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 June, I attended the Annual Meeting of the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) at Santa Clara University, which is right outside San Jose, CA. I presented a paper on “Environmental Evaluations of Companies and Products: The Role of Academia,” which built on data from an online survey of over 400 individuals I conducted as part of my dissertation research. Among those surveyed, academic institutions were the most preferred source of information about the product and corporate environmental performance — more preferred than government, non-profit, media, and company sources. And yet my coding of over 245 eco-label and rating initiatives indicate academic institutions are the least likely to be directly involved in the implementation and design of these programs. I analyzed several examples of initiatives that are run by or closely associated with academic institutions, as a means to demonstrate the range of ways academics can be involved in these efforts.
We then discussed why academic researchers have had such limited involvement, whether they should be more involved (without losing their credibility and independence), and ways that might facilitate academics to becoming more engaged with these programs in the future. While there are important pitfalls to avoid in doings, the strong preferences survey participants have for academic involvement suggest that they can very much improve the perceived quality and credibility of existing eco-labels and ratings.
The conference overall was fantastic, and I learned a lot from the diverse sessions that I attended. Strongly recommended conference for people who research environmental issues, and especially those who teach in interdisciplinary environmental studies and sciences programs.
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…