Social and Economic Factors in the Adoption by Industry of Water Pollution Control Measures in Minnesota

Thumbnail Image

Persistent link to this item

View Statistics

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Social and Economic Factors in the Adoption by Industry of Water Pollution Control Measures in Minnesota

Published Date



Water Resources Research Center, University of Minnesota


Newsletter or Bulletin


Change in industrial organizations is one of the elemental facets of change in modern industrial societies because of their power and the immense volume of waste, solid and liquid that comes from industrial production. Change is a complex phenomena at all levels of analysis; industrial changes in water use are preceded by general societal changes as to priorities and values regarding economic production as opposed to living quality or a clean physical environment. Numerous agencies and organizations, private and public, now exist for the sole purpose of changing and regulating private and public water use. The conservation ethic has been part of society for some time but it gained power only in the last decade to the point where fundamental issues related to the organization of industrial production have come the fore. Any study of industrial change, therefore, has to consider the relationship that industrial organizations have to such groups. Under the model of development emphasizing economic growth per se, there was little if any pressure upon industries to consider the affect of their production on external factors like water quality. There is pressure and the pressure can be expected to continue. Water has always been one of man’s most vital resources and its importance has increased as industrial and agricultural development began to accelerate. Water is, at the same time, basic to human health and consumption, a basic ingredient of agriculture, of public recreation, and of course, a principal input to industrial production of all kinds. Industry uses more water as direct and indirect input to production than any other single source. As a result of its many uses and the mutual dependence of various groups upon water but with decidedly different goals and responsibilities, water use has become a focal point of controversy and change. Fundamental change is in the offering in terms of past and current debates about the relative responsibility of industry to clean public water after they use it in vast quantities and usually at rather low economic cost. Certainly, there are now differences among groups calling for changes in industrial water use and within industry itself as to what kinds of changes are to be made. There is, however, one constant factor. Industry and other groups, private and public, can no longer use water as they have in the past. This study is an attempt to further understand the process by which industrial organizations change the way they dispose of waste. Substantively, the relationship of organizational characteristics to rates of change in waste procedure is of interest. A general model of change is envisioned. The two major forces creating change in industrial organizations are the internal pressures within the organization that result from such factors as the complexity of its division of labor and production technology, and the kinds of pressure the organization faces as the result of powerful and aggressive regulatory agencies and other groups. Finally, the nature of dependence the firm has upon water affects change. To test hypotheses and find answers to questions, a comparative study of firms in different industrial categories w as made. Each category was selected because of its dependence upon water as a production input and by the importance of its operation for water pollution. Industries were studied at two points in time. In the first phase, the primary interest was in measuring the internal characteristics of the organization – how complex their structure was, the nature of their production technology, and the rates of change they had experiences in water use and production over the last ten years. The principal investigator then waited a year in order to measure the degree of change that the company experience in water use and waste procedures for that year. The nature of the relationship of the organization to outside pressures such as regulation was also measured in the second phase. The study, therefore, estimated changes in the company by production managers over a ten year period prior to contact and the changes they report for a single year. One-hundred and twenty-eight organizations were studied in the first phase. They were selected systematically but not randomly. It was, in other words, a purposive rather than a probability sample. One hundred and two organizations were chosen from the original 128 to be included n the second phase of the analysis. Industrial firms selected had high volumes of waste water, high bio-chemical oxygen demand because of their wastes, and produced substantial amounts of settleable and suspended solids. Twenty-eight of the firms studied could be categorized as producing food and kindred products. Eight industries produced paper and allied products. Twenty-nine of the companies could be classified as producers of chemicals or allied products. There were seven petroleum companies and thirty others that could be included among manufacturing categories of machinery and transportation equipment. In the first year of the project, the principal investigator visited several firms of various sizes and problems with water use in order to pre-test the data collection procedures. As a result of this experience a standardized interview schedule and questionnaire was developed and administered to executives in each of the firms studied. These interviews along with company and public records were the study’s primary source of data. The interview schedules were highly standardized using many items modified from other studies of industrial organizations. After searching the literature dealing with industrial organizations in numerous academic fields, visiting firms and speaking with their managers, and with professionals acquainted with industrial organizations, the following categories were used as the basis for measure of change: product design and manufacture; training and qualifications of employees; allocation of capital resources; use of scientific and engineering consultants; waste processing and equipment; and marketing. The model of organizational change developed includes as its primary ingredients the structural attributes of