Improving management performance levels in any culture involves finding the answer to the question: what conceptual systems need to be understood before judgements on success can be made as any human activity, including environmental, depends entirely on the individual’s motivation which is derived from their own personal beliefs and the world around them. It should be said that differences between cultural stereotypes of various nationalities that influence the development and growth of institutional systems go back centuries. A striking example of qualitative research into the national psyche is the work of a number of early 20th century Russian thinkers and post-revolution émigrés, i.e. N.A. Berdyaev, N.O. Lossky, I.A. Ilin, C.N. Bulgakov and G.P. Fedotov, who studied the “character of the Russian people”.
The role and importance of social and cultural frameworks for environmental management within an economic globalisation context is, however, much underestimated. It focuses on a wide dissemination of standardised environmental institutions peculiar to the most economically developed countries that dominate the world economy . As G. Tobin quite rightly says “unfortunately, those professional Western advisers responsible for managing the transition of former communist countries to a market-based capitalist system, i.e. economists, financiers, business leaders and politicians, have created false hopes and expectations. They forget that the complex system of laws, institutions and practices, which have existed for centuries in capitalist countries are the most important foundations of modern-day market systems” . The latter is particularly significant given the use of instruments in environmental management in each country not only depends on an understanding of the significance of establishing ecological constraints and regulations on the development of regional institutional systems, but also on the cultural factors that limit the choice of rational solutions, despite the rapid proliferation of means by which new information can be readily accessed (for example, the Internet). It is no coincidence that the cultural nature of developmental issues has attracted more attention, particularly in the context of the developing theory of sustainable development. The largest ever UN Summit, Rio+20 in 2012, recognised the necessity for various (mainly cultural – author) approaches within the context of integrated mainstreaming of development  for the planet. To this end, work has been put in hand to develop a series of global principles and aims for sustainable development .
We believe that environmental institutions have a value-regulatory basis driven by a system of values and beliefs that are characteristic of a specific culture. Consequently, all environmental management models are derived as a result of social and cultural development. For example, by the end of the 20th century, it was considered tasteless in a number of European countries for homes to be decorated with animal skins. The main mechanisms for institutionalising ethical environmental motivations comprise a number of ecologically moral principles which play an important role in determining the objectives and acceptable behaviour for natural resource users.
To a large extent, neo-institutional theory goes hand in hand with the study of environmental institutions. Such an approach for research into the trends and constraints present in the system of “Man, Society and Nature” deserves greater scrutiny in relation to regional socio-cultural features. This has been discussed in the works of T. Veblen, G. Commons, U. Rostou et al, and since the 1970s in the methodology for a neo-institutional approach (D. North et al). Using these methodological approaches on the inter-relationship between society and the economy provides a choice of institutional constraints which determine the methods used by functioning regional economic systems, encouraging a wider application of a neo-institutional theory in geographical research .
In Russia, the systematic use of a neo-institutional approach to a state of the environment analysis and natural resource use as a basis for identifying effective mechanisms for natural resource management was initially investigated by G.A. Fomenko . Further development of this work has been undertaken through a number of research projects by “Cadaster” Institute .
From this research, we believe that environmental institutions which come to prominence as a result of a public behavioural response (risk-reflection) to real or imagined threats to their safety depend not only on the nature of the source of the danger, but also on the geographical conditions prevailing in particular regions, mainly features of the socio-cultural environment; on the availability of information for decision-making by resource managers, together with access to a range of choices that can be considered in their deliberations for managing natural resource use . Consequently, academics from the Institute are particularly interested in the creative legacies of V.P. Semenov-Tyan-Shansky, R.M. Kabo et al. Approaches in the area of integrated natural resource use have been developed by A.A. Mintz, G.A Privalovskaya, V.A. Pulyarkin, Yu. G. Lipetz, A.A. Tishkov, as well as those from the Siberian school, V.B. Sochav (a geo-systems academic), K.P. Kosmachev and B.V. Poyarkov, institutional economists, A.A. Auzan, A.E. Shastitko et al. In studying the socio-cultural basis of contemporary environmental management in Russia, we have largely relied on the works of A.S. Akhizer, D.E. Furman, I.G. Yakovenko et al.
