In Late August, I attended the American Political Science Association (APSA) Annual Meeting in Chicago. I presented a poster on ““Who Persuades the Persuaders? Power and Accountability in Information-Based Governance Strategies,” which analyzed data from my eco-labels and ratings database on the types of organizations that are behind these initiatives. The emphasis of the poster closely related to the theme of the conference, “power and persuasion,” and highlighted the opacity of power and lack of transparency in the field of information-based governance.
I had the opportunity to attend a variety of panels and poster sessions at the conference, an increasing number of which are related to environmental politics. I was also able to connect with a significant number of other researchers who are working on projects related to my own work, and I look forward to following up and possibly collaborating with them in the future.
In November, I attended and presented a paper at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) in Cleveland, OH. The paper was titled “Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Expertise and Democracy in Eco-Label Accountability,” and looked at the role of several new initiative that have emerged to evaluate the effectiveness of eco-labels and sustainability ratings. Rating the raters, or “guarding the guardians,” hence the reference to the famous phrase in Latin. These different initiatives all attempt to employ different processes of science and technologies of participation to establish their legitimacy as such guardians, and I analyzed the approaches of two particular cases, the FTC and EnviroMedia.
The obvious question that arises is, who watches the watchers of the watchers? There are two possible ways to end the infinite loop — one is competition and peer review (they watch each other) and the other is public transparency and accountability (we, the public, watch them). Whether or these mechanisms are effective is a question for another day…
This summer I took a short trip to Japan to conduct research on the status of Japanese environmental certifications and sustainability ratings. In my future research, I am planning to compare the evolution of these strategies in different countries, and from my past research, I knew that Japan has developed some innovative but not widely known programs (such as EcoMark). I was able to connect with some contacts I had made on a trip five years ago to the country, and made some new connections as well. Government, non-profit, and corporate entities are all working on some interesting projects relating to labeling, and I am looking forward to applying some of the frameworks and analytical tools I developed in my past research to these programs in Japan.
In June, I attended a small conference on eco-labels at the University of Michigan, which was hosted for the second year by the Ross School of Business Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise (and jointly sponsored by the Sustainability Consortium). I had attended the first conference in 2010, and it was great to see many of the same people, and compare notes on the state of eco-labels around the world. This year’s theme was “Informing Green Markets: What Makes a Difference and Why,” and there was a fantastic range of presentations on supplier choices about certification, corporate level reputation ratings, social norms and labeling, consumer awareness, and designing better systems.
My own presentation was on “Green” Demand: Consumer Preferences for Different Types of Product Ecolabels and Corporate Sustainability Ratings,” and discussed the results of my online survey of over 500 consumers. Overall, both academic researchers and practitioners from the private, government, and non-profit sectors attended the conference, which made for some engaging discussions among people who have thought a lot about the questions and issues that I have been grappling with and analyzing in my own research over the last several years. I look forward to staying in touch with the other attendees, and keeping up on their work in the field.