It is not difficult to argue that the environment can manage itself in the event that humans are not available to intervene. However, humans are at present an integral part of the natural environment and our interactions with the environment often negatively impact the environment by altering its normal functionality, subsequently resulting in the emergence of a need to engage in environmental management practices.
Based on the principles of ecology, environmental management is a decision-making process that relates to natural resources, pollution and the modification of ecosystems. This is achieved by analyzing and monitoring the way that the environment changes in relation to human activities, indicating that environmental management focuses on human interaction with the environment. The information garnered from this process is used to predict future changes in order to maximize human benefits while reducing the negative impact of human presence. Through the management process, resources and their use are organized. Accordingly, activities are controlled in order to conserve and avoid the pollution of physical resources.
When deciding on what management activities should be engaged in, there are several questions that must first be posed:
- What are the possible environmentally desirable outcomes?
- What are the physical, economic, social, cultural, political and technological constraints for achieving the outcomes?
- What are the most feasible options for achieving those outcomes?
Moreover, it should not be forgotten that conditions change over space and time. This fact must be anticipated and incorporated into any prescribed efforts via the development of dynamic management strategies. Concurrently, the structure of the management efforts must be enforceable and equitably employed.
Should environmental management efforts be successful in nature, there are four types of benefits that can be enjoyed:
- Ethical: knowing that the ‘right’ thing is being done
- Legal: knowledge that the practices being engaged in are not illegal or in conflict with any laws
- Commercial: environmentally-friendly business practices are often seen favorably by consumers
- Economic: practices that are favorable are often money-saving in nature, e.g. via a reduction in energy costs
The fourth benefit of environmental management noted above states that effective environmental management should result in economic benefits. However, this is (unfortunately) not always the case. This may manifest in the form of opportunity costs or increased investment in capital or infrastructure. Typically, a cost-benefit analysis is performed in order to determine the potential (positive or negative) of any sort of new development plan. However, such an estimate – which is undoubtedly pragmatic in nature and representative of current economic needs – begs the question: How do we put an accurate price tag on the environmental system that sustains the world. Likewise, it is necessary to examine the morality of actions taken and work towards conflict resolution as a means of promoting investment in positive growth (i.e. sustainability), rather than negative growth (i.e. reactive).