Applying a neo-institutional approach to research on developing regional environmental management systems has enabled us to devise a number of socio-cultural methods to be used in environmental management practices. Firstly, nature conservation institutions do not constitute a separate management system, but are part of regional institutional and organisational structures with distinct basic institutional matrices. The rate of change is ever increasing , due to an extension of the institutional track (despite the sluggish nature of the process). Secondly, modern day environmental management needs to become more flexible and sensitive in responding to regional and local circumstances. This suggests the need to maintain the optimum ratio of common environmental and socio-cultural institutions, with particular emphasis on moral constraints and priorities that are dependent on cultural traditions and social conditions. Thirdly, the adoption of global sustainable development goals (UN Rio+20 Summit) and trends in economic globalisation involve broadening the use of universal environmental institutions that are most appropriate in each country. The opportunity for and success in importing environmental institutions greatly depends on national and regional socio-cultural features. Fourth, acceleration of the transition processes of the most economically advanced countries to a new economic situation increases the demand for regionalisation of environmental management practices. A thorough understanding of regional geographical conditions provides the basis for the application of environmental institutions (both formal and informal). Fifth, socio-cultural features influence change in environmental institutions through an ecological ethic that informs moral environmental regulation and constraints and is a reflection of individuals and local communities to ecological risks, as well as by using cost valuations in the use of natural resources. Sixth, a record of regional socio-cultural features is particularly relevant in preventing and reducing the intensity of conflict in the area of natural resource use. This requires the application of a special suite of mechanisms for instrument-led regulation.
However, it should be said that there are still issues in need of further research, particularly those that relate to defining the status and role of environmental institutions in regional institutional systems, the identification and formulation of socio-cultural constraints in relation to institutional environmental change, and the study into the state and dynamics of the environmental institutional environment. This is relevant given the new and multidisciplinary approach to research into this area, together with the fact that significant changes are currently taking place in environmental management practices. G.A. Privalovskaya  quite rightly pointed out that at the current level of socio-economic development, society has to realise the need for alternatives to the paradigm of resource dependency reflecting the sustainability of the biosphere priority as a starting point in organising business activities which involve the use of environmental resources. For Russia, the issue of changing the paradigm of resource dependency under current economic circumstances has never been more relevant. So, in our view, today’s popular theory of the life cycle which was supported by an overwhelming majority of countries in the Rio+20 Declaration (paragraph 218) builds to a large extent on the concept of resource cycles advanced by I.V. Komar , while the theory of regional combinations of natural resources as put forward by A.A. Mintz can greatly enhance the System of Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting (SEEA) which is linked to the System of National Accounts (SNA).
An important step forward in the development of this research has been the addition of a neo-institutional approach for analysing the growth of environmental institutions using an evolutionary method. This has allowed us to approach research into regional environmental systems from a historical perspective as a means of identifying opportunities and constraints involved in borrowing certain institutions. There have been a number of important institutional transitions in the history of environmental management in Russia . Our country has seen many inherited environmental institutions which are surprisingly interlinked with mechanisms imported from the institutional practices of foreign countries over time .
Results obtained from research into the opportunities and means for the typification of regions in relation to socio-cultural constraints to decision-making in the environmental sector has aroused considerable interest. Elaborating further on the views of Ernando de Soto as applied to Russia , it is possible to identify some relatively prosperous centres where major financial capital is concentrated. Here, there are shoots of a post-industrial world where operating companies are fully committed to complying with formal rules and regulations. This is the area of “accelerated modernisation” where many types of “modernisation” behaviours exist and where standardised environmental institutions are implanted within existing institutional systems with minimal cost, and cooperate effectively with socio-culturally driven institutions in applying specific but mainly informal rules.
