposed by Hawken et al (1999) that are increasingly incorporated into management practice.

Rather than fundamentally addressing the “extract and dump” problem business is increasingly looking towards technological innovation to help the environment and encourage sustainable development. Murray (2005) highlights a case in point whereby the management team at Tetra Pak, a Swedish packaging company, have “embraced” the concept of corporate responsibility. Tetra Pak’s mission statement is that packaging should “save more than it costs”. Murray (2005) cites an acknowledgment by John Rose, Tetra Pak UK marketing director “… hat we are now realising is that the environmental agenda is equally important, so we have changed the way we think (about Tetra Pak’s technology). ” The aseptic packaging has two significant environmental advantages; first the packaging “… eliminates the need for refrigeration… ” and second, the cartons are “… 100% recyclable. ” (Rose 2005, cited by Murray 2005). Interestingly this message is well communicated, in this case these properties represent a source of competitive advantage hence there is an incentive for Tetra Pak to embellish the concept of an environmentally friendly brand.

The causality of the company’s environmentally friendly approach is, however, somewhat questionable. Rose (2005, cited by Murray 2005) confesses that the technology “… is actually almost 50 years old… ” so while the ecological advantages are unquestionable the implication is that Tetra Pak is using the current climate of ecological concern as a marketing tool. This must not be seen as a backward step, indeed the environmental benefits of the product are clear, rather it is a quintessential example of environmental and corporate objectives working in harmony for the good of our planet.

By contrast as a direct result of increasing regulation in the emissions trading market “… in 1998 3M voluntarily returned rather than sold 150 tons of air emission credits worth more than $1 million in order to ensure that its efforts resulted in a net reduction in air pollution. ” (Tibbs 1993). These two examples highlight the different motivations management have for adopting more environmentally friendly corporate strategies. While the activities of Tetra Pak and 3M are commendable it is essential to develop a system creating incentives for all business managers across a range of sectors in order to embrace corporate environmentalism.

It is important to acknowledge that an incentives approach will not be a one stop shop solution; clearly underperforming businesses will prioritise a return to profitability above incentives to be ecologically responsible, however it will serve to provide momentum for business to adopt increasingly environmentally friendly corporate strategies5. While the proposed environmentally friendly solutions available to management Shrivastava (1995), Tibbs (1993), Fineman et al (1996) are undeniably of interest “… o all those with a professional involvement in environmental management and environmental policy making” (Tibbs 1993), their conclusions are ominously analogous to prescriptive recommendations focussing specifically on corporate stakeholders. Rather we need to create incentives for a range of stakeholders in order to change our patterns of behaviour and make the adjustment to live within the carrying capacity of the planet and to avoid the potential overshoot scenarios forecast by the “World 3” model used by Meadows et al (2005).

Indeed these incentives must be attractive to a range of stakeholders; hence consideration must be given to creating a positive sum arena whereby economic growth (benefiting businesses and consumers) can coincide with caring for the environment, (benefiting all individuals). PEST analysis is a useful managerial tool for examining the nature of incentives, it is essential that the links between the various political, economic, social and technological factors are understood in order to generate a useful framework for motivating a range of stakeholders.

Politicians have the power to create incentives to reduce mankind’s ecological footprint by tackling environmental concerns on a variety of scales. On a global scale Harvey (2005) highlights that steps are already being taken following the recent ratification of the Kyoto treaty “Under the UN brokered agreement, developed nations are obliged to cut their emissions by 2012… “6 Legislation is one of several options available to government.

On a domestic front both Ballard (2005) and Reason (2005) purport that “Education for Ecology” orientated towards increasing awareness of the scale and nature of the environmental issues and communicating a message of practical steps that individuals can take is another important movement towards sustainable development. In practice this may require the Ruth Kelly, the current Minister for Education to consider incorporating environmental education into the National Curriculum.

Alongside legislative and educational agenda, the UK government may wish to consider amending the council tax system to penalise homes with high utility bills, creating a financial incentive for households to take simple steps such as turning of electrical appliances rather than leaving them on standby. Ironically Norman Baker (2005), Liberal Democrat shadow Environment Secretary criticises the rising electricity consumption bill on the parliamentary estate citing a “… 45% increase since 1997 as appliances … re left on through the night and over the weekends. ” It is easy to be too prescriptive regarding the plethora of options that appear to be available to politicians, rather we must accept that the nature of politics denotes that their hands are tied to a large extent. Indeed politicians as individuals are consummately aware of the implications of pushing through agenda that may limit their popularity or career opportunities, this concept is enveloped by the current media speculation suggesting that the government has lent on David King to moderate his views.

A limitation of the PEST analysis framework is the tendency to view the factors as independent from one another; rather it is important to examine the links that hold the framework together. Government policies aiming to increase awareness of the fragility of our planet have social implications. It is irrefutable that global warming and the environment have become mainstays of modern-day news communications.

