Spanish legislation on waste management changed in July last year. Until then, the consumer was responsible for the disposal of products. According to Mr Unai Tamayo, economist at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), the new laws “foment the construction of closed systems, such as in taverns: the container being taken out and subsequently returned. Moreover, when a manufacturer launches a product on to the market, once consumed, the packaging is considered waste, and the responsibility for this now falls on the manufacturer – the new legislation makes these responsibilities clearer”. Mr Tamayo has undertaken research focusing on this new perspective of waste management along with Ms Azucena Vicente and Mr Julen Izaguirre, who are also at the same university. They started the work quite some time prior to the enacting of this legislation and studied, amongst other things, how business companies in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (CAV-EAE) operate with waste management. The research was published in the Investigaciones Europeas de Dirección y Economía de la Empresa (European Research on Management and Business Economics) journal.
The questionnaires were offered to private enterprise businesses in the CAV-EAE and which had the ISO 14001 certification (corresponding to environmental systems) in December 2006, so that the reasons why they had opted for waste management might be known and if any financial benefits had accrued as a result. Finally, a total of 254 enterprises participated. According to the conclusions, “while having been pioneers in taking this step, the prime motive was the fact that the Law required it or that future legislation would do so. There were no a priori reasons related to ethics or to the market. However, it was subsequently observed that commercial benefits were also obtained, that relations with public administration and suppliers improved, and so on”.
The research data show clearly that the principal motive making businesses move towards managing waste is legislation. In second and third place of priorities are ethics and image; close to each other but at a considerable distance from the first motive. According to Mr Tamayo, there exists a certain nexus between the legal variable and the ethical one: “If they were not to demand it of us, we would not have a motive to undertake this; but on requiring such compliance, we can see why they do so”.
Establishing a system for environmental management has meant numerous achievements for CAV-EAE businesses, highlighted amongst which is the reduction itself of waste and a greater degree of safer elimination. But not only that: the external (public) image of the company is enhanced, as well as relations with the administration. Thus, as highlighted in the research, waste management can be considered to be a marketing tool that creates positive results at a PR level.
The research also points to certain predictions, such as waste management should also result in a reduction in costs. However, the results analysed from the companies have not shown such improvements. In the words of Mr Tamayo, this is due to the fact that results are often based on short-term strategies, without making investments that can bear fruit in the future and, thus, enhancements in this respect cannot be observed currently: “All this requires more resources, both at a material level as at a personal one; a greater effort has to be made. And so, greater investment is also required. There are many businesses which have attempted to incorporate environmental aspects into top management activities; without resources or adjudicating these functions to someone who already has other responsibilities. And, clearly, if you are not prepared to invest, to spend, not much can be done”.
Apparently, many companies link internal waste management with a waste of money, the reason why these UPV/EHU researchers believe that it is vital to foment a “change of culture”, i.e. not looking at waste management as a mere requisite that has to be complied with by law; but as a differentiating value which gives the business the advantage it needs to compete in its market. And, to this end, it is essential to make investment, and avoid short-term perspectives. “If what we want is to do today and obtain tomorrow, we are not going to see results. Things need to mature”, stated Mr Tamayo.
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