Log in / Register
Medien und Kommunikationswissenschaft
Home arrow Communication arrow Strategic Communication for Sustainable Organizations
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next > Critics of the Ecological Modernization and Sustainability


A number of criticisms have been leveled against these two Discourses including their failure to seriously challenge the capitalistic production and consumption relationship, their emphasis on practicality, and the way sustainability facilitates corporate posturing. Critical theorists and those supporting a neo-Marxist perspective target the capitalist means of production and consumption as the root causes of the global environmental problems (e.g., Aras and Crowther 2008; Prasad and Elmes 2005; Springett 2003). Economic growth is based on growth in production, which consumes natural resources and generates waste, and growth in production requires continual consumption. True environmental sustainability is incompatible with the traditional economic paradigm. Critics reject the Brundtland definition as promoting a dangerous liaison between growth, environmental integrity, and social justice (Springett 2003) and argue that the terms sustainability and the triple bottom line act as political cover for irreconcilable ideologies (e.g., continual growth, resource exploitation). Sustainable development that focuses on green business as usual fails to address how human and natural resources are exploited and how consumer needs are manufactured to increase an organization's profit margin. Much of the current green rhetoric used by industry really is about actions which do little to protect the natural environment (Prasad and Elmes 2005). Rather than adjusting the market to its ecological limitations, political systems and environmental groups, at least in the USA, have been co-opted to fit within market limitations to ensure economic growth. Issues such as how much is enough both for consumers and company profits, how do we want humanity to live, and why do consumers have unlimited desires are overlooked. The looming future environmental challenges we face due to global warming are not seriously addressed.

A second criticism involves the privileged positioning of practicality. As college

courses, university degrees, and professional associations focusing on environmental management and sustainability proliferate in the USA, a core ideology being taught is practicality. The strong focus on practical problem solving shields the ideology of practicality from serious critique, limits subsequent swift and creative action (see Sect. 7.1.3 for how to stimulate group creativity), and inhibits alternative environmental discourses (e.g., anti-consumerism movements, ecological feminism) (Prasad and Elmes 2005). Any incompatibility between ecological and economic thinking is minimized, if not completely overlooked, in favor of shortterm economic thinking. Practicality repackages ecological issues into economic, technical, and managerial issues and problems. Holistic systems-level problems are subdivided. Specific roles are assigned to individual issues and individuals are provided with specific scripts for solving their small piece of the problem. Although innovations do occur, true creativity is narrowed and channeled. Changes to meaningfully address the ecological imperatives associated with global warming are not made. Using critical discourse analysis, Prasad and Elmes “examine the hegemonic dimensions of the language of pragmatism, showing how the discourse of practical relevance continues to limit rather than enhance a more ecologically viable condition” (p. 846).

How does an idea such as practicality maintain its dominant hold? Practicality is aligned with the concepts of economic utilitarianism, compromise, and interorganizational collaboration which already have widespread sociocultural appeal (Prasad and Elmes 2005). Economic utilitarianism arguments stress that going green makes practical sense because it makes a for-profit organization more competitive and enhances its bottom line. However, economic utilitarianism can be far from practical in human and ecological terms. Compromise between economic growth and biospheric conservation ostensibly can avoid unnecessary conflict between competing positions and resolve pressing environmental problems. Yet the environment cannot speak for itself, compromises occur between different organizational interests, and compromises may not solve the actual environmental problems or halt environmental deterioration. Finally, collaboration involves working within the system and involving all existing stakeholders in the generation of visions and strategies. But different stakeholders may hold incompatible visions regarding our planet's ecological future and accommodations are rarely equal. In terms of environmental organizations, these interorganizational collaborations with business interests may be practically advantageous (e.g., financial backing, image enhancement) but may not seriously address environmental degradation at any meaningful scale. Prasad and Elmes argue that what is called practical should better be called convenient because it emphasizes minimal socioeconomic disruption and maximum conflict avoidance.

Prasad and Elmes' work helps us understand why the argument for practicality

resonates with people. I met Jim Ekins in a bustling coffee shop in downtown Coeur d'Alene, ID, to discuss his work with the University of Idaho Sustainability Center in Moscow. The Sustainability Center is a student-led and student-funded group which focuses on education and small campus projects. On their website I read:

Sustainability involves reorganizing our life support systems: climate, energy, biodiversity, food, consumerism and consumption, waste, transportation and built environment. We do this through projects that reduce our environmental footprint and increase participation and collaboration among students, faculty, staff, and community members in addressing sustainability-related issues.

Jim serves on their advisory board, although his real job is area water educator for the University of Idaho Extension Service. He described how the Sustainability Center has a quote, “Some people call it sustainability. We just call it common sense,” saying how that approach was successful in a state where there was the potential for conflicts over the environment. “It was not difficult to get people on board with what they [the students] are doing, and what they are doing is very benign.. .. If they had been an activist organization they would have gotten a lot more push back,” Jim explained. But instead, student teams do visible projects to make their campus more sustainable. These projects function as proof of concept and conflict is avoided.

On the other hand, Auden Schendler, Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company, shared his concern with me regarding collaboration. I asked him what message frames he thinks work best with the various groups he communicates with. He said:

I don't know that I have an answer to that but I can tell you that in the industry talking about catastrophe has not been helpful. We think that talking about opportunity is a good frame but it is not even clear to me that it gets people's attention. Recently we did a project to convert methane leaking from a coal mine into electricity. We partnered with a coal mine and its owner who politically is very different from us. That story was unbelievably resonate and remains resonate. It's a story about collaboration and bipartisanship and taking advantage of wasted resources. People like that positive frame but I am skeptical because I have seen other people [who used] a relentlessly positive frame and it is not working. We are not seeing the solutions play out at the speed and scale that we need them to.

Finally, Ihlen (2015) described several rhetorical strategies businesses use when talking about sustainability which allow them to maintain the status quo while making only minor changes and promoting trust in technological solutions. Most often, sustainability rhetoric promotes the balance metaphor. Indeed, through this book, you will find researchers and interviewees alike discussing the need for balance. Its widespread acceptance is akin to the argument for practicality just mentioned. Generally balance involves weighing profit against environmental concerns. Businesses argue that economic stability is critical to their ability to make pro-environment changes. But at the end of the day, it is environmental concerns brought on by global climate change that humans are responding and must respond to. Many businesses have shifted from discussing their journey toward sustainability to arguing they are now sustainable. Others argue they are truly sustainable because they strive for sustainability. Because there is no agreed definition of what sustainability is, these arguments are difficult to challenge.

In this section, we discussed some of the competing macro-level Discourses

surrounding the environment and sustainability. These competing Discourses make for a confusing array, leaving open the opportunity for an organization's management to create and communicate their own version of sustainability to their internal and external stakeholders through business communication channels (e.g., training materials, sustainability reports) (Allen et al. 2012). Organizations are discursive constructions (Fairhurst and Putnam 2014). Key Point: It is important to understand these Discourses because individuals bring ideas drawn from these various Discourses into their lives as citizens and organizational members. “Organizational life” is the sum of the socially shared belief systems of the organizational members (van Dijk 1998).

Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >
Business & Finance
Computer Science
Language & Literature
Political science