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grossly overly ambitious to the point that partial compliance by industry is the best that can be hoped for. The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts call for

the establishment of literally tens of thousands of discharge standards, mandate the creation of comprehensive monitoring networks … yet the laws allocated just 180 days for completion of many of these responsibilities. Today, more than seventeen years after the passage of the laws, many of those assignments have yet to be carried out.19

Second, federal environmental statutes often embody absolute goals (waters are to be "fishable and swimmable") and provide little guidance on appropriate metrics to be used in assessing progress towards the goal. The result is that the inevitable balancing of environmental and economic costs is performed implicitly, by firms acting on their own or in concert with regulatory bodies. Third, environmental goals established by government inevitably embody broader societal goals, such as redistribution of wealth or maintenance of certain productive sectors in the face of adverse environmental outcomes.


Several highly visible events, which occurred in the 1980s—the Bhopal toxic chemical release; the discovery of a hole in the ozone layer; and the Exxon Valdez oil spill—inextricably linked environmental degradation with the actions of industry. While the public sought to blame the chemical, petroleum, and other industries for their environmental wrongs, firms were simultaneously driven to accept responsibility for the environment. As a result, corporate environmental rhetoric is vastly different now as opposed to twenty, and even ten, years ago. A growing number of firms are participating in voluntary initiatives to reduce waste and restrict emissions, and industry leaders across a broad range of industries are changing their processes and products to make them more environmentally friendly. For some firms, environmental issues have been taken on as explicit business goals as the strategic importance of reducing the environmental burden of operations, and of communicating these commitments to the public, is recognized. In the words of one company, S.C. Johnson Wax,

The establishment of these goals was a recognition that environmental responsibility has become as integral a strategic element of the business as product performance and cost-effectiveness.20

The problems associated with environmental goal-setting by government have prompted repeated calls from many industry sectors for more flexible and "sensible" regulation. Industry associations for manufacturers see lobbying to restrict the purview of environmental regulation as a key part of their mandate. Of the 22 activities reported on by the Society of the Plastics Industry in its quarterly issue activity report published in May of 1995, eleven dealt directly with environmental

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