Environmental management through its instruments

Implementing collective action for environmental innovation

Jeanne Riot is a Doctor from MINES ParisTech since the 16th December 2013

From assessment tools to environmental action

As environmental management is becoming an important issue for companies, a wide range of tools has been made available. However, scientific research focuses mainly on improving the calculations these tools provide and there is little information on the way companies implement them in order to decrease their environmental impacts.

Firms can reduce their environmental impacts thanks to a series of environmental assessment tools such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Bilan Carbone (the latter being a specific form of carbon footprint assessment tool), which are supposed to act as decision support tools. However, even if these tools are widely spread among companies, the question of the way they effectively change managerial practices remains.

In other words, several of these assessment tools do not become ipso facto management instruments. Research on environmental sciences links the difficulties of assessment tools appropriation to the tools’ inherent properties (ergonomics, scientific models’ robustness) and is subject to a constant revision work. In this thesis, we explore the organisational and cognitive dimensions of this appropriation; in particular the emergence of epistemic and practice communities structured around the instruments, which constitute a receptive environment for their deployment.

An extensive fieldwork among environmental consultants

Based on a fieldwork in an environmental consultancy agency, this thesis examines six empirical case studies and determines the process and the conditions under which the instruments triggered sustained collective actions. Beyond the basic instrument level, we study the features that are implemented in the course of collective actions and their unexpected effects.

We focused on cases in which consultants were involved and provided companies with expertise on sustainable management through environmental assessment tools such as carbon footprints and life cycle assessments.

                                                                               photo credit badjonni Licence Creative Commons


We first showed the constraints of the consultancy service offer as it is designed nowadays:  often too limited in time and providing tools that cannot be modified. This type of service does not trigger the required learning in the companies or actions of environmental impact reduction. In fact, this research project highlights the existence of a variety of long term elaborated devices, which affect firms learning capabilities, and sustains innovative environmental action.

The Environmental Coordinator and the communities

First, the characterisation of these devices helped identifying the emergence of a new managerial figure-the Environmental Coordinator. Set in the company conducting the assessments, this character becomes a centrepiece of the device, managing different assessments, and paving the way for future environmental innovation through new studies and partnerships with experts from different areas of expertise.

A second result showed the link between tool appropriation and the emergence of intermediate communities, integrated to a greater or lesser extent to the company and playing a key role in the dynamics of collective action. We pointed out the different means of knowledge production of these communities thanks to results provided by the assessment tools. In some cases, the communities we observed were comparable to epistemic communities and in others to communities of practice.In the cases where the appropriation process was more accomplished, it was observed that the Environmental Coordinator helped the emergence of new hybrid communities. These new hybrid communities based on the assessment tools were capable of both actionable knowledge transfer among the company, and new theoretical knowledge production.

Jeanne Riot's short bio

Jeanne Riot holds a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Transportation from Ponts et Chaussées, Mines, Ecole Polytechnique, and a Maîtrise in Geography from Université de Toulouse II. She became interested in Sustainable Development very early in her studies: first through urban planning and transportation. She was able to work in India in Pondicherry studying the impact of small transportation on sustainable urban development. She also has a three-year work experience as an environmental consultant at a top French environmental consulting agency (BIO Intelligence Service).

Jeanne Riot carried out her PhD with the Centre for Management Science (MINES ParisTech - CGS) under the supervision of Franck Aggeri. She benefitted from the partnership of a consulting agency BIO Intelligence Service where she worked.

Note that Jeanne Riot will receive the thesis'prize of the RIODD (Réseau International sur les Organisations et le Développement Durable), sponsored by Vigéo, during the 9th international conference of RIODD on October the 1st in Bordeaux.