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Knowledge for Corporate Energy Management - Structural Contradictions and Hope for Change?


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‘Energy’ has been continuously a topic in Western discourses on environmental and technology politics, at the latest since the global oil crises between 1970 and 1980. Potential for private sector innovation to put environmental protection goals into practice is considered significant. Implicit to the aims of energy efficiency and safe energy is the presence of actors who support corporations in reaching these aims. These agents of ecological modernisation, i.e. environmental managers, and their practices have rarely been scrutinised. This paper, therefore, aims to make them the object of enquiry – approached from a Science and Technology Studies perspective. This article studies the implications for knowledge politics of techno-economic decision-making by such an actor within the energy management at a site of a multinational corporation. Based on ethnographic research at the site the article focuses on an instance of a management tool, corporate suggestion schemes, to mobilise workers’ ideas of improving the environmental performance. With this it becomes possible to attend to how corporate agents of ecological modernisation deal with the issue ‘energy’. We find that the manager uses specific forms of knowledge – adequate to the discourse of ecological modernisation – while, however, sidelining alternative forms. Thus, the latter are lost to sustainable development. It is concluded, that the actors’ knowledge practice renders corporate energy management unsustainable. To conceptualise a way out of this dilemma the article draws on theories of grounded utopias.
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18 Knowledge for Corporate Energy
Management - Structural Contradictions
and Hope for Change?
Ingmar Lippert
Augsburg University, Chair of Sociology, Augsburg, Germany
18.1 Introduction
‘Energy’ has been continuously a topic in Western discourses on environmental
and technology politics, at the latest since the global oil crises between 1970 and
1980. Potential for private sector innovation to put environmental protection goals
into practice is considered significant. Implicit to the aims of energy efficiency
and safe energy is the presence of actors who support corporations in reaching
these aims. These agents of ecological modernisation, i.e. environmental manag-
ers, and their practices have rarely been scrutinised. This paper, therefore, aims to
make them the object of enquiry – approached from a Science and Technology
Studies perspective. This article studies the implications for knowledge politics of
techno-economic decision-making by such an actor within the energy manage-
ment at a site of a multinational corporation. Based on ethnographic research at
the site the article focuses on an instance of a management tool, corporate sugges-
tion schemes, to mobilise workers’ ideas of improving the environmental per-
formance. With this it becomes possible to attend to how corporate agents of eco-
logical modernisation deal with the issue ‘energy’. We find that the manager uses
specific forms of knowledge – adequate to the discourse of ecological modernisa-
tion – while, however, sidelining alternative forms. Thus, the latter are lost to sus-
tainable development. It is concluded, that the actors’ knowledge practice renders
corporate energy management unsustainable. To conceptualise a way out of this
dilemma the article draws on theories of grounded utopias.
The global oil crises between 1970 and 1980 provided a discursive environment
from which ‘energy’ emerged as a continuing topic in Western discourses of envi-
ronmental and technology politics. Actors within this discourse normally consider
potential for innovation in the private sector significant to achieve environmental
protection goals. These aims are for example energy efficiency and saving energy.
This presupposes the presence of actors who support corporations in reaching
these aims. Within the environmental management discourse we normally concep-
tualise these actors, i.e. environmental managers, as acting rationally and
grounded in scientific decision-making. Ecological Modernisation Theory, as con-
M. Schmidt et al. (eds.), Implementing Environmental and Resource Management, 211
DOI 10.1007/978-3-540-77568-3_18, © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011
212 Ingmar Lippert
ceived by e.g. Jänicke (2008) and Mol (2006), helps to conceptualise this rational-
ity. To investigate this normative form of acting, a perspective which focuses on
how actors know seems apt
. Therefore, this article draws on approaches devel-
oped within Science and Technology Studies (STS) to illustrate how we can focus
on knowledge practices of corporate energy management.
If knowledge practices are enacted in the ‘social’ then we need to expect politi-
cal implications as well. That is why this article studies the knowledge politics
implications of techno-economic decision-making by an actor within the energy
management at a site of a multinational corporation. The case which I use to illus-
trate this discussion is based on ethnographic research. This case provides an in-
stance of a specific kind of management tools, so-called corporate suggestion
schemes. In the instance discussed below, this tool was applied to mobilise work-
ers’ ideas of improving the corporations' environmental performance. To question
the practical implications of this tool I draw on sociologies of human-nature rela-
tionships as well as their mediation by science and technology
Fundamental to
this approach is the understanding that knowledge is shaped culturally and, thus, a
variety of knowledges on environments and their relation to societies exist
. Rely-
ing on this theoretical and conceptual base the paper addresses the question of
how to problematise the societal and, following from there, ecological implica-
tions of the knowledge of corporate energy managers. While much research exists
on organisations’ approaches to ‘green’ themselves rarely can we find studies fo-
cussing on the environmental manager herself
. This paper aims to contribute to
critical, rather than merely affirmative, research on the practices of these manag-
ers. This requires breaking with the fundamental norm of research within envi-
ronmental management, i.e. that principally science is on the right track and envi-
ronmental problems can be solved with (social) technology, as suggested by
Ecological Modernisation Theory (Christoff 1996)
. Thus, as a contribution in the
critical tradition I aim to point towards structural contradictions in reality. The
empirical background of this discussion is an ethnography taking place at five
multinationals, including Daimler and Deutsche Telekom inspired by the field of
between 2007 and 2011. My qualitative interpretation is based on
field notes and is analysed with TAMS
I reasoned elsewhere why the investigation of the actual, rather than the presumed, reali-
ties of environmental management needs to be postulated and carried out (Lippert 2010).
