Environmental management is broad topic and area of discussion in the modern society. According to Harvey and Clarke (2012), environmental management is defined as the research and opinions that are applied in the use and conservation of natural resources, the control of hazards, and the protection of habitats among others. Environmental management derives its purpose from the responsibility of humans in ensuring that their environmental impacts are non-threatening and not catastrophic (Glasson, Therivel & Chadwick 2013). The field of environmental management draws the works of academic researchers and professionals outside institutions of higher education, including those in government, public interest groups, business, and research establishments who present a wide range of viewpoints and approaches to the subject.
The field and scope of environmental management is very wide. However, in the 21st-century, it has been narrowed down into few important areas. The first area addressed by environmental management is the control of environmental pollution and degradation. In this area, the focus is on the control and management of environmental pollution and degradation, the adaption of preventive measures to minimize natural hazards and disasters, and the regeneration or recovery of degraded environment (Welford 2013).
Secondly, environmental management covers environmental impact assessment, which focuses on the appraisal of the existing environmental conditions, procedures and impact appraisal methods, probable effects of the existing and proposed projects, and a review of technology and assessment of the required improvements. Environmental management knowledge and approaches can be applied in many areas, which are all geared towards the protection of the environment from human activities. In this case, it can be applied in education, resource management, in public awareness, and environmental impact review.
Development and history of environmental management
In the written history, environmental management can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as Egypt and Romans (Harvey & Clarke 2012). For example, Romans built aqueducts to transport water from one place to another. In addition, medieval villages channeled sewage away from villages and towns to avoid polluting their localities and clean water sources. Some of the history-changing inventions such as the Pasteur’s science, which led to safe drinking water, are now archaic (Harvey & Clarke 2012). In the modern history, especially in the United States and Europe, environmental management is primarily a 20th-century concept.
The first air pollution studies were undertaken in 1900 while the first water quality standards were put in place in 1902 (Welford 2013). Air pollution management evolved slowly beginning with concerns on dust and dirt such as soot before advancing to address few chemicals such as metals from smelters. By the 1950s, smokestack acids were known to be the reason behind smog and acid rain (Reed 2008). Other major air pollution concerns rose from serious events such as the 1948 smog in Donora, PA, which killed 40 people while causing widespread sickness in the town. London’s Great Smog of 1952 killed approximately 4,000 people while at the same time making more than 100,000 sick. Other major pollutants such as leaded gasoline began to be phased out in the 1980s after years of the debating the effects of lead on people’s health.
Water pollution emerged as a major issue in the 1900s, especially in major cities such as New York. This menace gradually led to the first water standards in 1902 and the use of chlorine as purifier (Reed 2008). The 1950s and 1960s studies on the water pollution throughout the country revealed a nationwide pollution of stream water. The first water regulation was put in place following the 1972 Clean Water Act, which illegalized the discharge of wastewater without permit. Further, it set a 12-year period and timetable for the upgrade of sewage treatment plants across the United States.
Lastly, hazardous waste became a major a type of pollution in 1979 after Love Canal overflowed with toxic materials. However, previously, as early as 1976, EPA had combined a list of “priority pollutant” list while explicit hazardous waste management began in 1976 with the enactment of the RCRA federal law (O’riordan 2014). Currently, EPA defines waste as hazardous if it has four characteristics, which include being combustible, lethal, ignitable, or corrosive (Janssen 2012). In the 21st-century, environmental management has grown into a diverse and complex field, which combines the above and additional areas of consideration towards the utilization and protection of the environment.
Factors that pushed development of environmental management
The factors that pushed the development of environmental management have majorly revolved around hard-learned lessons from environmental disasters and pollutions due to human activities (Mitchell 2013). For instance, air pollution became a major issue in the 1900s following the increased incidences of smog in major cities. For example, some of the major events as discussed previously were the 1948 smog in Donora, PA and the 1952 Great Smog in London (Reed 2008). Other major events include lead pollution from the use of leaded gasoline prior to the 1980s and as late as 2000 in some countries. Hazardous wastes events were also important in pushing for the development of environmental management. Recently, global warming has emerged as a major area of concern and interest. It has led to many new regulations, policies, and measures that have all advanced environmental management.
Phases of environmental management
Environmental management has gone through three phases as follows:
Phase 1: First decade-Origins in the United States
The enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (1970) in the United States is acknowledged globally as the formalization of the first tool for environmental management (O’riordan 2014). One of the goals of NEPA was to assist and support decision-making through the identification and investigation of potential environmental impacts of a proposed project. The main instrument of NEPA was Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The Act marked a fundamental shift from an economic expansionist view of the world with unlimited resources to the recognition that natural resources were finite (DEAT 2004). It also marked a change from the narrow focus of the engineering, technical, and financial requirements of activities to the realization of the environmental impacts of human actions. Ultimately, the first decade led to major pragmatic methods of EIA and environmental management.
Phase 2: Second decade-Enhancement of the social dimension of environmental assessment
In the second decade of the 1980s, emphasis was placed on effective stakeholder involvement and the inclusion of conflict resolution into the Environmental Impact Assessment process (DEAT 2004). This plan ultimately led to the integration of social issues and societal values into EIA. Scoping also emerged as a process to identify and focus the EIA on crucial environmental issues. Factors such as the rapid advancement in technology and economic development that caused environmental problems, which led to NEPA in the United States, were now present in other Western countries (O’riordan 2014).
