Earlier this year, an article I co-wrote with Nick Wilder ’13 was published in the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education. The paper, “The comprehensiveness of competing higher education sustainability assessments, compares the criteria of nine publicly-available framework that have used to assess the sustainability of colleges and universities to a framework based on the Global Reporting Initiative. We find that these frameworks, which include those used by the Sierra Club and the Princeton Review, are not comprehensive and particularly lack coverage of the social and economic dimensions of sustainability. However, two initiatives, the Pacific Sustainability Index and Sustainability Tracking and Assessment Rating System (STARS), stand out as the most comprehensive assessments in the sector, compared to other assessment frameworks. You can download and learn more about the article at the following link: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/IJSHE-05-2014-0078.
In April, I made a quick trip up to Chicago to present my paper on “The Eye of the Beholder: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Information-Based Environmental Governance Strategies.” This was a draft of Chapter 4 of my book, and it was a great opportunity to get feedback on how I framed and presented my data in the chapter. I also served as the chair and discussant on another environmental policy panel, and I enjoyed reading the panelists’ papers and providing feedback to the authors’ on them. I happened to be there on my birthday (in the snow!), and so I made a quick trip between panels over to the Art Institute of Chicago as a birthday present to myself. A nice break and chance to see some pieces by some of my favorite artists, including Constable, Turner, Cole, Homer, and Sargent.
I recently decided to split my environmental politics course into two rotating courses — one on US Environmental Politics and Policy, which I taught this past spring, and one on Global Environmental Politics, which I will teach next spring. In thinking about how I would teach the latter course, I encountered an interesting tradeoff between emphasizing environmental issues in international relations and comparing environmental governance across countries. I was curious about how other professors have dealt with this tradeoff, and exploring it further with them in person. I therefore wrote and presented a paper on the topic, “Engaging the International Relations and Comparative Politics Nexus:A Content Analysis of Global Environmental Politics Syllabi and Texts,” at the International Studies Association annual conference in Atlanta this past spring. I found that the 43 global or international environmental politics syllabi I analyzed did not cover a common set of issues, concepts, or theories. They also generally did not take a comparative national perspective, and were more likely to focus on international issues and institutions. While this lack of a holistic, multi-level approach to the teaching of environmental politics is concerning, it also represents an opportunity to more effectively bring together the insights of comparative politics and international relations scholars on environmental challenges.
Ever since my first year at Davidson, I’ve been teaching a course called Environmental Social Sciences, which is a required foundation course for our environmental studies major and minor. Given its breadth and complexity, it has gone through several iterations — the first time I taught it (with Matt Samson) we organized it around different issues and problems, while the second time I took a more thematic approach, organizing the syllabus around major themes such as power, markets, and culture. The challenge with such a course is how to effectively bridge the many social science disciplines that deal with environmental challenges — without getting spread too thin. I thought it might be useful to systematically look at how other teacher/scholars have come at this problem, and I presented the results of my exploration at the 2015 annual conference of the Association of Environmental Studies and Science (AESS). It was held on the UC San Diego campus, and I continue to find it a great opportunity to meet and share ideas with colleagues from a diversity of disciplines and interests. If you are interested, you can view my presentation below.
In June 2015, I had the opportunity to attend the International Environmental Communication Association’s Communication and the Environment conference. The conference was held on the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus, which was beautiful at this time of year. I really enjoyed the panel and plenary sessions I attended — some great work by communication scholars on a fantastic range of issues. I presented work on values activation that I am collaborating with Chris Johnson, one of my students at Davidson, and Brian Southwell, a colleague from RTI, UNC, and Duke University. The audience was really engaged and provided some helpful feedback on our research. The paper is now under review and we hope to publish it soon! In the meantime, you can read the abstract here: https://theieca.org/conference/coce-2015-boulder/presentations/bridging-values-divide-communicating-and-activating.
How do businesses signal their credibility to their potential customers and other stakeholders? This is a particularly important question in the context of environmental product claims, given the high levels of distrust that exist among consumers. My article published in Business and Politics addresses this question, and develops a novel theoretical framework that builds on the literature on signaling theory, legitimacy theory, and agency theory. It then applies this framework to an analysis of my dataset of 245 cases of eco-labels and sustainability ratings, and reveals the importance and complexity of independence, transparency, and expertise as signals of credibility. You can access the article at the following link: http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/bap.2015.17.issue-2/bap-2014-0028/bap-2014-0028.xml?format=INT.