organizations, pressures from the social environment, and use of physical resources. Since natural resources are obviously important to industrial production, changes in the quality and supply of those resources ultimately generate change in the organization that uses them. Conclusions reached as the result of model studies are as follows: Industrial change is a multi-dimensional variable. Changes in waste disposal procedures or pollution abatement methods are related to changes in other dimensions of the organization’s structure. Employee training and development is an important part of pollution abatement as new practices introduced into production or the adoption of new equipment require employees to change work practices or learn how to operate and repair new machines. In many cases, new chemical tests are needed for the detection of harmful chemicals, minerals, or bacteria. The work of biologists, chemists, bacteriologists, chemical engineers, hydraulic engineers, civil engineers, and other professional are basic to adequate industry waste disposal techniques. Professional consultation and scientific knowledge has been a key point in deciding pollution issues and will continue to be so. Product quality control is related to waste disposal programs, as in actual manufacture of the product, product design, and allocation of capital resources. In short, industrial organizations are systems and like all systems the part interdependent to the degree that changes in one dimension produces changes throughout the system. Companies are more receptive to change as they increase in size and structural complexity. The latter refers primarily to the rates of consultation with professionals, how specialized the company is, and the complexity of work procedures. Industry-agency relationship also make a difference. The degree of regulation, pressure and frequency of contact are all associated with rates of general change and change in waste control procedures. The activity of executives in their local communities is also related to change as is the way in which the industry uses water and disposes of waste. Frequency of contact between industries and public agencies emerges as one of the most important variable sin understanding changes in industrial pollution control practices. Although industries may have the resources to reduce their pollution, they are not likely to do so unless there is consistent contact and pressure from public agencies. Industry-agency conflict over environmental regulation is now everyday news. There is no question that State and federal bureaus have grown in power with respect to their ability to establish policy while local governments enforce such policy. Companies need certainty in order to plan for the future and deal with present circumstances. As a result, efforts to control events that would effect their production and profits are to be expected. When policy is formulated at the state or Federal level, there is greater probability that such policy will last than if it were locally legislated. Additionally, competitors in other states or regions will be subject to the same regulations. This was the logical framework upon which executives from large companies based their judgments. Some small companies also felt more secure with state and Federal regulation than local as they expressed concern over the ability of large companies to influence local decision-making. Company participation in local affairs has become even more important since the rise of the environmental movement and public concern about water and air quality. Challenges to local firms that pollute water as a result of their operation has become increasingly commonplace. Furthermore, changes that are suggested by public and private groups effect methods of operation and production. Although local private groups have formed in many instances to challenge firms, the most common strategy of these groups has been to pressure local government, state and Federal bureaus to legislate industry behavior or enforce existent legislation. As a result, government at all levels has become an active participant in environmental management, state and Federal more so than local. Although company executives are active participants in local affairs, they are somewhat dubious about the depth of local support for their company’s position on pollution control. Furthermore, they communicate as much or more with state and Federal officials, other companies, business and trade associations than they do with city and county officials. Finally, local government is given a very minor role in the establishment of policy. Local government is, however, strongly supported by the same executives as enforcers of policy. If past research showing that industries and business generally dominates local decision-making is correct, it is clearly in the interest of local business to have city and county officials be responsible for enforcement as business should be able to influence the judgment of these officials more so than representatives of state and Federal bureaus. Companies want regulatory policy to be consistent over time. Since policy developed at the local level can be overturned by state and Federal agencies, company preference for state, and especially, Federal control in policy-formation is logically understandable. Water use and waste disposal are basic linkages between industries and local communities. Companies get most of their water from community wells and dispose of most of their liquid wastes in city and county sewers. For this reason, it would be expected that companies will work so that their viewpoints will be represented in policy-formation about water systems, sewer systems, tax rates and long-range planning about community water resources.



Related to



Series/Report Number

Funding information

Water Resources Research Center

Isbn identifier

Doi identifier

Previously Published Citation

Rickson, R.E. 1974. Social and Economic Factors in the Adoption by Industry of Water Pollution Control Measures in Minnesota. Water Resources Research Center.

Suggested citation

Rickson, R.E.. (1974). Social and Economic Factors in the Adoption by Industry of Water Pollution Control Measures in Minnesota. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

Content distributed via the University Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor. By using these files, users agree to the Terms of Use. Materials in the UDC may contain content that is disturbing and/or harmful. For more information, please see our statement on harmful content in digital repositories.