Dr Aurelian Mbzibain

Faculty of Social SciencesDr Aurelian Mbzibain

Aurelian completed his PhD at the University of Wolverhampton. His thesis was focused on the factors affecting farmers’ intentions to invest in renewable energy enterprises in the UK farm sector. Aurelian is currently Lecturer in International development studies as well as Project Manager of a 2 million Euros grant programme for improving forest peoples’ rights in Cameroon and Central African Republic.

His current area of work, teaching and research is in international development, forest governance, renewable energy enterprise and rural entrepreneurship. He has published in the International Journal of Applied Behavioural Economics, Energy Policy, Biomass and Bioenergy Journals.

Determinants of environmental sustainable behaviour amongst forest exploitation and related companies in Cameroon

Introduction 

Forests provide a wide range of socioeconomic benefits for the planet (Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), 2014). They are host to the world’s territorial biodiversity, and play a significant role in mitigating global climate change and contributing to soil and water conservation, in addition to providing many other environmental goods and services such as provision of food, fuel, medicine, religious and cultural events. Estimates of the number of people who derive direct or indirect benefits from forests in terms of employment, forest products, livelihoods and incomes stands at between 1 billion to 1.5 billion (Agrawal et al., 2013). Deforestation is now mostly ‘enterprise-driven’ rather than ‘state-driven’ (Rudel, 2007). Private sector entities on all scales, including multinational corporations, national companies, small and medium enterprises, cooperatives and smallholder farmers, play a role in this process of change, connected together through supply-chain links and national and international trade. With a growing global population and predicted increase in global demand for food, feed and fuel, it is likely that this pressure on forests could intensify in the near future (Godfray et al. 2010).

The concept of sustainable development (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987) has emerged as an influential construct in business and forestry policy because of the growing recognition that a fundamental transformation is needed to reduce the detrimental impacts created by unsustainable business practices (Hall et al., 2010). For this reason, businesses need to reconfigure their strategic orientations and capabilities in response to social, environment and economic imperatives – so called the “triple bottom line approach” to business (Kuckert and Wagner, 2010). Unfortunately there remains a wide gap between the “say” and the “do” on the ground and more needs to be done to deepen sustainability efforts in how companies think and act, from boardrooms to action (United Nations Global Compact, 2013). For all the interest in sustainability, the academic discourse on the subject of sustainable development within business and entrepreneurship research has been sparse (Hall et al., 2010), 2012) and little attention has been paid to why forest exploitation and related companies act (or not) in environmentally- sustainable ways in developing countries (Nukpezah et al., 2014; Cerutti et al., 2011). Examining this gap is the subject of this research.

Research questions

  • What factors motivate forest-exploiting companies and related business to invest (or not) in environmentally-sustainable practices?
  • How are decisions to act or not influenced and negotiated?

Literature Review

Motivations for investment in environmentally- sustainable business practices

Martin and Shouten (2011) talk about competitive advantage as a key benefit of environmental sustainability – staying ahead of environmental regulation, lower costs, innovation, staff retention, better workforce and retention and differentiation. According to Labelle and Aka (2012), environmental performance improves risk management, promotes a positive reputation, enhances competitiveness and provides a strategic market position. Other benefits cited by Labelle and Aka include the facilitation of learning, innovation, acquisition of knowledge and expertise, improved productivity, positive employee morale, security, work environment and wellbeing all of which translate to reduced absenteeism and turnover. For external stakeholders, sustainable behaviour improves relations with governments, reassures partner companies and encourages imitation and acceptability/legitimacy by society. Other researchers demonstrate the environmental benefits of sustainable behaviour including protection of natural resources, forest communities, indigenous peoples and rural livelihoods (Cerutti et al., 2014).

Factors affecting adoption of sustainable business practice

Following the resource based view to environmental sustainability, Halme and Korpela (2014) as well as Roxas and Chadee (2012) examine the factors affecting the adoption of innovations towards sustainable development. They found that various resource combinations, including access to equity, industry knowledge, networks and reputation, influenced adoption of such environmentally-sustainable behaviours, while access to subsidies further facilitated adoption of innovations to solve social and environmental problems.