Especially Actor-network theory and Bourdieu’s thought influenced this analysis. Cf. e.g.
Callon (1981, 1999) Bourdieu (1981, 1992) as well as Shackley and Wynne (1995).
Haraway (1991) spread the notion of the plural of knowledge, i.e. knowledges, into a
number of disciplines.
Cf. Howard-Grenville (2007). She seems to be one of the first who carried out an ethnog-
raphy of corporate environmental management. See also my other chapter in this book.
For recent discussion cf. e.g. Mol and Sonnenfeld (2000), Buttel (2000), Jänicke (2008).
See e.g. Malinowski (1922), Thomas (1993), Marcus (1995), Graeber (2004).
Cf. Emerson (1995) and Weinstein (2006).
18 Knowledge for Corporate Energy Management 213
This paper is organised into five further sections. First of all, I shall sketch what I
refer to as rationality of environmental management by drawing on Ecological
Modernisation Theory, which aims at describing and explaining ecological mod-
ernisation as policy and practice. Afterwards I turn to the case which provides the
empirical ground for questioning the political implications of using specific forms
of knowledge in environmental management practices. After the analysis the arti-
cle presents a brief theoretical excursion into ways out of the problems analysed
and, thus, thinking possibilities of utopia. Finally you will find concluding re-
marks to emphasise the key contradiction in our case.
18.2 Rationality within Environmental Management
The fundamental claim of the ecological modernisation (EM) thesis is that to
reach a balanced relationship between industrialised societies and their environ-
ment, these societies need to engage with nature more technoscientifically and in
ways more mediated by the market economy. Buttel (2000, p. 61) summarises:
“An ecological modernization perspective hypothesizes that while the most challenging
environmental problems of this century and the next have (or will have) been caused by
modernization and industrialization, their solutions must necessary lie in more – rather
than less – modernization and ‘superindustrialization’.”
Thus, a better world is envisioned as coming about through making the status quo
compatible with environmental needs by continuing the social and economic tra-
jectory, with more of the practices
already occurring. The EM thesis construes the
global environmental crisis as being transcended (Clark and York 2005, p. 410).
The EM discourse postulates innovations
which are ecologically less detrimental
or even benign both for the realm of material technology as well as social institu-
tions. From a technoscience point of view there is no near end to ecological inno-
vations: Efficiencies are thought to be easily calculable. Technoscientific progress
constantly produces knowledge about eco-efficiency and creates artefacts which
are seen as less polluting or even contributing to the environment
. For example,
For example they suggest the continuation of developing ‘sustainable technologies’
(which everything can be called, i.e. storing recovered carbon dioxide emissions under
pressure in the earth (sequestration)).
I use the concept innovation without being familiar with innovation theory. By using ‘in-
novation’ I refer to changes which can be seen as stable, relative to the context they are
Cf. Buttel (2000, p. 63). Elaborated versions of this kind of technoscience progress litera-
ture are limited to life cycle assessments. They tend not to include critical postmodernist
contestations such as developed within the field of Science and Technology Studies and
Critical Realism, which question the progress ideology (cf. Haraway 1991; Potter and
López 2001).
214 Ingmar Lippert
cars are thought to be producible using less and less material and energy input,
consuming less petrol and being better recyclable.
Social innovations refer primarily to innovations in management technologies
and organisational structures of all kinds. For example it can be seen as an eco-
logical innovation that universities teach industrial ecology, environmental man-
agement and environmental sociology
. Basically, any instance of implementing
(social) technologies
which benefit the environment can be seen as an ecological
. Important innovations that are widely discussed are the forms of in-
tegrating environment as an issue in governmental authorities and businesses
Unsurprisingly, it is always possible to construct best practice cases and find insti-
tutional learning processes
; people today are more aware about environmental is-
sues. Unfortunately, this social ecological innovation does not necessarily and in-
deed is unlikely to lead to material ecological innovations
Thus, I take, as a rationality of EM, that technoscientific knowledge is used to
develop solutions within the hegemonic economic framing – while seeking profits.
