EM2 Project

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The (EM)2 project (Ecological Modernization of Electronics Manufacturing in Thailand)


This project examines business, regulatory, and social dynamics in the adoption of environmental technologies and processes in Thailand's electronics industry. The research seeks to document manufacturers’ environmental accomplishments, and to identify the influence of various social factors in encouraging such developments. The study is longitudinal in design, to take into account economic, business, and political cyclicality.


Electronics manufacturing has been a leading sector of industrial growth and economic dynamism around the world for decades. Initially established in the USA and Europe in the 1950s and '60s, electronics firms began moving manufacturing operations to Southeast Asia in a big way in the 1970s and '80s. The sector has been a major focus of investment and expansion in the region since, making significant contributions to host nations' economic and human resource development. Global economic cycles, industry cyclicality, and competitive undercutting by lower wage countries raise questions about the sector’s long-term viability in particular countries and regions; however, there is no sign the industry as whole will diminish in importance.

Initially considered an exemplary, "clean" industry, electronics manufacturing has been the focus of growing concern in recent years regarding occupational and community health and the environment. Subsequently, international design centers have undertaken to reengineer and otherwise modify manufacturing processes to make them healthier for workers and nearby residents, less toxic for the environment, and more cost-efficient for business. As electronics manufacturing in Southeast Asia has become more sophisticated, leading firms have undertaken efforts to improve environmental performance. An increasing number of firms have sought and obtained ISO 14001 and other certification for environmental management. Efforts continue, encouraged from within and without.


This research seeks to examine accomplishments in Thailand's electronics manufacturing sector (integrated circuits, disk drive sub-assembly, printed circuit boards, etc.) in addressing occupational and community environmental and health concerns, and to identify the influence of various social factors in encouraging such developments. Questions being asked include: What environment-related changes in technologies and practices have been adopted by electronics manufacturing firms in Thailand? What roles do transnational and domestic corporations, government regulation, community and employee advocacy play in such developments? What efforts continue? What challenges remain?


Efforts are being undertaken to understand the constantly evolving structure and environment- related dynamics of Thailand's electronics manufacturing sector as a whole, and of leading firms within it. Questions being asked include: What changes in technologies and practices have been adopted by electronics manufacturing firms in Thailand? What roles have firm management, customer requirements, government policies and regulation, community and employee advocacy played in such developments? How do such practices vary over time, as influenced by economic, business and political cyclicality? What challenges remain?

Commencing in 1998, field research has been conducted periodically in Bangkok, the eastern seaboard, and northern Thailand.

Principal investigator

David A. Sonnenfeld, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Sociology, Washington State University. He is a member and past officer of the American Sociological Association’s Section on Environment and Technology, and has conducted research in Southeast Asia since 1993. He has been Visiting Research Fellow at the Chulalongkorn University Social Research Center (CUSRI) from 1996 to present, and was S.V. Ciriacy-Wantrup Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley from 1998-2000. Other research has focused on adoption of environmental technologies in the pulp and paper industries of Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Partners in the larger, collaborative study include scholars at Chulalongkorn and Chiang Mai Universities in Thailand; the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS) at the National University of Malaysia (UKM); the Center for Environmental Technology and Management (CENTEMA) at Van Lang University, Viet Nam; and the Environmental Policy Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands.


David A. Sonnenfeld, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Sociology
Washington State University
2710 University Drive
Richland, WA 99352-1671
Tel: +1 509 372 7375
Fax: +1 509 372 7100
Homepage: http://www.tricity.wsu.edu/sonn

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