This paper investigates the influence of the institutional and network context on the adoption of environmental management capabilities. The aim is to gain insight into the managerial drivers for environmental pro-activeness and learn lessons for environmental policy renewal. A longitudinal empirical study in the Dutch food and drink industry was performed focusing on the years 2002 and 2005. The effectiveness of ecological modernization, as a foundation for environmental policy, is questioned. Ecological Modernization Theory (EMT) proclaims that voluntary, market- and innovation-driven ambitions improve environmental sustainability. Surprisingly, public-private cooperation and business network influences appear to have limited success in pro-actively stimulating ecologically sustainable, long-term environmental initiatives. Especially in medium-sized companies the quality of the natural environment is not a strategic issue in most cases. This is in striking contrast to the expectations of EMT proponents. We propose a differentiation of environmental policy by aligning policy instruments to observed behavioural patterns of companies.