Industry is perceived to become generally ecologically benign when instances of
environmental considerations can be found. This approach is based on assump-
tions of science being objective, neutral and progressive, disregarding the long
history of pointing out the inherent politics of scientific research with (un)intended
harmful consequences
. In opposition to the latter, critical understanding, EM is
carried out within the frame of pragmatism (Prasad and Elmes 2005): “Let’s green
the organisation as much as possible!” However, the concrete limitations of this
are usually not addressed. With this impression of rationality of ecological mod-
ernisation let us turn to a case which we use to problematise the knowledge prac-
tices of energy management.
Major significant instances of management technologies are e.g. procedural, formalised
and institutionalised Environmental Management Systems (EMS) or Environmental Im-
pact Assessments (EIA).
I use the concept ‘technology’ to emphasise that I am talking of social institutions and
dynamics which are conceptualised as mechanistic or functionalist by EM. For ‘social
technologies’ see e.g. Bijker (1995).
Of course, we find a debate over whether such instances are merely classified and con-
strued as benefiting the environment or whether they really do (and in the latter case the
question occurs whose environment is ‘improved’).
Cf. Christoff (1996, p. 477), Sonnenfeld and Mol (2006), Søndergård et al. (2004), Mol
(2006), Keil and Desfor (2003).
Søndergård et al. (2004).
Cf. Drake et al. (2003), Pellow et al. (2000), White (2006).
Scientific practices and organisations are described as political by a number of people.
One could mention e.g. Bakunin (1916), Kuhn (1970), Bourdieu (1990), Haraway
18 Knowledge for Corporate Energy Management 215
18.3 The BOTNACO ‘Programme’
I encountered the setting during my ethnographic research on agents of ecological
modernisation situated in multinational corporations. At a site of a corporation,
which I shall name BOTNACO, 1,300 workers were employed performing the
mobility industry. Mr. Kunz, who was identified by his business card as an envi-
ronmental manager, told me about a special programme which he designed to run
within the corporate suggestion scheme for a limited amount of time. His back-
ground was rooted in electrical engineering as well as in chemistry. In terms of
energy he was saying: “Actually, [the] energy [issue] is pressing us for years”.
We need to conceptualise both the programme and the practices of Kunz within
the context of what can be called standardised environmental management: the
site was certified with the European Union Eco-management and Auditing
Scheme (EMAS) and ISO norm 14001. Both of these norms stipulate extensive
documentation of processes which are environmentally relevant as well as con-
tinuous environmental improvement. Within this normative context, my research
indicates, actors conceptualise saving energy as contributing to sustainable devel-
opment. To approach sustainable energy management energy is first made calcu-
lable; and second, standardised calculation procedures are applied
. Environ-
mental managers draw on a variety of sources to define local energy management
measures, including their own local knowledge as well as workers’ knowledge.
The programme, to which I shall refer as ‘Programme’, was devised to mobilise
precisely such workers’ knowledges of possibilities to protect health and the envi-
ronment as well as to safe energy. How did the ‘Programme’ work?
In order to spread the information that the ‘Programme’ existed Mr. Kunz sent
emails to the workers and ordered a poster (Figure 18.1).
The poster declares:
A demand exists for ideas
a. which protect and sustain our environment
b. which help to improve health management for all workers.
The heading indicates a special interest in energy issues. When we met first, the
‘Programme’ had already taken place. However, the follow-up of it was still going
on. During the first conversation Mr Kunz envisaged the follow-up process to
complete his aim of mobilising these ideas as quite simple: he drafted the ‘Pro-
gram’, got the information out and the workers developed and communicated their
ideas through the suggestion scheme. Finally, in the decision-making process, he
imagined commenting on the ideas such that decision-makers could make
grounded choices. Figure 18.2 visualises the linearity of this process.
These standardised procedures imply, however, that actors are likely to meet discrepan-
cies between ideal assumptions, which are part of the standard, and local conditions.
216 Ingmar Lippert
Fig. 18.1. Getting it out
18 Knowledge for Corporate Energy Management 217
Fig. 18.2. Linear model of the ‘Program’
Overall, workers handed in about 60 suggestions. The decision-making thereupon
was distributed and the officer for the suggestion scheme defined who would
comment on them before the final decision. Because the ‘Programme’ asked for
ideas regarding environmental issues Kunz received the suggestions. For him, the
decision whether he should recommend carrying out an idea or not was either
straightforward or he had to make some inquiries and negotiate the suggestion
with other actors. How did he decide? If his decision was straightforward it was so
because the case was self-evident to him. One such case was the idea to install a
solar panel. For Kunz this was out of question because at the site another solar
panel already existed. From his point of view this case illustrated the lack of
knowledge on side of the worker: the worker should have known that solar panels
already existed. As the worker did not specify why another panel would be useful,
but rather presented a general idea, the environmental manager declined the sug-
gestion. He would have been interested in a suggestion, which would be situated
and reasoned from his point of view and which would fit in his frame of interpret-
ing the world. Thus, the idea of the worker was not compatible with Kunz’s frame.
