Article i 'Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv' no. 3 2001, page 43-63.
English resume

Sustainability at work

A new social and professional dimension of work life?

Hanne Meyer-Johansen og Inger Stauning

In the article we discuss the environmental issues at work and their meaning for work life and for the subjective perception of work content. The societal reactions to environmental risks and ecological effects of production have led to an ecological modernisation process (Hajer) in state regulation and market relations, and many firms have made changes in the organization and technology of products and processes. What are the effects of these initiatives on work content, and how do the workers react to the ecological perspectives of their work? And what are the dilemmas and ambivalences in the confrontations between the environmental strategies of the firm and the subjective concepts of sustainability in a much broader sense, but presumably also in fragmented and repressed versions at work?

These issues are discussed, firstly, in a theoretical framework connecting approaches of on the one hand ecology in a work life perspective (Ulrich Beck) and on the other hand concepts of work and the meaning of ecological aspects (The developmental Work, Gorz and Negt). A combination of the concepts of ecological reflectivity and subpolitics (Beck) together with ecological competencies (Negt) are found fruitful to combine. Secondly, findings from empirical studies of three workplaces involved in ecological modernisation processes are presented.

It was found that workers most often were not involved in decisions and discussions on environmental changes, but nevertheless accepted and contributed to the changes, and often put enthusiasm and new ideas into environmen- tal improvements. Often the changes put new workloads of control, registration, new skills and responsibility, and even new health problems on the workers, but at the same time they expressed understanding of the control procedures and pride of the new skills, and they made new relations to consumers and colleagues in the subpolitical discourses of ecological aspects. The conception of environmental risks and sustainability were most often fragmented, limited and specific, closely connected with the specific conditions related to the firm, the profession, the concrete work. But knowledge of and interest in ecological aspects and risks were nearby and easy to evoke and in free discussions to integrate in the perception of the profession – a tacit knowledge and openness to new knowledge related to professional skills.

Thus the ecological dimensions of the profession and the concrete work content reveal dilemmas and ambivalences, but also new perspectives for the perception of work and for the identity af workers as ecologically reflective and competent practitioners in the development towards a sustainable society.

Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv

(Journal for Working Life)




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in Danish frontpage Nyt om arbejdsliv
editor Jørgen Burchardt