A central principle of the SEMA framework is that reasoning should proceed from a clearly defined environmental issue, from there to the situation that determines its environmenmental outcomes, from there to what possible strategic action for change could make a decisive difference, from there to what sort of agency could carry out such actions, and finally from there to actual social actors who may (or may not) provide such agency in given situations. In this context, “environmental actor” designates essentially what agency in favour of environmentally motivated change is implied by an environmental management situation, not directly this or that actual social actor in that situation.
There is a tension between a role that has to be played, and concrete, actual organisations that may play, or claim to play that role. This tension is at the heart of how SEMA-based research approaches the capacity of actual organisations to perform in terms of environmental management. Two streams of research explore such issues.
The first examines how environmental issues are dealt with by organisations that are not centred on environmental concerns (for instance industrial firms, or sector-based administrations). Studying in detail organisational processes is essential to understand how an environmental issue ends up being dealt with (or not) in such organisations. What could be done for better environmental management by such organisations crucially depends on such detailed organisational understanding because what organisations do depends rather more on how they actually function than on discourse, committments and reports. In this respect, we find strategic action by internal “environmental actors” to be essential for the capacity of an organisation to effect environmentally motivated change. Development of the concept and an in-depth example is available with Tiphaine Leménager‘s doctoral research.
A second stream of our research focuses on organisations which, like environmental administrations or NGOs, have environmental management (conservation, restoration) as their primary goal. Here again, understanding in detail how such organisations function is essential to account for how they can actually deliver decisive action for environmentally motivated change. The strategic management of such organisations was the subject of a first exploratory research with Tiphaine Leménager.
Recent and on-going research develops this problematique further, especially through in-depth intervention research with NGOs. See especially Fanny Guillet‘s doctoral research.