Another case concerned saving water. This idea had been declined. The deci-
sion upon this idea was heavily contested. Afterwards, several meetings took place
to settle the case. While the case was quite straightforward for Kunz “the [work-
ers] did not want to accept [the decline] and [they] said: ‘No! It is possible [to put
their idea into practice]; why [do you not see this]?’”. This conflict constituted a
problem: Kunz recognised that the decline is placed in tension with him wanting
to motivate the workers (field note). Overall, then, the ‘Programme’ brought about
problems and additional work. Therefore, they decided, to not run such a ‘Pro-
gramme’ again with a specific emphasis on energy.
The significance of the environmental manager’s reaction to the ideas of the
workers lies within the way ideas are presented and dealt with. A tension exists
between Kunz’s approach and that of some workers. How can we critically inter-
pret this tension?
18.4 Analysis: Knowledge and Contradictions
To approach this tension within decision-making, this section provides foci on
both the subject matter of knowledge in the case as well as its social context. First,
let us recall that the ‘Programme’ was devised to mobilise knowledge to support
Mr. Kunz’s work to green the corporation. The schemes (of perception and think-
ing) which he used to evaluate those knowledges which were presented to him
218 Ingmar Lippert
were based on diverse sources. Overall, we found: Kunz, himself a trained techni-
cian and analytical chemist, drew upon techno-economic knowledge and episte-
mology to reason about the ideas. In detail, a variety of sources were available to
him. First and overarching, he conceptualised environmental issues based on his
professional background as well as on professional conferences and contemporary
law. Accordingly, on his wall we found a poster with an overview on legal stipula-
tions relevant to his work. Further, he also dealt with magazines, which attended
to the environment. The criteria which he used for shaping his advice fit to these
forms of knowledge: it was important (1) implicitly, that the ideas are likely to
improve the environmental situation, and explicitly that they are feasible in terms
of (2) involved technology and (3) temporal and financial implications; he also
mentioned (4) life cycle analyses. However, these criteria are all quite ‘soft’ and
when it came down to it; he said “After all, the corporation has to get something
out of it, i.e. it has to pay off for the corporation.” Thus, the significant question
was: is it “financially worth it”?
Kunz also had quite a bit of knowledge about the environmental situation at the
production site. Actually we can find that he seemed to take-for-granted that he
had the most complete knowledge of the environmental situation at the site (rela-
tive to others at the site). This can be seen as a doxic stance as described by
Bourdieu: this theoretical approach suggests that actors believe in the presupposi-
tions of a field and by that reproduce its social and economic conditions (Bourdieu
1990). In our case Mr. Kunz had good reasons to believe that he knew best about
conditions relevant to sustainable energy management. He already worked for
many years at the site – he was even a worker with one of the longest time spans
working there. Disposed to such a stance, it can be considered of uttermost diffi-
culty for him to imagine that workers may develop an idea, which has both char-
acteristics: a) environmentally useful and b) not conceptualisable within his exist-
ing frame of knowing. Furthermore, he had relations to expert-colleagues which
can be characterised by co-operation. For him, it was self-evident that together
they have the best possible knowledge of the local conditions regarding the envi-
ronment. Thus, this indicates clearly: his scheme and background of performing
knowledge fit well to the rationality of ecological modernisation as described
These criteria and his background illustrate his schemes of perception. Both by
training and in his practical decision-making he used hegemonic forms of knowl-
edge: technoscience, law, seeking profit, which were shared among his colleagues
and stabilised by the corporation. This kind of knowledge should be quantifiable –
at least clearly categorisable. If it was not, this would have constituted a problem,
not only for him, but – he well knew – also for the corporation. This was the case
because his corporation tried to universalise, within its whole structure, the way
environmental management was run. Therefore, this organisational habitus (Hård
1994) shaped the practices at our BOTNACO site as well. Kunz would not have
been able to easily evade the rationality of the organisation.
When some workers did not know about the situation at the site in the manner
he deemed adequate, he conceptualised them as being not informed (case of solar
panel). This stance is structured similar to the cognitive deficit model discussed
18 Knowledge for Corporate Energy Management 219
within STS
. It suggests that laymen have gaps in their scientific knowledge of
the world and that they cannot, therefore, adequately conceptualise their environ-
ment. The implication of this model being that one needs a funnel to put scientific
knowledge into them. Kunz’s reaction to the workers’ body of knowledge, in line
with this, was: I will “write a piece in the journal, the [BOTNACO] house journal,
[about] what kind of things we have here and do, in order ... to prevent such
things”. From his point of view he merely needed to teach them what kind of en-
vironmental technologies existed and then they would understand what a proper
suggestion is. As he pointed out regarding the suggestion to install another solar
panel, such teaching should convey that general suggestions are not proper: “Ob-
viously this is a rather general suggestion, and actually we cannot put this prop-
erly to use”. This stance illustrates that he, as the environmental manager, has the
power to define the terms of the situation. This signifies as well a hierarchy be-
tween the forms of knowledge, i.e. the general idea vs. the specific suggestion fit-
ting to his ecological modernisation rationality. Like scientific experts knowing
better than laymen, the environmental manager knows better than workers. This
hierarchy is maintained through the categories in use: workers would allow the
expert to define which categories are suitable to analyse a situation. By this proc-
ess the relations of categories are reproduced. It is not questioned that workers
might very well possess useful knowledge to deal with their environment and rec-
ognise qualities that are lacking in it.
