Category Archives: Research
Earlier this year, I participated in a panel discussion on A Healthier Charlotte, focusing on “Environmental Health in the Queen City,” with Dr. Jessica Braswell from Queens University. Moderating the panel was a Davidson graduate, Bobby DeMuro, who has organized a great range of discussions on this web TV show, which is hosted on CLTBlog.com. You can watch the episode here, which begins with a panel with two veterans of the Charlotte environmental scene, and then starts with our panel at 18:54 in the video.
In a separate interview later in the year, I also did a one-on-one interview with Mr. DeMuro, which had the more specific topic of “Climate Change in Charlotte.” We covered some of the same topics, but also touched on some other ones as well in our 10 minute discussion. You can access the interview at http://bobbydemuro.com/work/wbt/ — just click on my name under the March 18 show date, which will open to where you can download the mp3 of the interview.
It has been fun getting plugged in more to the Charlotte scene, and learning more about the health and environment issues the city is facing. Charlotte has been growing rapidly in recent years, which has brought a lot of great benefits to the city, but that growth has also created some complex challenges, such as how to deal with increasing smog levels, decreasing air quality, and greater traffic congestion. The city’s leaders are working hard to find smart and sustainable ways to tackle these challenges, and I hope that we see the benefits of these efforts in the months and years to come.
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.
This spring I worked with several students and staff in creating a “Responsible Consumption Working Group” on campus. The idea of it was born out of a talk I gave last fall for an event students organized on “responsible consumption,” and there was enough interest in the concept that we decided to create this group to actually work on testing out and implementing the idea in our lives.
Our organizing question has been whether or not we can come up with innovative new strategies to make buying more environmentally and socially responsible products easier and more fun. Some of the ideas we have been testing out have included picking out our own issues we want to research but then meeting monthly to compare notes, sharing our results with each other online, and deciding to research and make a decision on what to do about product category within a specified amount of time. So far we’ve made some great progress, and our group was recently featured in the Davidson Journal, Davidson College’s alumni magazine (http://davidsonjournal.davidson.edu/?p=2385). We plan to continue our work this fall — stay tuned and get in touch if you are interested in joining us!
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…
Yesterday I sent out the final version of the ESPM Graduate Student Survey Report to our student listserve, which I had been working on off and on over the last week with several of my classmates. Last spring, I coordinated the design and release of this survey of all ESPM graduate students as an effort to identify the key priorities and issues of students within the department. The survey includes both quantitative and qualitative questions assessing the quality and importance of 12 key areas relating to graduate student life, from advisor relationships to the financial support. It includes sections summarizing the data and comments for each of the department’s three divisions, and an Executive Summary that I authored explaining the survey’s purpose, methods, and results. We haven’t yet decided whether we will release the report publicly, but if we do, I’ll try to post a link to it here.
I just completed reviewing all of my coding data, which includes nearly 10,000 codes on over 2500 documents! My research assistant and I were very careful in our original coding of these texts and conducted intensive inter-rater reliability assessments throughout the coding process, but I wanted to double-check them nevertheless. We had both coded the texts of approximately 10% of the 245 cases, and reviewed, compared, and corrected our results for those cases as we completed them. I went back over those codes, and identified the codes for which the discordance was greatest. I then reviewed all of the texts identified with those codes across all 245 cases to ensure they were coded consistently.
I also did this using a large number of random spot-checks for all of the other codes we used, and compared them to similar codes for potential mistakes and overlap. I also reviewed all of the comments and memos within our coding software MaxQDA that we had generated about these codes during the coding process, and used them to further standardize the identified codes. This rigorous review process, which took the better part of a month, gives me increased confidence in the reliability and validity of my data, and all of my related analyses that will make use of them.
Thanks for visiting my site…I plan to post updates on my research, teaching and other activities in the future weeks and months. I also will try to post some short commentaries about particular issues that come up in my work on eco-labels and green ratings.
My idea is to try to post something at least once or twice a month (or more depending on what comes up), so feel free to come back and check in on a regular basis. If you login, you’re welcome to leave comments on any of my posts — it would be great to hear from you!