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Strategic environmental management at european and australian industries: "when does it pay to be green"?

Final Activity Report Summary - SEMEAI (Strategic environmental management at european and australian industries: "when does it pay to be green"?)

The SEMEAI project aimed at answering the following research question: 'Why environmental initiatives developed by firms resulted in economic and / or market success or failure?' Hence, the identification of the circumstances that favour firms to transform environmental investments into sources of competitive advantage is the main outcome of the project. Theoretically, the research encompassed by the project identified the variables and scenarios involved in the 'pays to be green' debate, filling an important gap in the emerging field of Strategic environmental management (SEM). By identifying the general circumstances in which environmental investments have the potential to pay off or generate competitive advantage in selected firms and industrial sectors in Sweden, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil, it generically answers the question 'when does it pay to be green'. By doing so, the project also contributes to the advancement of the mainstream disciplines of strategic management, marketing and environmental management.

The research used a combination of both action-research and case study analysis. Several cases were studied in-depth to inquire into the profitability of environmental investments. Universities and other institutions in Sweden, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil facilitated direct contact with the management of the subjects of the research - mostly industrial firms. Within these companies, specific (environment-related) projects were studied using research techniques such as participant observation and interviewing. As a result, both successful and unsuccessful projects were documented in the various publications of the SEMEAI project. The empirical material (multiple case studies) provided grounds for theory building on the competitiveness of environmental investments.

Throughout the collection, analysis and interpretation of data, several theoretical frameworks and management tools were developed, tested and later published in peer-reviewed journals, teaching cases, book chapters and a book, which brings together the whole project. This is certainly relevant for the education and practice of management. The teaching cases, developed during the project, were published by INSEAD via the European Case Clearing House (ECCH), and are available to business schools worldwide. Masters of Business Administration (MBAs) and executives are expected to learn from these cases in classrooms. In more empirical grounds, the conceptual frameworks and tools presented in the SEM book can help managers to prioritise actions according to the fundamentals of strategic management. Through the systematic use of analytical frameworks, the book connects the variables implicated in the formation, definition, and implementation and control of environmental strategies. Used as a classification scheme, it helps managers to define and prioritise areas of organisational action and align the environmental strategy with the business strategy.

The project also contains important outcomes for policy-makers. The results can help governmental officials to target areas in which environmental investments eventually do not payoff for business, uncovered by this research project. In other words, the project makes the continuum between voluntary business practices (when 'it pays to be green') and normative governmental regulations (when does it not pay) significantly clearer. Finally, the SEMEAI project also contributes to the broad societal goal of sustainable development. The outcomes, materialised in several academic publications, can be used for the promotion of proactive environmental practices in firms via economic as well as regulatory measures.