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In the compliance mode, industry ultimately accepts the goals set by the government and promises to comply with whatever implementing regulations follow. By far the bulk of past industrial efforts have been expended to keep such promises. There is an important set of secondary goals that accompany these formal promises of compliance. They are to comply as cheaply as is possible, taking account of normal capital and operating costs and also the costs of non-compliance. Penalties for non-compliance have been severe in terms of civil and criminal penalties and loss of public image. In this regard, industry reacts no differently to environmental rules than to any other set of public mandates.

As we shall see, corporate environmental goal-setting becomes much richer in the proactive phase of environmental management. Cost-cutting and other rationalizing actions remain a strong driver, but environmental goals begin to reflect what are underlying broad social environmental concerns more explicitly. This is the period in which environment emerges as an explicit area of concern in corporate policies and public communications.

In the last stage, managing for the environment, companies broaden goals to deal with problems such as global warming, ozone depletion, excessive resource depletion, and loss of productivity. With the publication of the Brundtland report in 1987, the overarching paradigm has become sustainability, even while no consensus on its operational meaning has been reached. The change towards aggregate goals such as the prevention of ozone depletion is problematic in terms of establishing discrete industry or firm goals as so many sectors and firms are causal agents. (See, however, the discussion of the Dutch target group approach, below.) At this stage, sectoral and collective approaches to goal-setting become more important.

The following sections discuss trends in and examples of corporate environmental goal-setting in the final three stages of environmental management. Much of the information presented below has been obtained from phone interviews and literature provided by industry associations and firms, corporate annual reports, and a number of recent books on the subject of corporate environmentalism. While it is by no means a comprehensive study, it is intended to provide an outline of some of the trends in environmental goal-setting and some conjectures for the future.


The natural environment has been inextricably linked to human society since the earliest stages of human development. Much of what we call civilization consists of the technological artifacts that humans use to gain both sustenance and protection from the natural world. For much of human history, the environment was just there, to be treated as a regenerative resource for human use. Social consciousness about the environment in the United States became organized late

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