An organizational learning perspective on environmental management
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- Master's theses (HH) 
Markets are creating tougher competition which increases the pressure on organizations to learn and adapt, to be more proactive, and to change faster to stay ahead of competitors. Thus the ability to learn is very important. The notion of the “learning organization” is recognition of the importance to organizations of being able to respond rapidly and creatively to events outside the firm’s boundaries. The challenge posed by the consequences that organizations have on the natural environment are among the most difficult that the firm faces. Effective strategies and responses demand that all of the firm’s knowledge resources are used. Pressure from society implicitly makes the environment a part of the company’s strategy by forcing it to adapt to social demands. The environmental achievements the learning organizations gain are not necessarily rewarded and not proven by a certificate or mark. As evidence of their commitment to environmental performance an increasing number of companies choose to get an environmental certification, if only to satisfy demands from customers and society. As the number of environmentally certified companies continue to grow it is relevant to look at the effects and consequences this trend has on organizations’ ability to learn. This study focuses on the ISO 14001 certification system, which has been criticized for several aspects including being both a “one size fits all” approach to all industries and for including only top management stakeholders. This is not compatible with the more dynamic and flexible approaches supported by the organizational learning perspective. As the study will show, the two approaches, ISO 14001 and organizational learning, have interactions that can lead to cultural challenges and learning limitations. Learning organizations are dynamic and seem to fit the metaphor of organic organizations. ISO certification appears to be more compatible with mechanistic organizations, which are more rigid and facilitate other organizational aspects than organic organizations. To gain deeper understanding of the interaction effects that an ISO-implementation can have on an organization’s learning ability, the paper starts with a theoretical discussion of both environmental standards and learning organizations. This identifies the main differences between the two approaches and sets the stage for a model that combines aspects from both approaches. To illustrate the effects of a proposed ISO implementation, the oil industry exploration firm, PGS, is used as a case. The firm’s learning culture is assessed using an instrument developed by Di Bella et al. (1998). The initial assumption that this study is based upon is supported throughout the paper, showing several inconsistencies between learning organizations and ISO 14001. The conclusion is that the more learning based the organization is, the more will its characteristics conflict with the aspects facilitated by ISO 14001.