If the government were to adopt the aforementioned financial and education agendas it is arguable that society may develop an increasing awareness for environmental concerns, understanding how it works and what simple steps individuals can take to make a difference7. There is significant debate among academics surrounding the issue of a “green consumer”. Results from D’ Souza’s (2004) empirical study indicate that “… consumers were favourably influenced by the presence of environmentally friendly labelling. By contrast Lester (2005) cites Young, who suggests “There is no such thing as a green consumer. In our in-depth interviews with 100 consumers, we didn’t tell them we were interested in greenness and they never talked about the green qualities of their purchases. ” From personal experience I have noted a marked increase in products carrying environmentally friendly messages on packaging and suggest that certain consumers favour environmentally friendly products.

The conclusions drawn by Grankvist Dahlstrand & Biel (2004) substantiate my view: Individuals who had a weak or no interest in environmental issues were unaffected by labels stating that the product was environmentally friendly or environmentally hazardous. Individuals with an intermediate interest in environmental issues were more affected by a negative label than by a positive label. Individuals with a strong interest in environmental protection were equally affected by the two kinds of labels.

Indeed an acknowledgement of a change in the consumer behaviour driven by environmental concerns has a strong influence on management practice, since firms compete to meet customer demands more closely than competitors. Moreover if consumer tastes are becoming increasingly ecologically aware then business will be well placed to adopt environmentally sound practices and then, as Tetra Pak have done, communicate this message to the consumer. Aside from political and social influences the economy plays an interesting role in incentivising a switch to environmentally friendly technologies.

Interestingly Simon et al (1984) express the contrarist viewpoint arguing that we are over-reacting to environmental concerns. ‘Contrarists’ stipulate that the economy will provide price signals to correct the current imbalance favouring polluting technology. Moreover economic data ratifies this concept whereby 2005 has seen a “… sudden and dramatic increase in the price of our traditional sources of energy. For example, oil has soared to more than $60 a barrel. ” Harvey (2005). The result is that “… any environmental technologies from solar panels to energy efficient light bulbs have suddenly begun to look much more appealing. ” Harvey (2005). Harvey’s (2005) paper highlights the strong linkage between the economic climate and technological innovation. Technology is an issue that courts significant controversy in the field of ecological awareness. ‘Contrarists’ such as Simon et al (1984) maintain that rapid developments in green technology will resolve the environmental problems.

I agree that there are isolated examples suggesting that this may be the case; indeed the UK government is currently funding a project developing ways to capture carbon emissions rather than emitting them into the atmosphere, however without a adopting a systemic worldview these developments represent small scale surface changes. By contrast Meadows et al (2005) use their “World 3” model to convey the seriousness of the impending overshoot typified by a decrease in human welfare, a sharp decline in population, food and life expectancy.

An appreciation of the nature of technology incorporating an understanding of the impact of rapid development during and since the industrial revolution allows a simple conclusion to be made – all technology can do is serve a purpose for which it has been made. Furthermore it is important to remember technology is made by mankind, in layman’s terms it does what management commissioned it to do. Returning to the incentives framework, it is essential that the government takes action to channel technological development in the right direction.

Harvey encapsulates this outlook by citing Dick Forrister, managing director of Natsource Ltd, “This (new low-carbon technology does not just fly off the shelf by itself. You need government to help create a market for it in the first place. ” Inevitably it is the private sector that drives technological innovation, rather than developing the technology to lower costs or to manufacture new products it is essential that the PEST ‘incentivisation’ framework encourages a shift in corporate mentality encouraging investment in green technology.

I opened this essay by likening this work to a journey. As I have become increasingly involved in this new subject matter I have experienced a range of emotional reactions on different levels. Initially, fear at the scale of the problem described so adeptly first by Meadows et al (2005) then through a broad range of literature from newspapers to in depth academic journals. As I developed an understanding of philosophical viewpoints and evidence of a movement towards Gaia theory I temporarily abated by feeling of fear for the longevity of our planet.

Again my feeling of optimism from the shift towards a systemic viewpoint was only temporary as I questioned why it had taken so long for the world to wake up to the fragility of Mother Nature. Ultimately I feel concerned that the steps taken to date are very limited and will fail to adjust our patterns of behaviour enough to make a real difference since firstly, corporations have not committed to radically readjusting their business models to embrace “natural capitalism” (Hawken et al 1999) and secondly, several consumers have failed to care sufficiently about the environment to significantly favour environmentally friendly products.

Indeed this subject matter is extremely relevant as my generation addresses the harsh realities raised by Meadows et al (2005). I feel strongly that an ‘incentivisation’ framework designed to motivate a range of stakeholders, cemented with an appreciation of Gaia theory and the fragility of Mother Nature represents an interesting opportunity for embracing a systemic worldview.

Unfortunately, the government has an important role in creating such a framework and fails to recognise that natural capital represents the limiting factor for future economic development. Tony Blair’s (2005) somewhat cynical quote embellishes the government’s stance; “The truth is that no country is going to cut its growth or consumption in the light of a long-term environmental problem. ” On the contrary, the truth is something has to give and Mother Nature has already given.