Topic of the month

Book review August 2005

Do-it-yourself: Environmental Management Systems - The Entire Process

Christopher Sheldon & Mark Yoxon offer the reader a comprehensive and complete introduction to: «Installing Environmental Management Systems. A step-by-step guide. Revised Edition» Earthscan Publications Ltd, London, 2003 (249 pages).

In this manual, they easily explain all essential management steps and skills required for an efficient do-it-yourself Environmental Management System (EMS) implementation. The reader can constantly verify the current theme and its position relating to ISO 14001 and EMAS II. Diagrammatic representations allow a quick overview of the current phase, toolkit requirements as required knowledge and skills are outlined in the beginning of each chapter. Easy to use tables and graphs offer managers the possibility to try out the newly acquired knowledge right away.

The thread leading through the entire book is the professional elaboration of an EMS with a strong managerial component. Sheldon & Yoxon stress the point of understanding, listening to and training staff.
Examples of two fictitious companies picture the everyday problems an environmental manager can encounter during the entire process of: planning, initial environmental review, legislative and regulatory issues, developing a policy or objectives and targets all the way through the management process of ‘Doing’, ‘Checking’ and ‘Acting’.

Christopher Sheldon has been involved in international policy advising, training and broadcasting on environmental management for the last twelve years. Mark Yoxon has focused his interests over twenty years on international training and writing on environmental management as well as working with stakeholders. Both of them are now training managers in environmental matters, also within their own consultancy.
In their book, they continuously stress the importance of an ‘entire company commitment’, from the top-management down to the simplest employees, which they see as a must for a successful EMS implementation (note from the top management down to the simplest staff). Valuable appendices round off this complete manual giving a better understanding of certain terms of ISO 14001 and EMAS II, as about auditing and management methods within environmental matters.

Sheldon & Yoxon point out the importance of the active decision for a corporate to implement an EMS. Two major components seem to push decision makers into installing an EMS: legislation and finances. They encourage each individual company to verify the pros and cons as a very first step for their very business, before considering any certification process.
Once the decision being taken, they advise to well appoint the different roles in the process. An efficient team must be built, new colleagues and stakeholders should be implied. The idea of a process, of a journey is of highest importance; the implementation of an EMS constituting a continual improvement, not a final goal. In this point, I fully agree with them. It is very important to stress the process and find satisfaction in a constant amelioration process.

They emphasize the implication of the senior management and the information of the entire staff. They are attentive to strategically managerial decisions, accentuating throughout the entire book that:

“The implementation of effective management is more than just an obligation or expense. It will provide cost savings, increased profits and market share and reduce your negative impacts on staff and the environment. Effective management always makes organizational sense.” (page 240)

They see an equally strong argument in the form of communication used for any management system, but especially for EMS:

“Communication is the glue that holds an EMS together. A key role for the environmental manager is deciding who needs to know what, when they need to know it and what they need to do as a result of this new knowledge and understanding. As ever, a systematic approach will deliver the best results. As has been said before, people who don’t know, vote no. For an effective EMS you need them to vote yes. Effective communication will ensure that this happens.” (page117)

Sheldon & Yoxon are telling us that we have to take people and their behavior and customs into consideration. They tell us that we need to be aware of that we are not working with programmed machines but with human beings. Though this paragraph clearly shows that the management aspect is quite directive indeed. This is not the first, but certainly one clue to point out that a hierarchical order shall be maintained.

In this context, Sheldon & Yoxon repeatedly point out that integration and good training of the staff bring about “changes in knowledge, skills or attitudes” (page 141) as key factors to success. Now, how is good training to be understood ? How are the communication patterns to be built up ? One way, two ways? In any case, they are certain that:

“Staff represent the greatest threat to any project and the greatest potential aid to its success. Without employees on your side then the best laid plans will fail. However, if staff are sold on the ideas in your plan then the project will almost run itself.” (page 120)

Just because of this understanding of staff needs and their importance for a corporate, at one precise point of the book, I cannot follow the entire argumentation Sheldon & Yoxon are presenting during the review phase of an EMS:

“Exactly when a management review takes place is very much at the discretion of the organization itself. Being the ‘Act’ in the well-known ‘Plan, Do, Check, Act’ quality management cycle, the review comes at the end of a nominally complete cycle, indicating that the whole of the system can be refreshed by a strategic top-down perspective.” (page 192)

