United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Environment Outlook-1 - The Web version

Chapter 3: Policy Responses and Directions

[ GEO-1: Home | Complete Report | Search | Feedback | Order Book | Collaborating Centres | About GEO Reports ]

North America

Comprehensive Management and Creative Partnerships

[ Comprehensive Management | Creative Partnerships ]

There is today a realization throughout the region that an appropriate mix of instruments will achieve the best overall environmental results. Voluntary compliance measures are increasingly seen by nearly all stakeholders as important complements to regulatory and economic instruments for environmental protection. The social and economic benefits of improved environmental performance and the desire to anticipate regulations are driving corporations to "get ahead of legislation." Such voluntary actions by the private sector also demonstrate to Governments and the public that self-regulation is a viable option (EC, 1996a).

Comprehensive Management

Overall, a noticeable shift in North America is taking place away from managing single resources towards managing ecosystems composed of a variety of resources. In Canada, the State of the Environment Report has long championed this concept. Environment Canada is advancing an operational strategy with ecozones as spatial reporting units, emphasizing that people are indeed part of the ecosystem (Government of Canada, 1996).

In the United States, Federal agencies including the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and the EPA have established integrated ecosystem management policies. These guide decisions for achieving various goals, including those set by law. Nearly 150 U.S. examples were identified by the Keystone Center's national policy dialogue on ecosystem management. Such programmes seem to offer the most promise where public and private lands have multiple uses, such as forestry, fisheries, grazing, and recreation (PCSD, 1996).

EPA promotes watershed protection by a holistic framework that addresses complex water quality problems. The strategy is place-based, integrating water quality management activities within hydrologically defined drainage basins (watersheds), rather than in areas defined by political boundaries. There are several key guiding principles for the watershed protection approach, including a place-based focus, stakeholder involvement and partnerships, environmental objectives, problem identification and prioritization, and integrated actions (EPA, 1994b).

In both countries, these initiatives provide some of the best examples of how to achieve sustainable development through a comprehensive ecosystem approach. Key elements essential to its success are partnerships, environmental citizenship, science, and leadership.

The region is also making progress in adopting market mechanisms to improve comprehensive environmental management. In Canada, a baseline study of possible barriers and disincentives was initiated in the 1994 budget that provided for a Task Force on Economic Instruments and Disincentives to Sound Environmental Practices. The Government has since continued to work to substantially reduce or eliminate many subsidies, grants, and contributions that may inadvertently disadvantage environmental objectives with regard to other goals. For example, business subsidies have been reduced between 1994-95 and 1997-98 by about 60 per cent (Government of Canada, 1996).

The U.S. Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 takes a comprehensive approach towards industry-encouraging manufacturers to modify equipment and processes, redesign products, substitute raw materials, and make improvements in management techniques, training, and inventory control (Gore, 1995). Incentives for continuous environmental improvement are a major feature of the Industry Strategy Division (ISD) created in 1995 by EPA. ISD works towards its goal in a number of ways, including demonstration projects with companies and other stakeholders in Louisiana, New Jersey, and Indiana that focus on four industrial subsectors-metal finishing, chemical manufacturing, photo imaging, and thermoset plastics.

Creative Partnerships

The importance of partnerships, empowered communities, and stewardship in environmental management is now widely recognized. Significant popular mobilization has created an important network of environmental organizations in civil society that have information, advocacy, and watchdog roles. As EPA Administrator Carol Browner noted, "In the final analysis, what is critical in our efforts to advance pollution prevention is a willingness to take chances, to question established practices and to experiment with new ideas and, above all, to cooperate with each other as we try to harmonize environmental protection with economic growth" (EPA, 1994a). Of particular note in both the United States and Canada has been the taking up by industry of voluntary initiatives concerning environmental conservation and protection.

In the United States, for example, EPA has many co-operative programmes targetting specific constituencies. The Common Sense Initiative, the Green Lights Program, and the Star Program are perhaps its most visible efforts to create pollution-prevention partnerships for environmental protection. (See Box 3.18.) There are also initiatives to spur municipal solid waste reduction by large businesses.

Environment Canada is also working to give Canadians the tools to build a greener society. The Department focuses on providing educational and information services, forming partnerships and convenants between government and industry, and ensuring that economic development is environmentally sensitive. National environmental indicators, a system of key indicator bulletins, and the award-winning Green Lane on the Internet are examples of Environment Canada's commitment to engage Canadians in becoming environmental citizens.

One of the most significant institutional changes in Canada in the past year took place under the banner of the "Federal House in Order" initiative. In 1996, the Federal Government established the Office of the Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development. As a result, each Federal department is required to develop sustainable development strategies, including plans for the greening of their operations and policies, progress on which is reported to the Parliament.

In Canada, experience is demonstrating that non-regulatory approaches can achieve measurable environmental results. One particular example is the Accelerated Reduction/Elimination of Toxics Initiative, which is the cornerstone of Environment Canada's pollution prevention efforts. The purpose of ARET is to reduce the potential adverse effects of toxic substances on human health and the environment by accelerating the reduction or elimination of emissions of selected toxic substances. Since the ARET Challenge was launched in March 1994, 300 facilities from 170 major corporations have taken up the cause. These organizations have filed action plans with toxic release reduction commitments of more than 24,000 tons a yearby 2000. This reduction represents a 72-per-cent release reduction overall from the base year, 1994.

Another very notable measure is the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) Program pioneered in the United States. TRI takes information that manufacturers are required to submit annually to EPA and places it in the public domain. The overall goal of the programme is to enhance the public's ability to monitor industry's releases of contaminants and to serve as a pollution prevention scorecard by tracking toxic chemicals. At the same time, TRI raises the internal awareness of industry and creates strong public-image pressures for companies to reduce wastes. Of the 23,321 facilities that reported to TRI in 1993, 35 per cent implemented source reduction activities (EPA, 1994b).

EPA is also working with stakeholders to design the next generation of the voluntary 33/50 Program. More than 1,300 companies committed themselves in this programme to reducing releases and transfers of 17 high-priority toxic chemicals by 33 per cent in 1992 and 50 per cent in 1995, based on the 1988 TRI benchmark. The programme is expected to include information on the extent to which source reduction and other pollution prevention practices are responsible for documented release reductions.

Continue to next section...

[ GEO-1: Home | Complete Report | Search | Feedback | Order Book | Collaborating Centres | About GEO Reports ]