Houston, TX 77005
9:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 2, 2013
On Campus | Alumni
Introducing sustainability in the cement industry involves changing not only production technologies, but the organizational culture of a mature industry that is characterized by huge CO2 emissions and significant environmental impacts. This research focuses on the transition process of the industry and its employees. The actors involved are strongly influenced by often contradictory forces: On one hand the naturalized market dynamics in the context of the car dependent society and widespread networks of highways and other concrete structures, and on the other, the growing concern of preserving resources for future generations as a shared responsibility that raises awareness of the negative environmental impacts of cement production. The fieldwork component of the project was comprised of two parts: First, an ethnographic study of how the abstract goal of becoming sustainable is given meaning as it is implemented in Cemex, one of the largest companies in the cement industry at the global level. Second, an analysis of the audit culture mechanisms present in the production of knowledge among experts involved in designing sustainability assessment mechanisms for infrastructure projects. The latter component took place among experts in the academy and in the Texas Department of Transportation, which represents at the same time a regulating force and a key client of the cement industry. To present the findings, I approach the subject of sustainability as a construction project where cement and sustainability act as boundary objects between multiple communities at the same time that sustainability is being constructed. I attempt to present the interactions as an institutional ecology with multiple actors and layers of meaning which are interdependent. The work first describes the prevailing landscape of the urban environment pointing to the influence of aesthetic discourses through time as well as to the prevailing regulatory, geographic and cultural conditions. Here, the landscape is taken as the point of departure given that its characteristics allow certain constructions of sustainability while thwarting others. I consider the built environment to be the response to the surrounding conditions and to the prevailing preferences of key players. To follow, I describe the main actors who participate in the construction of sustainability. I take stakeholders as members of the construction crew of sustainability presenting their interests as they relate to the triple bottom line and to their affiliation to multiple publics. Next, I turn to the accreditation mechanisms and the dynamics followed by experts and their interlocutors defining the blueprints which the cement industry must follow. These blueprints portray the influence of audit culture, the widespread trust in quantification and the importance of the efficiency paradigm as described by informants. Afterwards, I focus on the construction of sustainability project that takes place within the cement company where multiple avenues are followed to complete the building of sustainability as a material object, where blueprints defined are translated into concrete demonstrations of sustainability influenced by the interpretations of actors within the material constraints set by concrete and the plasticity of sustainability. The construction of sustainability needs to include the construction of the sustainable subject where individuals incorporate into their mindset sustainability considerations. I discuss the emergence of sustainable subjects, presenting the distinct logics followed by individuals while becoming committed to sustainability. Finally, I present the conclusions of this constructive analysis. The concepts of governmentality and audit culture frame this study, offering a common thread that transforms the need of corporate legitimacy into a process of accountability and transparency. Paradoxically, sustainability as an ideal is transformed into an established system that tends to be mechanical. For this to occur, experts shape the meaning of sustainability and determine the parameters that must be met. Furthermore, both sustainability and cement are vibrant matters with an agency of their own introducing further constraints into the construction of sustainability. However, the process of becoming sustainable is far from homogenous since each individual relates to sustainability according to ethical convictions, affective needs, aesthetic preferences and gender perceptions which vary among many factors, including social class, geographic region, educational level and gender. In addition, in the case of employees, the interaction with stakeholders influences the meaning making process. Hence, the making of sustainable subjects not only involves the creation of specific regulatory practices tied to the emergence of a greater concern for social and environmental challenges but also the particular context of the individual. Even in this highly structured environment, the affect/emotion dynamic strongly shapes the interpretation and the weight that sustainability eventually gains. The material expressions of sustainability mediate the process and materialize morality at the same time given the underlying ethical position that sustainability as an idea conveys. As sustainability is becoming widely adopted and introduced into the conscience of more people, it is also being transformed into a numerical parameter that makes possible the perpetuation of market efficiency parameters. Capitalism is thus legitimated through the meta-narrative of sustainability as the triple bottom line that promises to fulfill the desire of progress for all while not really transforming the life-style and consumption patterns of today.