From Green Image to Green Practice: Normative action and self-regulation

Minna Gillberg

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


Ever since environmental issues appeared on the agenda of modern industrial society, through the work of whistle blowers such as Rachel Carson, Georg Borgström, Björn Gillberg and Hans Palmstierna, the Swedish state has exerted itself to project a green image. In practice this image has merely functioned as a defence for the legitimacy of industrial development. The state has created environmental protection legislation which has remained on paper and often has not had any influence on companies' environmental practice, because the decision makers (The Licensing Board for Environmental Protection and the Government) have generally given companies far too generous environmental terms. There has been a great discrepancy between Swedish environmental legislation "in books and in action", in other words, the difference between green image and green practice.

Gradually, however, a new outlook on environmental issues has begun to emerge among industrial actors. This change has its roots in the environmental movement of the 1970s, and in the 1990s it is environmental NGOs which have brought the environment to the market place. Environmental organisations have exploited the market's own self-regulating mechanisms to bring about a change in industry's rationale and environmental practice. Scandals such as the Hallandsåsen tunnel have also forced companies to see their need for internal control, with the aid of tools such as environmental management systems. Another contributory factor is the breakthrough of environment-friendly production technique, which, to put it simply, means that the thrifty use of resources is a way to make money. These factors have interacted and helped to give the environment a new economic instrumentality, so that a green image can no longer remain on paper; it must be manifested in practice.

Through a study of advanced practice in three strategically selected companies, Minna Gillberg shows how self-regulation in environmental matters emerges with the aid of the environmental management systems ISO 14001 and EMAS. This self-regulation has involved a bottom-up and upward-moving development spiral of norm formation, which is based on the ethical deliberation and normative action of environmental consumers, an instrumentality which is at once value-based, purposive and communicative. This is a process of change which requires a phronetic quest for knowledge, in which the ethical dimension in the form of sustainability is manifested through changed practice and rationality. In the studied areas of advanced practice, a pre-sustainable instrumental rationality has had to give way to a sustainable value-based rationality. In this connection we should not forget that there is still a long way to go before the advanced green practice of the present becomes tomorrow's established practice. To attain and maintain sustainability we must remain active and articulate our ethical preferences as consumers, citizens and fellow human beings. We must become a "society of perceivers who are finely aware and richly responsible".
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Sociology of Law
  • [unknown], [unknown], Supervisor, External person
Award date1999 May 21
ISBN (Print)91-89078-80-2
Publication statusPublished - 1999

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 1999-05-21
Time: 10:15
Place: Lund University, Kungshuset
External reviewer(s)
Name: Andenaes, Kristian
Title: Professor
Affiliation: Faculty of Law, Oslo University

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Law and Society

Free keywords

  • IPPC Directive
  • ISO 14001
  • EMAS
  • sustainability
  • norm world
  • ethical deliberation
  • phronesis
  • environmental management system
  • self-regulation
  • advanced practice
  • normative action
  • Environmental Protection Act
  • sociology of law
  • Sociology


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