On the other hand, Kunz also actively negotiated issues which required objec-
tive decisions upon them. For example he emphasised that his colleagues, who
were part of decision-making, are human actors and that therefore he can discuss
with them the terms of amortisation of an investment. Thus, practically, he co-
constructed objectivity: the objectivity of whether a measure is worth it is socially
Nevertheless, for his identity it seemed to be of importance that he conceptual-
ises himself as an adviser to the site manager and in our case to the suggestion
scheme. This advice should be as objective as possible. According to his descrip-
tions, what he and his colleagues had in common was that they developed their
decisive advice to the decision-maker based on a shared commitment to rationality
and objectivity. The most significant criterion around which their advice was
shaped was profitability. It was on these grounds and within these relations in
which the environmental manager constructed advice.
Let us now turn briefly to some relations in which those workers whose ideas
had been declined were situated. Fundamentally, they were the means of the ‘Pro-
gramme’. It was aimed at mobilising their ideas and when they saw the posters
and emails they were ‘triggered’ to develop ideas or make them explicit respec-
tively. The ideas were based on their knowledge of their working environment.
When they had a chance to use their knowledge as capital they used it. The sug-
gestion scheme both enabled them to try to ‘sell’ their ideas and provided a me-
dium for them to communicate the ideas. Thus, they were not merely passively re-
See e.g. Wieser (2002), Lynch (2004), Irwin (2006) and Wynne (1992).
220 Ingmar Lippert
sponding to the poster, but also actively using the ‘suggestion scheme’ tool for
their purposes.
When they recognised that their aim, i.e. gaining from their knowledge, had not
been reached that easily they got in touch with the environmental manager. They
claimed that their ideas should be judged as acceptable and hence serve them in
terms of recognition. In the follow-up to this, several meetings took place to solve
the tensions. These provide a chance to illustrate further dimensions of the prob-
18.4.1 Crystallised Conflict: The Meetings
The meetings were attended by Kunz, some of his colleagues and the workers.
While the meetings were designed to maintain co-operative stances within the
corporation the conflict was not easily solved. The positions which the two groups
of actors took were laden with contradictions. On the one hand Kunz (representing
the corporate bureaucracy) wanted the workers to be motivated, both in general
and specifically through the ‘Programme’. He recognised after a while that this
had not been realised as to his aims. In conflict with this approach was the stance
of him of teaching the workers. This stance makes explicit that he considered their
knowledge (too) poor. On the other hand the workers were positioned within a
contradiction as well. They wanted to ‘sell’ their ideas to the corporation, i.e.
make them value the ideas and recognise the workers for their contribution. How-
ever, while they could not enforce such a recognitive stance by the organisation
they still tried to move the organisation towards recognising their ideas.
Thus, between and within both groups structural conflicts existed. So, what was
the use of the meetings after all? They took place for (at least) three kinds of rea-
sons. First, Kunz needed them to explain the workers the reasons for declining
their ideas. Second, the workers needed them to contest the decision. And third, to
have meetings to negotiate can be seen as an act of the organisational habitus.
Thus, having meetings satisfies the structural requirements on conflicts within the
organisational field.
The latter points again to the relevancy of the main stake within the field: eco-
nomic profit. The suggestion scheme is aimed at profit and the environmental
manager, as well as his colleagues represent the organisational rationality to en-
sure profits. This interpretation allows the reframing of the position of Kunz and
the workers in terms of their stakes.
The job of Kunz (and his colleagues) included improving the environmental
management at the site. This should be done as efficiently as possible. The ‘Pro-
gramme’ provided the chance for the environmental manager to gain significant
new ideas which he could then incorporate into managing environmental issues.
However, the ‘Program’ provided the risk for him as well, that the ideas which
were presented to him which could be wearisome to deal with. This might have
reduced the efficiency of the management tool. Furthermore, not only that he had
to deal with the specific ideas, he was also (co-)responsible for running the ‘Pro-
gramme’. Thus, here is another instance of his stake in terms of managing knowl-
18 Knowledge for Corporate Energy Management 221
edges. The right choice of the right instruments to manage was part of his job. The
fact that he saw the ‘Programme’ as a failure attests to the relevancy of this
choice. For him it was his co-responsibility, which was significant.20 In that re-
spect he decided that the ‘Programme’ did not run well. His original idea of how it
should have generated suggestions did not work well enough (as illustrated in lin-
ear, Figure 18.2). Rather, the reality of the ‘Program’ revealed itself differently to
him: Figure 18.3 indicates how the idea, the formal suggestion scheme apparatus
and the ‘Programme’ became background to the more central meetings between
Kunz and the workers.