Increased quality of life expectations among a significant proportion of regional populations leads to questions being asked on the issue of ecological wellbeing that not only results in a tightening of environmental constraints, but also encourages compliance with agreed norms. This partly explains the increasing tendency for polluting industries to be withdrawn from major cities, especially Moscow and St Petersburg.
The remainder of the country is an area “in transition” where there is probably a distorted or selective application of common environmental institutions and where informal rules are important. In other words, institutional systems in these areas that apply common standards established at federal level incorporate fully workable practices that are peculiar to informal communities. In such circumstances, the scope for the use of standardised environmental institutions is severely limited. Practical import of common institutions in these regions without appropriate support measures brings with it an increase in transaction costs and can intensify disagreement between different social groups. This requires the introduction of special measures (on the one hand, those that ensure the full force of federal laws and regulations, and on the other, adaptation measures, including awareness-raising).
In discussing areas with particular socio-cultural institutional systems and specific environmental institutions, one has to consider those regions and populations impacted by traditional resource use where the application of imported institutions is impossible as this would lead to the break-up of local communities that have traditional cultures. Here, more than anywhere, it is important to secure the import of environmental institutions from the past in identifying, supporting and, where necessary, modernising traditional formal and informal environmental institutions.
“Cadaster” Institute experts have devoted particular attention to research into institutional environmental changes at local management level (in towns and villages) given the ever increasing  local level role in providing ecological wellbeing in a modern day economy. This is linked to the growing demand for the effective adaptation of social communities to accelerated processes of change in the spatial organisation of everyday activity. An effective mechanism that can be used here is the identification of socio-cultural features within every locality, or to be more precise, formalising the “Spirit of a Place” which, along with a heightened public awareness of a region’s intrinsic characteristics, involves the creation of its own idealised image.
As regards improving environmental management in urban areas, the focus is on extending the use of standardised environmental institutions. Mechanisms for involving the public in environmental work, achieving a broad consensus on issues, aims and priorities and the coordination of an ecological strategy are being proactively applied in order to encourage socio-economic growth. Particular attention is being given to the progressive image of towns, while ecological and socio-cultural features are becoming an essential element in the development of innovative policies. In most rural areas, environmental activity is linked to a more efficient and sustainable use of natural capital and in resolving issues that affect the livelihoods of a population.
Changes are currently taking place as regards the requirements for regional environmental management, with coordinated functions moving to the top of the list. The most important of these are tools for coordinating the development and implementation of local environmental strategies and action plans. This involves mutually agreeing priorities for different levels within a regional body, collaboration within an organisation, monitoring and assessing the effectiveness in the development and implementation of local environmental plans and programmes. Research into the socio-cultural practices involved in managing water use by the population within a transformed geo-ecological spatial environment  also plays a special role in this area.
Implementing a package of institutional changes as part of an instrument-based plan involves a programme-value approach. The Institute is therefore undertaking research aimed at improving the methodology for regional planning in the area of sustainable natural resource use and environmental protection. The emphasis here is on adapting different types of planning, i.e. strategic, incremental, protectionist, systematic, technocratic and various combinations  thereof, to modern day conditions. The addition of programme-value management through the use of effective ecological regional marketing facilitates an increase in the innovative appeal of the environmental sector and makes a region more interesting and valuable in the eyes of the public.
A separate area of research involves the study of specially protected natural areas which, in the language of neo-institutionalism, are seen, on the one hand, as nature conservation and biodiversity institutions that have been created to establish environmental constraints and regulations and, on the other, as organisations that have bundles of legal powers and their own self-development interests.
“Cadaster” Institute is therefore developing a neo-institutional theory that could and should form the basis of analytical research into improving the performance of environmental management. It involves taking account of socio-cultural features of regions within the process of modern day environmental management, and making the implementation of environmental management reforms more responsive to the ideas and cultural attitudes of the public.