A role for tomorrow's Dr Doomwatchers

The first known appointment of a full-time corporate environmental manager by a British business was made in 1972. The incumbent was promptly christened Dr Doomwatch by his workmates, who borrowed the name from a television series about an environmental detective but were equally reflecting the tide of apocalyptic environmental literature of the period.

Other environmental managers were appointed, mostly by chemical and oil companies, in the 1970s and 1980s, but it took another wave of environmental concern and the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to turn this trickle into a discernible trend. The process, it might be supposed, was bound to have been halted by the recession - but in fact a new ENDS study has revealed that almost one-third of the environmental managers we questioned are in posts newly created since mid-1992 (see p 3 ).

The added responsibilities on business established by the Environmental Protection Act are certainly one factor behind this phenomenon. But there is also clear evidence that the role of the environmental manager is no longer largely confined to keeping his or her company within the law. Perhaps most encouragingly, our study has shown that waste minimisation is rising rapidly in importance among their responsibilities - indicating that a growing number of businesses are at last taking the "pollution prevention pays" message to heart.

The reasons for doing so are compelling. The latest assessment of the pioneering Aire and Calder project in Yorkshire by its originators has concluded that British business could save itself £1 billion annually by employing the waste minimisation techniques deployed successfully by the eleven participating companies. Much of this saving, moreover, could be achieved on highly attractive pay-back terms (see pp 5-6 ).

Environmental managers will have a central role to play if these savings are to be realised - provided they receive the necessary authority and attention from senior management. But they will also need to have skills and personal qualities which were not essential when their task was to act as a company's policeman. Many of tomorrow's environmental managers, our study has suggested, will need to be skilled motivators, co-ordinators and facilitators. This will be so whether they are promoting waste reduction or tackling other increasingly important facets of the job, such as assisting line management or building employee awareness.

The study has also concluded that educational and training provision for environmental managers is in need of review. Almost two-thirds of the managers we questioned had no environmental components in their higher education - yet the "training" of the vast majority was generally confined to attendance at conferences. Businesses which want an effective Dr Doomwatch as environmental pressures continue to increase in complexity would do well to invest rather more in training their environmental managers than they have done up till now.

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