Fig. 18.3. Centrality of Meetings
Thus, for Kunz the ‘Programme’ was a failure: the turnout of suggestions was not
big enough and some even induced considerable excess work. Moreover, he had to
believe that the motivation of workers decreased. Hence, the way the reality of the
‘Programme’ contingently developed was in conflict with his stakes. To improve
his position – and from his point of view: the priority of environmental matters as
well – a successful ‘Programme’ would have been better. Could he have acted
significantly differently? Possibly; but we cannot know. What we can see, how-
ever, is that the way he acted was well grounded in his rationality: the belief in the
Although, the way the instrument worked was contingent, its working was influenced
only at the most immediate level by the ideas of the workers and more indirectly by vari-
ous factors which he also could not control (like the dispositions of the workers, public
discourses on the environment, etc.).
222 Ingmar Lippert
neutrality and objectivity of decision-making for sustaining the profits of the cor-
poration. This rationality is required in his position. Other actors expect to put into
reality this kind of rationality for dealing with the ideas of the workers. This is at
least what he has to assume in his position and he takes-for-granted. Thus, because
of both the environmental manager’s own background as well as social require-
ments on him, the field structure is reproduced. Any other agent of ecological
modernisation in Mr. Kunz’s position would have been disposed to a similar ra-
For the workers, whose ideas were declined, the situation is structured as fol-
lows: The ‘Programme’ promised to give importance to their ideas. However, this
importance is not granted by the experts. To re-construct their self-confidence, for
them, it makes sense to argue for the opposite decision. Yet, if such a change of
the decision does not happen – which is unlikely because the experts would have
to reveal themselves as providing flawed arguments – the worker may still try to
put the idea, if practically possible, into practice. This, however, is again unlikely
because of the structure of the organisation in question. Workers do not have
much incentive to identify with the owners. They do not have a clear stake in the
profitability or greening of the corporation; the means of production are owned by
others who are also responsible for environmental management. Hence, after hav-
ing offered their ideas, why should they contribute to unwanted environmental
improvements? Thus, for the organisation the idea of the worker is lost.
Overall, then, we find that knowing ‘rightly’ implies a hierarchy: Mr. Kunz, as
techno-scientific and techno-economic expert – along the rationality of ecological
modernisation, has superior knowledge relative to workers. This hierarchy became
most explicit in his dismissal of the workers’ solar panel idea together with the
deficit model.
18.4.2 Lost Meanings? Ideas and Suggestions
While analysing the field and the doxic stance of the environmental manager the
focus on the structure of the contested content disappeared. However, the struc-
tural difference of how the environmental manager constructed the workers’ ideas
and the needed suggestions reveals an important dimension of the ‘Programme’.
During research it seemed that Kunz used the notions of ideas and suggestions
interchangeably. However, they have quite different relations to the other elements
of the situation. The poster of the ‘Programme’ asked for ideas while linking the
‘Programme’ obviously to the suggestion scheme. Those workers who had ideas,
which they deemed to fit into what was asked for, accessed the suggestion scheme
as a mechanism. This was possible by both material as well as digital forms.
Within this mechanism ideas cannot exist – merely suggestions. What does this
A suggestion needs to be clearly categorisable within the organisational divi-
sion of labour, such that the officer of the suggestion scheme can direct the sug-
gestions to experts. For the environmental manager the suggestions should be ori-
ented towards the criteria which he used. If he was not able to conceptualise the
18 Knowledge for Corporate Energy Management 223
suggestion within these criteria then they had little chance of being approved.
Thus, if an idea was not also a successful suggestion it was unlikely to be accepted
and turned into reality. The ‘Programme’ only knew suggestions. If they did not
satisfy the implicit standards then they were declined. Thus, whether the workers
were aware or not, their ideas were transformed into another social reality by en-
tering them into the mechanism suggestion scheme. The suggestions within the
latter were then reviewed by human actors. Independently of how well they fitted
to formal requirements, the suggestions provided knowledge.
However, the recipients of the knowledge were not disposed to deal with all
knowledges in the same manner, but to select them according to their fit into their
objectivist framing. It was this framing which marginalised the specific ideas of
the workers. At the same time we can recognise how not only specific ideas but
systemically forms of knowing are also disregarded. This resembles Ecological
Modernisation Theory (EMT) in that sense that EMT is based on objectively ana-
lysing situations and developing solutions. The inherent values and problems of
technoscientific knowledges are not considered but reproduced. This corresponds
to what Christoff (1996, p. 478) called “a unilinear path to ecological modernity”.
