. "Setting Environmental Goals: The View from Industry. A Review of Practices from the 1960s." Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1996.
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Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals
concerns into every aspect of business strategy, product and process design, and supply chain management. Furthermore, goals at this stage must acknowledge broader issues of sustainability and orient the firm towards energy and resource conservation, dematerialization, and elimination of substances harmful to the global environment and human health. The challenge for companies, industry groups, and governments at this stage is to set goals that can be put into practice at the company level but aggregate in a consistent fashion to the multi-dimensional and complex goals of environmental sustainability. The Dutch Covenants are an example of such a coordinated attempt, while industrial ecology and design for environmental are systematic approaches that can be taken by individual firms to reduce their environmental impact in a manner consistent with norms of sustainability.
Environmental goal-setting by industry, while it has changed drastically over the past 30 years, remains problematic. We may question the extent to which environmental concerns really can become a central strategic concern for business in the face of competitive and financial pressure. Furthermore, environmental goals are inherently difficult to set. There is no single "customer" who can specify demands (as in, say, the case of quality targets), there is little scientific agreement on the ecological consequences of many economic activities, and the prospect for a rational, technical solution to many complex environmental problems is dim. A broad, normative set of principles that embodies process considerations (i.e., emphasizing loop-closing or dematerialization) may be one way to guide change. Industry cannot generate such norms in a vacuum, however. It is the role of government, industry, and the public to jointly and continuously articulate norms for environmental practice.
Historically, industry has played a minor role in setting broad environmental goals in the United States. Environmental policy in this country is based on a notion of the environment as a public good whose protection and development lies beyond the individual concerns of private business. U.S. industries have traditionally held a short-term and myopic view towards environmental goal-setting. In a sense, the laissez faire economic paradigm is antithetical to broad, long-term goal-setting at all. The last three decades, however, have witnessed a shift in corporate environmental goal-setting practices. Paralleling social sentiment, industry goals for environmental performance have become more aggressive, more explicit and more far-reaching, as the rise in environmental consciousness in the 1960s spawned current concerns over global sustainability. This paper traces changes in corporate environmental goal-setting in the context of the overall evolution of corporate environmental management. It examines characteristic patterns and examples in each stage and presents an assessment of the potential for industry to set broad environmental goals.