Ecological Modernization in
Thailand's Electronics Industry


This research 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 and other sources of longer-term change.


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, and occupational health and safety, management systems.  Efforts continue, encouraged from within and without.

The Study

Efforts are being undertaken to understand the evolving structure and environment- related dynamics of electronics manufacturing in Thailand, and of leading firms within it.  Questions 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 and other sources of change? What challenges remain?  Commencing in 1998, field research has been conducted in Bangkok, northern Thailand, and Thailand's eastern seaboard.


David Sonnenfeld is Professor and Chair of the Dept. of Environmental Studies at SUNY-ESF; and Research Associate, Environmental Policy Group, Wageningen University, the Netherlands.  He is a member of the International Sociological Association's Research Committee on Environment and Society (RC-24), and a member and officer of the American Sociological Association’s Section on Environment and Technology.  He has been Visiting Research Fellow at Chulalongkorn University, Chiang Mai University, and Khon Kaen University, in Thailand; the University of California at Berkeley, and elsewhere.  See his curriculum vitae for a complete listing of awards and honors.


Dept. of Environmental Studies
107 Marshall Hall
1 Forestry Drive
Syracuse, NY 13210-2787
Tel: +1.315.470.4931
Fax: +1.315.470.6915
E-mail: dsonn (at)

Current Research

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last updated October 12, 2007