Alternative forms of human-nature relationships cannot easily find room to evolve
under an ecological modernisation paradigm.
To summarise, with this analysis we can recognise two contradictions in the
setting: First, the instrument ‘Programme’ was developed to harvest knowledges.
These are needed for effective environmental protection. However, at the same
time, certain forms of knowledge are structurally excluded. Knowledges which do
not fit to the rationality of ecological modernisation cannot be utilised and may
even create conflicts. Second, the ideas are lost not only by excluding them
through the suggestion scheme but also because the workers are not disposed to
put them otherwise into practice because of their relation to the production site;
they neither own the means of production nor are they responsible for the envi-
ronmental effects of the production.
It is these two forms of hierarchy, among knowledges and the possession of
means of production, which sustain unsustainability. With the hierarchy among
knowledges embedded into the field and the workers and Kunz positioned to not
question this hierarchy, communal learning processes within this kind of field are
unlikely. The other form of hierarchy makes it more likely that the workers’ ideas
are not put into practice by themselves.
Hence, we can see this configuration of the organisational field as constraining
the possibility to construct sustainable futures. This is the case even though the
environmental manager is good willed and acts very much in the logic of ecologi-
cal modernisation. At his position within this configuration, he is unlikely to re-
flexively confront his stance. Therefore, I suggest, to search for possibilities for
change in the wider social context. Its actors might reconstruct the configuration
of the field, such that alternative futures become more likely. In the following,
therefore, we shall turn towards asking how we can conceptualise a way out of the
224 Ingmar Lippert
18.5 A Way Out – Based on Determined Negation?
Bourdieu (1998) suggests going for a ‘reasoned utopianism’ in order to ground the
struggle against neoliberalism, an ideology which provides the economic point of
reference for ecological modernisation. Rather than focussing on his specific aim,
I am interested in how to reason a utopia. In his essay A Reasoned Utopia and
Economic Fatalism he quotes Ernst Bloch:
“Bloch describes the ‘considered utopian’ as one who acts ‘by virtue of his fully aware
fore-knowledge of the objective trend’, the objective, and real, possibility of his ‘ep-
och’; one who, in other words, ‘anticipates psychologically a possible reality’.”
Drawing on him, Bourdieu argues for a rational utopianism, rather than pure wish-
ful thinking or objectivist automatism. This rational utopianism should be based
on science in order to reason both aims and means. Intellectuals (like himself and
Ulrich Beck) should collaborate, leading to projects and action. This is what he
calls reasoned utopianism.
His line of reasoning can be seen as resembling a fragment of the Frankfurter
Schule, namely the negative dialectics of Adorno and Horkheimer. Demirovic
(2005) reads them as proposing that a better future can develop based on bestim-
mte Negation, i.e. determinate negation which is an “immanent criticism [allow-
ing] to wrest truth from ideology” (Zuidervaart 2007). In fact, notions of basing
utopianism on real possibilities are widely shared: Karakayali (2004) and Demi-
rovic (2005) describe such utopianism as a specific critique of the here and now.
According to Demirovic, directed and radical change only becomes possible by
negating instances of the concrete. He juxtaposes this approach to bourgeois uto-
pianism which stabilises capitalism by posing wishes which are not possible to put
into practice. The capitalist society digests the latter kind of utopianism well by
teaching people that utopianism does not work out, i.e., by giving the impression
that bourgeois utopianism is the only form of utopianism. It does not pose a prob-
lem for capitalist society to deal with a few dreamers and a radical youth as long
as the latter know that their aims cannot become real anyway. He, like Pepper
(2005), thus suggests practical utopianism which helps to transgress the bounda-
ries of the hegemonic towards emancipation. Pepper warns against a ‘heterotopia’
in which utopian thought and fantasies become part of consumerist culture and
“are devoid of social change potential” (ibid., p. 18). Rather, he says we need
practical utopianism which helps radical movements to experiment with transgres-
sive practices and thought. Echoing the anarchist ideal
, he argues that such uto-
pianism cannot be based on blueprints for revolutionary change but needs spaces
in which alternative paradigms can be developed and tested while grounding them
in an analysis of the local and global social and economic realities.
What could this mean for praxis of environmental management? It seems that
negating the hierarchical structure of the organisation implies more than merely
Cf. Franks (2006); but see also more theoretical work by May (1994) and a classic rele-
vant to this case, Rocker (1938).
18 Knowledge for Corporate Energy Management 225
moving some workers up the decision-making ladder (which would be the ortho-
dox Marxist approach). Rather, negating the structure refers to construction of an
alternative structure outside of the organisational hierarchy. This would lead to the
conducting of experiments towards socially and ecologically sustainable energy
management. Indicators of such a development might be workers who organise
themselves externally of the dominating organisational hierarchy (maybe with in-
centives by other societal actors, like labour unions).