I am quite critical towards this final perspective (the official book ending on page 194). It may sound good in the ears of managers and top managers, who tend to hold on to their initial control. But I believe that an approach, where the entire staff has a clear innovative component, applying a participatory character to all stages of an EMS, will certainly much more enhance the envisioned cultural change within a corporate. Seeing a corporate as a living thing, an organic instrument that must be sheltered and fed, simply be cared for, where compentencies and complexity go one in one seems a much more realistic approach for the years to come. As Sheldon & Yoxon say themselves:

“Competencies and skills may already exist within the workforce,...” (Page 29)

They know about unrevealed staff competencies, but they do not seem to emphasize their use. This underlying feeling is difficult to quote without setting up the whole context each time. The remarks seem to come over and over again throughout the entire book. It seems that finally the senior management is nevertheless a superior power, whom devotion is owed. The delicate balance between a good leadership and the possibility for each employee to create his own creative and satisfying workspace still has to be developed in this approach.

As a final conclusion, I very much enjoyed reading this informative and applicable EMS implementation manual, also transmitting insider tips. Anyway, I was constantly left with a feeling of dissonance between the expressed understanding and implication of the entire staff and the dwelling murmurs of a very directive top-down approach. But Sheldon & Yoxon do not give an answer, to which one will eventually prone? We will have to ask them!


Feeling like a big question

Book review, June 2005

Raymond S. Nickerson, currently research professor at Tufts University Massachusetts and doctor in environmental psychology, evokes in his recent book: “Psychology and Environmental Change”; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, New Jersey 2003, the question of crucial interdependences between environmental/ecological change and psychology.

Nickerson focuses on environmental change due to detrimental human behavior.
In the beginning of the book, Nickerson reviews most topics of the waste domain of ecological problems due to human activities (as global warming, acid rain, air pollution and smog through waste management, natural disasters etc.). In the third part of the book, Nickerson sees an important opportunity in exploiting all technical possibility to achieve a sounder environment. He talks about consumer behavior, risk assessment and communication, cost-benefit and tradeoff analyses, as well as game theory to serve environmental purposes.

These parts need more in-depth arguments; each chapter could perfectly constitute a book on its own. Most topics actually give an overview of the current environmental situation. Nonetheless, the instructed reader will not find many new aspects to any of the named topics. The relationship with environmental psychology can most of the time be drawn, but is not eminent. As he states himself, Nickerson asks questions throughout the entire book, showing the importance of the relationship between environmental change and psychology. He does not attempt to answer them though, but leaves these questions open to the reader or to fellow scientists, desiring them to commit to some relevant research questions. Allowing the readers to peek beyond their usual thinking patterns, some psychologically, more relevant evidences would need more emphases and explanations nonetheless.
There is one exception, in what I would call the heart of the book, where Nickerson points out that “behavior is a cause for environmental change”. For him

“it seems natural to assume that beliefs and attitudes are major determinants of behavior – that people tend to behave in ways that are consistent with their beliefs and attitudes. On this assumption, if one is interested in modifying behavior, it makes sense to try to change the beliefs and attitudes from which the behavior is assumed to flow.” page 84

In two chapters, “Attitude Assessment and Change” and “Changing Behavior” Nickerson develops the body of the book. You find direct analyses between behavior and psychology. You actually get some answers to the questions he evokes. Nickerson points out his own ideas, without using an incredible list of references; although instructive reassembling important heads on the subject of environment and psychology, the reference list is very excessive indeed. Nickerson states that little research has been done on this topic and I fully agree with him that this path has to be taken. Concerning what motivates people to behave in an environmentally detrimental way or in an environmentally beneficial way, Nickerson points out as the idea that

“intrinsic motivation is generally considered more likely than extrinsic motivation to move people to engage in environmentally beneficial behavior ( Levenson, 1974; Trigg, Perlman, Perry & Janisse, 1976) and sustain such behavior over the long run (Deci, 1975; Deci & Ryan 1985).” page 116

I would have been glad to find a deeper development of the topic. More insights into the reasons, why ecologically detrimental behavior seems to be so persistent and difficult to change, are lacking.
Again, Nickerson leaves us with an idea, a question, a statement. He also questions his fellow scientists. He is not certain why some questions are not being asked:

“Numerous activities and programs to protect the environment from degradation have been instituted in recent years. Relatively little is known about what motivates people to participate in or ignore them. For example, we do not know how important beliefs and attitudes are as determinants of people’s behavior in this regard. As already noted, many psychologists appear to discount the importance of such variables and advocate attempting to change behavior directly without giving much credence to the idea that it is necessary to change beliefs and attitudes first.” page 115

Moreover, Nickerson asks how psychologists can help to resolve at least part of the environmental problem by analyzing current detrimental behavior, by deducting models, by asking new questions up to finally proposing action models. Psychology can offer a lot to reduce detrimental environmental change, but the questions to be asked do not seem to be clear enough and are often not being asked by psychologists. Nickerson finishes his book encouraging psychological research within environmental matters to promote a positive environmental development as well as making this knowledge accessible to a large public, thus accepting the challenge and responsibility science holds towards humanity.

