This thesis develops suitable approaches to conduct environment-related research in
organisations, as well as systematic means for understanding the emergent phenomenon
of ecological modernisation in industrialised societies. The study is organised in two
distinct parts: While Part I deals with environment-related theories and practices in (and
around) modern organisations, Part II situates such theories and practices in an analysis
of the context of the European automobile industry.
The research problem is defined through several stages. The research questions
driving Part I are premised on the exploratory nature of the study, developed in an
unfolding interplay between the review of the literature, the collection of secondary and
(exploratory) primary data, and the analysis and interpretation of the data. As the initial
question is answered by reviewing the literature and interpreting the primary and
secondary data, another question arises from the process, which then requires further
Part II of the study departs from a proposition based on ecological modernisation
theory, that pro-active environmental practices in corporations are part of a broader
emergent sociological phenomenon, typical of modern industrialised societies. It
analyses a specific socio-technical context that, hypothetically, is undergoing such
process - that of the European automobile industry. Hence, the development of Part II
aims at answering the following principal research question: Why is the European
automobile industry undergoing ecological modernisation? Analytically, the concept of
automobile field is proposed to establish a link between the product (automobile) and
the context embedding its systems of production and consumption (field). The
exploratory character of the study implied that the most adequate research procedures
were of a qualitative nature. A combination of grounded theory and reflexive
methodology is used to orientate the overall research process, which introduces a novel
approach for the triangulation of qualitative data.
Together, the chapters forming Part II of the thesis answer the principal research
question. The fundamental technologies of the current technological regime of the
automobile, as well as the economic and environmental implications of this regime are
analysed. Then, an analysis of selected pilot programs to develop and commercialise
electric vehicles, as well as schemes for the management of end-of-life vehicles in the
Western European context is developed. Through the interplay between data collection
and analysis, the thesis designs an analytical framework, built upon contingent factors,
as well as circuits of political ecology, that foster or inhibit ecological modernisation in
the automobile field.
The study showed that the auto industry has developed incremental technological
innovations and practices that resemble the pre-requisites for ecological modernisation.
Radical innovations, however, are more likely to be initiated by outsiders. The concepts
inherited from the past and reproduced in the present practice of car design explains
such a situation as one that imposes a specific set of technologies on car manufacturing
that require high levels of investment in systems of production. Such design paradigm
not only imposes high break-even points for most car models; they also result in
vehicles with extremely low environmental performance and entail serious limitations
for increasing recycling rates of non-metallic parts.
The characteristics of ecological modernisation in the European automobile
industry are used to evaluate whether this phenomenon is conducive to sustainable
industrial development. As an implication of this analysis, the concluding chapter
presents suggestions for the enhancement of ecological modernisation theory. Fallibility
is proposed as both a source of reflection about the appropriation of knowledge and a
principle that can be used for the definition of eco-modernising strategies and actions.
The acceptance of fallibility as an immanent characteristic of human action is critical
for the approximation of the countervailing theories of ecological modernisation and
risk society. Finally, if ecological modernisation is expected to facilitate sustainable
industrial development, radical technological innovations may be necessary. Such
radicalism in technology may need, however, an incremental institutional reform of
modern societies. Together, radical technological innovations and incremental
institutional reform constitute the concept of radical reformism, which is suggested for
enhancement of the ecological modernisation theory, as well as for the development of
its normative programmes.