18.6 Conclusion
This article investigated a case of corporate energy management in which the en-
vironmental manager used a suggestion scheme to mobilise workers’ knowledges
to improve the energy and environmental performance of the corporation. We
found that the hierarchical form of organisation as well as bodies and forms of
knowledge reproduced structurally a contradiction: Hierarchies were deemed in-
strumental for optimising corporate greening, but effectively prevented this opti-
misation. Thus, we conclude, good environmental management – situated within
the framework of ecological modernisation – sticks to hierarchical organisation.
And this very kind of organising constitutes a barrier to sustainable development.
In our case this became obvious when showing how proper practice within the
hegemonic rationality of ecological modernisation assumes superior knowledge by
environmental experts.
These experts occupy positions in social space which allow them to decisively
shape corporate environmental decision-making. It is their task to know better
than so-called ‘average’ workers about environmental issues. Therefore, if work-
ers – as shown in this case – frame ideas to contribute to sustainable energy man-
agement in a way which is not compatible with the rationality of ecological mod-
ernisation then their ideas are likely to be lost. We find that the environmental
manager uses a form of knowledge, which was specific in fitting to the rationality
of ecological modernisation. In the course of this, however, alternative forms and
by that bodies of knowledge were sidelined and therefore lost to sustainable de-
velopment. Thus, the manager’s knowledge practice renders corporate energy
management unsustainable. This micro-level-based analysis is paralleled by the
macro take of Blühdorn and Welsh (2007) who argue that we live in an “era of
post-ecologism [where] its eco-politics [are] the politics of unsustainability”.
Further, this article argues, hope to overcome these contradiction lies in the ne-
gation of hierarchies. Rather than bare adjustment to structures of hierarchies,
more sustainable approaches to energy management may be found outside the
structures identified as problematic, i.e. outside of hegemonic organisational hier-
archies. Thus, for affected to contribute to sustainable development it seems ade-
quate to recommend engaging with experiments outside corporate rationality aim-
ing to reconfigure the structure surrounding the organisation, rather than
stabilising it. A social structure outside, which would allow for sustainable energy
management within the corporation, would be characterised by its recognition of
226 Ingmar Lippert
all forms of knowledge – not limited to knowledges compatible with the rational-
ity of hegemonic ecological modernisation. Of course, I recognise, in practice
many might want to follow a dual strategy: reform within as well as stepping out-
side to question the hierarchies and engage with the experiments. Further research,
I suggest, should enquire into how to move existing organisations towards recog-
nising their structural weakness embedded in hierarchical organisation and leading
to disregarding a variety of bodies and forms of knowledge.
Academic knowledge is not produced by individuals but in networks and commu-
nities. For the thoughts and discussions which supported me to develop this paper
proposal I am especially grateful to Günter Getzinger (IFZ, Inter-University Re-
search Centre for Technology, Work and Culture) and the Research Fellows und
Visiting Scholars of the IAS-STS (Institute for Advanced Studies on Science,
Technology and Society). Corinna Bath, Verónica Sanz and Torsten Wöllmann
provided valuable hints for sketching the argument. Participants of a seminar at
the Institute for Social Ecology of Klagenfurt University as well as of the First
ERM Alumni Conference (6-8 October 2008) at the Brandenburg University of
Technology contributed helpful feedback to the paper. Judith Ancke helped tran-
scribing interviews and critically commented on the final draft. Thanks also to
Robert Atkinson for reviewing the paper and his comments on language as well as
to Dmitry Palekhov and Vincent Onyango for pursuing the editing of this book. I
gratefully acknowledge the funding by Hans-Böckler-Foundation as well as IAS-
STS for facilitating my studies and the German National Academic Foundation for
their support during the development of this paper.
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In this introduction to out 2012 workshop "How do you manage? Unravelling the situated practice of environmental management", the Environment, Management and Society Research Group guides through the themes of the workshop: Agents, rationales and rationalities; Objects and assemblages; and Performance and imaginaries. The workshop was held at ZiF, Bielefeld, see
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This book addresses both, Science and Technology Studies and Environmental Sociology, problematising the role of the human, breathing, agent who is required to put Ecological Modernisation into practice. This type of agent has been undertheorised by Ecological Modernisation Theory. Ingmar Lippert offers a conceptualisation of such an agent by drawing on relationalist takes on structure and agency, i.e. actor-network theory and Pierre Bourdieu's school of thought. For Ecological Modernisation Theory remaining hegemonic, as his book suggests, it is apt to focus on the agency and constraints in the "doing" of environmental management. By way of a case study in the construction of a glass recycling network, Ingmar Lippert tells a critical story exploring a Bourdieusian conceptualisation of field and habitus in their hybridity to theorise agents of ecological modernisation.
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'I found the writing style very engaging. The author writes clearly and with little jargon. She makes the technology come alive and gives a feel for elements that might be very complex in the hands of another writer.'