Ervin et al. (2013) adopt a utility maximisation and institutional theory perspective to investigate the motivations and barriers to corporate environmental management arguing that neither economic nor institutional theory best explains differences in environmental behaviour. They focus on (1) the company’s concern about environmental issues; (2) consumer pressures; (3) interest group pressure; (4) regulatory pressure; (5) competitive pressures; and (6) management attitudes towards the natural environment. This is very similar to the key factors identified by Masurel (2007) and Banerjee et al (2003) who propose a political-economy framework of factors affecting corporate environmentalism- which consists of regulatory factors, market, public concern and top management commitment to sustainability. From these studies, it emerges that there is a complex set of factors which influence environmental sustainable intentions/behaviour which can be broadly characterised into three groups of factors. These categories are external (economic and institutional), company specific (resource based factors) as well as individual level (managers and employee attitudes towards the natural environment). Thus, any research that focuses on only one of these dimensions is likely to provide an incomplete view of the factors affecting company environmental intentions/behaviour.

Barriers to adoption of sustainable business practice

Moon et al (2014) highlight the fact that additional costs of environmental practices do not necessarily add to competitiveness. Ervin et al (2013) found that high upfront costs, high day to day costs and time commitment were the most important barriers to the adoption of environmentally sustainable practices in addition to uncertain future benefits and the fact that employees are not rewarded for environmental behaviour. For SMEs, Fujii et al (2013) suggests that budget constraints prevent them from engaging in environmental protection. With regards to the forestry industry, Tsanga et al (2014) show that weak legal frameworks, lack of coherent strategies and poor forest governance leads to illegality and unsustainable management practices. These weaknesses are characteristic of most tropical timber producing countries where non democratic regimes persist leading to weak environmental standards. In fact, Mukhergee and Chakroborty (2013) argue that political and democratic freedoms have a positive effect on environmental sustainable behaviour as individuals and social groups are able to raise environmental concerns effectively and influence company behaviours. Sound governance institutions in politically stable environments they argue, are more likely to provide necessary conditions for environmental sustainable behaviour because the gap between compliance of public and private rules is small. 

Figure 1

Figure 1: Conceptual model

Methodology

Choice of country

Cameroon was conveniently selected for this study because it is not only one of the most important countries in Africa in terms of forest cover and timber trade, but is often cited as being innovative with regards to forest policy reform (Cerutti et al., 2011). Additionally, more than half of its production forests come under some form of forest certification thereby providing a good case for analysing the behaviour of forest exploitation and related companies. A one country study was preferred at this stage as a pilot and lessons learnt could be expanded in a further regional study.

Selection of respondents

A list of 30 potential respondents was compiled from personal contacts gained through various work engagements in the forest industry in Cameroon. These contacts included alumni from the Centre for International Development and Training (CIDT)’s training events in the UK and Cameroon, and private sector professionals. Of the initial 30 sampled companies, only nine accepted to take part in the study. Of the nine respondents, seven were company directors, forest management experts or those in charge of certification, while two others were leaders of national associations of forest enterprises. This ensured that those responding were knowledgeable enough to participate in the study. A decision was also made to limit the study to two main cities - Douala and Yaounde. Douala has the main port through which processed timber and logs are exported to international markets while Yaounde is capital city of Cameroon and is a strategic national headquarters for decision making for most of the private companies operating locally.

Approach

This study adopted a mainly qualitative approach in order to explore respondents’ understanding of their companies’ actions towards environmental sustainability through semi-structured interviews. Each interview lasted between 30-90 minutes and was digitally recorded (8 out of 9) and transcribed in instances where consent was obtained from the respondent. Where consent was not secured, extensive notes were taken, and then written up immediately following the interview.

Data preparation and analysis

The qualitative field interview notes were thematically coded on the basis of themes identified in literature as explanatory for environmentally-sustainable behaviours. Content falling within the same theme were collated and analysed within and across the theme, to explore the different meanings attached to the determinant factors. Exemplary quotations were selected and presented in the report as evidence of these.

Key Findings

Motivations for environmental sustainable behaviour

  • Economic motivations were the most cited reason for investing in environmental sustainable practices driven by company obligations towards demanding clients and markets
  • Managers’ attitudes towards sustainability were second most cited factor, while the need to respect national and international regulations was the least cited reason for adopting environmental sustainable business behaviour.

