Skip to main content

Woodsy Owl used to lead the charge against pollution. Earth Day used to be the big event for saving trees. But CEOs, accountants and politicians are becoming increasingly involved. That’s because leaders in business and government are beginning to factor the cost of environmental problems into their strategies and decisions, says Peter Beck, associate professor of Environmental Science at St. Edward’s University and director of the Professional Science Master’s in Environmental Management and Sustainability.

These sea changes mean good things for people interested in environmental management — a field that involves everything from field research to advocacy to project management and sustainability planning. According to Beck, here are some of the most significant changes remaking the environmental-management landscape:

1. Governments are finding alternatives to regulations

In recent years, the Obama administration has been pushing new plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce environmental pollution. In addition to big goals — such as limiting the number of coal-burning energy plants — the government is cracking down on small problems: runoff from military ships, the use of formaldehyde in plywood, and the disposal of pharmaceuticals in public landfills.

“Corporations, government agencies, utilities, nonprofits and even colleges are hiring people to help them achieve these environmental objectives,” Beck says.

2. Nobody wants a bad rap

It’s not just government regulations driving environmental improvements, however. After watching BP and other companies get black eyes for their mishandling of the Gulf oil spill and other debacles, many businesses are eager to clean up their act. Social media has made companies more sensitive to public opinion, and they increasingly want to be known for going green and doing good, rather than squandering water supplies or adding CO2 to the atmosphere. As more corporations seek to burnish their green reputation, pressure builds for their peers to get on board as well.

3. Industries are not waiting for government action

In some cases, rather than waiting for the government to enact regulations, industry groups are proposing their own self-imposed guidelines and sharing the burden of implementation across the industry. There’s also increasing interest, Beck notes, in market-based incentives like carbon credits, which can be traded among companies. Acting as a group, industries are able to put environmental practices in place that fit their business practices while still having a positive impact.

4. Going green produces piles of green

Accountants and CFOs get nervous when the price of energy fluctuates or natural resources are in short supply. More and more, says Beck, organizations are beginning to see the economic value of recycling, reducing waste, reducing energy consumption and switching to alternative energy sources. “The argument isn’t simply environmental,” he says. “Now there are financial reasons to promote environmental objectives.” The savings often persuade investors or board members who primarily care about the bottom line.

5. Social and environmental issues are merging

Environmental improvements don’t just benefit flora and fauna. There’s a social impact when power plants go up next to poor neighborhoods or pesticide runoff enters public waterways. Environmentalists are increasingly finding allies in social advocates that want to make sure disadvantaged populations don’t bear the brunt of environmental problems, Beck says. “We’re seeing more integration of environmental objectives with social and economic objectives,” he observes.

In the intensive two-year Professional Science Master’s in Environmental Management and Sustainability, students explore sustainable development through environmental science in project management in Austin, Texas and Costa Rica.