Consequently, the concern for the environment became a globally important issue, which led to the adoption of EIA worldwide. In some cases, EIA became a mandatory requirement while it was a discretionary tool in others. In Western countries, EIA adoption was fueled by demands from the population. Thus, it was a bottom-up initiative (DEAT 2004). In developing countries, EIA became institutionalized through national policies or through policies of funding and international development agencies such as the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, and the World Bank as the pressure to respond to environmental issues increased.
Phase 3: The third decade-The emergence of sustainable development as a global concept
In the third decade, two initiatives of global significance starting from the late 1980s and the early 1990s advanced environmental management. These events included the publishing of ‘Our Common Future’ in 1987 and the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio Earth Summit (DEAT 2004). In the first event, the report on ‘Our Common Future’ concluded that human activities were leading to a rapid deterioration of the global environment, consequently threatening life on earth. Further, the report concluded that there was the need for strong and decisive political action to address the environmental issues (Janssen 2012).
More events occurred in the 1990s that led to more awareness of the implications of unsustainable development on the wellbeing of humans worldwide (O’riordan 2014). In 2002, the publication of the ‘Key Outcomes and Commitments’ during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg led to the formal recognition of the mandate of environmental management and assessment in advancing sustainable development.
Difference between environmental management and other management approaches
Environmental management differs from other management approaches in one key area. In this case, environmental management is majorly concerned with the utilization of resources while minimizing the effect of such usage of natural resources on the environment (Reed 2008). At most, it is concerned with the use of natural resources sustainably while protecting future generations from present use of natural resources (Welford 2013). On the other hand, the other management disciplines are concerned with the control or guidance of human activities towards the maximization of organizational profits or attainment of goals that are ultimately guided by profit desires. While the environmental management is future looking, other management strategies are present-focused.
Status of environmental management
Currently, environment management is acclaimed worldwide. It has become a discipline on its own, bringing educational and professional bodies, governments, and social organizations together. Some of the major issues in environmental management include climate change, legislation, and the role of communities, environmental conflicts, risk management, and the economy (Ding 2008). More efforts have been put towards environmental relative to any other time. The global community is in consensus on the need for the proactive role of government and communities in managing the environment.
Fields of application
Environmental management has numerous fields of applications in the modern times. Firstly, it is applied in issues of climate change and global warming. Secondly, environmental management legislation has emerged as an area of application that is attracting global interest (O’riordan 2014). Thirdly, risk management in hospitals, oil wells, and emergency communication are areas of great interest to environmental management (Mitchell 2013). Conflict management is also an essential part of environmental management since fighting over natural resources such as water, minerals, and food are current major causes of wars and conflicts globally.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Environmental management has emerged as an important tool towards sustainable utilization of resources. Thus, it has gradually changed the perception of natural resources from the fact that they are limitless to the notion that they are finite (Janssen 2012). This situation has led to the responsibility of major players such as nations, businesses, and communities as advocates of environmental management. On the downside, despite the known importance of environmental management, the current policies and legal frameworks are not adequate to address all the environmental violations in the world. Even up to present, environmental mismanagement is very rampant. Human activities continue to pose a great threat to the survival of life in the world.
While environmental management is a major trend, not everyone shares the same opinion. Indeed, many people believe that environmental management efforts are a fallacy. Firstly, the issue of global warming and climate change is very contentious and controversial (Reed 2008). Those against it argue that in the last 100 years, there is negligible evidence to show that the climate has changed abnormally. They argue that if there is any change, it is in alignment with previous natural climatic changes and not because of human action. Secondly, developing countries such as China blame the west for trying to stifle their development trajectory by imposing restrictions on how they can utilize their natural resources (Ding 2008). Such countries point out that the western nations developed based on the uncontrolled and unregulated utilization of resources. Thus, developing countries deserve to be left alone to utilize their resources until they attain the same status as their western counterparts (Harvey & Clarke 2012). It is only then that they should be urged to join the environmental management bandwagon.
Recommendations and conclusion
Environmental management has various advantages. In my view, the first advantage is associated with its creation of public awareness. In this area of consideration, the focus is on the sources of public awareness and perception, the level of environmental perception, and the role played by environmental perception on public in environmental management and planning (Ding 2008). Secondly, it encourages environmental education and training. In this case, environmental management training is now an integral area that must be offered in schools, colleges, and universities. The third advantage of environmental management is its emphasis on resource management, which considers the classification of natural resources, evaluation and survey of environmental resources, preservation of the same assets, and their conservation.
The future of the world is dependent on how best humans will sustainably utilize ecological resources. To achieve a recommendable goal, the following important measures will shape environmental management:
- Environmental protection-In this area, environmental protection must be the role of governments, organizations, and communities. Governments must take a proactive role in advancing climate and environmental protection legislation while overseeing the adherence to such regulations
- Conflict resolution-Major conflicts in the world arise because of natural resources such as water and minerals. Consequently, environmental management must focus on how best communities, nations, and organizations can share resources equitably without leading to conflicts
- Global collaboration-Environmental management must bring all major players in the world, as it is not an issue that can be left to the a few. There is a need to convince countries that do not believe in environmental management to come on board and contribute their resources and efforts towards a unified direction on the issue.
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