Comparing motivations and actual outcomes of sustainable behaviour

  • Interestingly, improvements in internal management practices, transparency and company productivity were the most cited outcome ahead of economic benefits
  • Reconstitution of forest resources and improvements to the livelihoods of forest dependent communities least cited effect of environmental sustainable behaviour.

Factors facilitating intentions/behaviour

  • Favourable cognitive institutional environment: availability and access to training, capacity building, external technical and financial support from donors and international environmental Non-Governmental Organisations
  • Favourable normative institutional environment: membership to business networks and increased environmental awareness from clients and suppliers
  • Positive attitudes towards the natural environment: top management commitment and employee acceptability
  • Ownership and certification status of company: foreign ownership, legality versus FSC certified companies

Factors deterring /constraining environmentally- sustainable behaviour

  • Costs and limited margins from sustainably sourced and processed timber most cited
  • Inadequate application and enforcement of national legislation and business incentives by government officials
  • Limited access to capacity building and required skill set in the labour market
  • Pressures and conflicts with local communities, national and international environmental NGOs
  • Unwillingness to change and opposition from senior staff and employees

Discussion and conclusions

Results show that the most cited motivation for adopting environmental friendly business practice is economic .i.e. to increase profits through premiums from sustainably sourced timber, gain/maintain market share and competitive advantage. Increased awareness and demands from clients and the market were identified as the most important drivers. Forest certification provides an excellent opportunity for national companies to demonstrate their environmental credentials (Carodenuto and Cerutti, 2014). However, when respondents were asked about achieved benefits of actually modifying or changing business practices towards sustainability, the most cited benefit interestingly related to gains in internal organisation, transparency and productivity within the company. This is a significant contribution to the literature.  Therefore, environmental NGOs and government agencies seeking to promote environmental sustainable behaviour in the short term, should promote the immediate internal benefits for companies. Such gains in internal organisation such as, personnel motivation and satisfaction, transparency and productivity are likely to translate in the long run into efficiencies, effectiveness and consequently competitive advantage.

Additionally, results revealed that the cognitive institutional environment characterised by availability of training and capacity building, donor funds, research collaborations between companies and universities/research institutes as well as access to qualified staff in the labour market, etc and senior management’s commitment had the most facilitating effects on a company’s willingness to adopt environmental friendly practices. These findings provide support to the work already done by civil society organisations and donor agencies to promote sustainable behaviour amongst private sector actors (Department for International Development -DFID, 2014). Business associations and private sector syndicates must also be provided with support to build capacities of members as well as encourage conformity with environmental regulations and standards (Fujii et al., 2013). Universities and forestry training institutions are part of the country’s cognitive institutional environment and should be supported to develop the skill set and the ethic required to sustainably manage Cameroon’s forest resources (Pavey et al., 2015). Similarly, policy makers must provide not only financial incentives but also normative support in the form of awards and appreciation of best practice in the industry (Mbzibain, 2013).

The study also found that senior management’s commitment and will to invest in environmental sustainability was the key driver to investment in environmental sustainability within the different companies in line with latest research in business (Williams and Schaefer, 2013). The finding that top management played a key role in the adoption of ESP, suggests that policy makers must work with top management in order to improve environmental responsiveness (Banerjee et al., 2003).

It also emerged that high costs of investment coupled with unclear financial benefits as well as corruption and ineffective controls from government represented the most important constraints from the regulatory institutional environment side. These results are supportive of recent research realised by Nukpezah et al (2014) and Cerutti et al (2014) in Cameroon. The Government of Cameroon and international partners such as the European Union must step up efforts to improve transparency and build the capacity of government departments to enforce national legislation (Carodenuto and Cerutti, 2014). Additionally, private sector certification schemes as well as independent forest monitoring by civil society organisations have a significant role to play fight against illegality and poor law enforcement in Cameroon’s forest sector (Brack and Leger, 2013).

Limitations and future research directions

This research adopted a qualitative approach and the research findings are specific to Cameroon’s forest sector and therefore cannot be generalised. While the study identified a wide range of factors effecting environmental sustainable behaviour, future research will benefit from applying quantitative techniques to assess the contribution of each factor to behaviour. This could help direct policy and support to factors that have the highest impact on intentions/behaviour of companies to adopt environmental sustainable practices.

A future comparative study of companies in other countries in the Congo Basin could shade more light on the factors which influence companies to act or not in environmental sustainable ways.

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