Day: January 31, 2007

Do Voluntary Environmental Programs Work?

Through the most excellent Environmental Valuation & Cost-Benefit News blog comes notice of a book that answers a question that’s been on my mind off and on.

Environmental Valuation & Cost-Benefit News – Post details: Reality Check: The Nature and Performance of Voluntary Environmental Programs in the United States, Europe, and Japan

Despite a growing theoretical literature trying to explain how and why voluntary programs might be effective, there is limited empirical evidence on their success or the situations most conducive to the approaches. Even less is known about their cost-effectiveness.

The book’s called Reality Check (and long byline) and at $40 is too expensive for a look see! But here’s a teaser:

The central goals of Reality Check are understanding outcomes and the relationship between outcomes and design. Most of the programs it studies have positive results, but they are small compared with business-as-usual trends and the impact of other forces–such as higher energy prices. Importantly, potential gains may be quickly exhausted as the “low-hanging fruit” is picked up by voluntary programs. By including in-depth analyses by experts from the U.S., Europe, and Japan, the book advances scholarship and provides practical information for the future design of voluntary programs to stakeholders and policymakers on all sides of the Atlantic and Pacific.

So, the answer is no, I guess. Voluntary programs catch the bulk of changes that can be carried out easily anyway and may have been part of the company plans. They also make for good Company PR. The greater the threat of regulation and good enforcement, I guess, the more power you have to set up a good voluntary program. But if it is all carrot and no stick, who knows…

For an example of what a voluntary program looks like, here’s Climate Wise from the EPA.