As an overall appreciation, Nickerson offers little innovative thoughts. Nevertheless, I feel inspired by the questions he evokes, by the statements he makes. Nickerson makes me think - revise what I knew before. I felt like a big question myself after reading the book. Nickerson thus fully succeeds in animating the reader to leave known thinking patterns and venture on for new ideas.

The psychological aspect of ecology: Why we act the way we do.

Popularization/essay, March 2005:

“Flooding in Bangladesh!” – horrible. “Smog alarm in Los Angeles!”– disastrous. “Oil spread over the coast” – catastrophical. Every day, we can read and hear and see the environmental results of our non ecological behavior.
But what does that concretely mean to us? When we see that on television, are we maybe just about to get something out of the fridge and being interested we leave its door open, while listening / watching the news? We jump into the car to tell our neighbor and since he’s outside, we leave the car running, while we talk? No? Yes? What is our environmental sensitivity and our environmental awareness? What happens inside of us that allows us to act non ecologically, though we know that we are constantly contributing to the destruction of our own home? our habitat; our earth !

Well, we could say that the main reasons can be found in the non experiencibility of ecological occurrences, thus in the non-evaluation of ecological occurrences and therefore in the non-action to ecological occurences as well as in cognitive dissonance. I have read this a lot of times.

But what does that mean?
The non-experiencibility of ecological occurences means that our five senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste) are insufficient to properly perceive ecological destruction.

We cannot. Most of the time, we cannot experience environmental destruction.
But if we cannot experience the destruction of our environment, how do you want to react to it? The intellectual data coming in from outside (media, conferences, books, universities etc.) is quite confusing, contradictory, and not very specific or also trendy.
It is so difficult to tell right from wrong.

And of course, it is hard to try to make the right decision. Once you have decided that you believe that our behavior is harmful and you’re ready to make changes, you can get into quite difficult situations.

For example, if you go to the supermarket to do your groceries, you might go off with the idea to buy mostly ecological products. However, you must take your little daughter with you, so you take the car instead of your bike. It makes it easier, doesn’t it?
Going through the shop, she goes right up to those wonderful, flashing candies. You say no. The white bread is great. She loves that! You would like to say no once more, but it is starting to get harder. And then, it’s pretty difficult to understand all that labeling on the products. Which one should you take?
Now, you’ve got several things going on at the same time. You have your own desire to do something good for the environment, and as you believe hence for yourself or at least for your children AND your little baby doll right in front of you, desiring all the opposite.
So what will you do? You are under an inner psychic pressure. And of course, you will have to resolve that conflict.
So either you will be able to stay firm towards your daughter, or you will be able to explain your point of view to her and she accepts it or at one point you’ll give in (which is very probably going to happen).

No one likes those inner conflicts. And soon, you will naturally avoid taking in more information about what we’re doing wrong to the environment, because it will only make you feel that much more torn apart and powerless. You will concentrate instead on those things that will help you feel fine. But this might only make matters worse.

An adequate judgement of the environmental problem might be sacrified to our aspiration to harmony.

Objectively seen, the environment is one and the same for everyone. Though it isn’t. For different people their social environment has various meanings, due to their distinct experiences, due to their cultural and social background, due to their capacities of assimilation, due to their believes, and so on.
Our surrounding environment is stimulating each person in a very specific way. Which means in whatever way we are capable of feeling, hearing, smelling, tasting and seeing our environment and how we translate those sensitivities into real (cognitive) understanding and consequently into action, will also differ from person to person, from city to city,from nation to nation.
So, as you can see, we all have some very grounded reasons to act AGAINST better knowledge.

Personally,I see it now as our duty, to understand and actively assimilate those processes, in order to find possibilities to adapt our everyday behavior to the necessities that we have created. Which are the things that each one of us can more or less easily change in our everyday’s bahavior?

Your comments are very welcome.