Category Archives: Research

American Political Science Association Annual Meeting in Philly!

I had an action-packed two day visit to Philadelphia last week to attend the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA).  I presented a paper entitled “Transparency, Transformation, and Information-Based Environmental Governance” as part of a panel on “Information, Investment, and Voluntariness in Environmental Governance.”  The other panelists, Hamish van der  Ven and Thibaud Henin, presented their work on forestry and aquaculture certification programs, which nicely complemented my work on a broader set of sustainability ratings and labels.  I introduced a new framework for classifying different types of transparency, and then applied that framework in an analysis of the 245 cases in my Environmental Evaluations of Products and Companies (EEPAC) Dataset.

Our discussant, Sijeong Lim, provided some very useful feedback for all of us, and we had a lively and engaging discussion after the presentations.  I was also able to attend several other panels organized by the Science, Technology, and Environmental Politics Division.  They covered topics including cities, climate change, and sustainability policy; knowledge and ideology in environmental politics; constituencies in environmental management; and the causes and outcomes of diverse national and sub-national climate policies.  I also had the opportunity to attend two non-STEP panels — on democratic deliberation and political values over time and across groups.  I also enjoyed some great food over at the Reading Terminal Market, and walking around downtown Philly, even if for just a few minutes — and then I was off in an Uber-Pool (my first time) to the airport…A whirlwind trip!

Chapter published in Handbook on Theories of Governance

9781782548492Earlier this summer the first edition of the Handbook on Theories of Governance was published by Edgar Elgar.  Edited by Chris Ansell and Jacob Torfing, the book provides a comprehensive and insightful overview of the wide range of theories relating to governance.  The term governance has become increasingly popular in recent decades, as it captures for many scholars and practitioners the complexity of collective action that transcends more conventional terms and concepts like politics, policymaking, and government.  However, it is used differently in different circles, and much confusion and misunderstandings has been the result.  This book makes an important contribution to both documenting that variety of uses and providing an overarching framework for understanding them.

I contributed a chapter on “Information-Based Governance,” which serves as the first article in the section on theoretical modes of analysis.  In the chapter I provide a summary of governance strategies that use information as the primary driver of collective action, reviewing the relevant literature on the topic and then discussing in more detail empirical work on the effectiveness of these strategies.  I am honored to have had the opportunity to contribute to a volume with such a distinguished group of scholars, and I very much hope readers of the handbook find the chapter to be a useful addition to our understanding of the phenomenon of governance.

Academy of Management in Anaheim

AOMLogo-ReverseWithKnockOutType-8(1)While I’m it sure wasn’t as fun-filled as the Disneyland attractions across the street from my hotel, I nevertheless very much enjoyed attending the Academy of Management Annual Meeting in Anaheim earlier this month.   I went to some great panels on corporate sustainability, and was surprised by the range of topics and fields covered in the papers presented.  Sessions I attended included “The Institutional Turn in CSR,” “The Value of Values for Organization Theory,” “The Use of Technology and Mobile Apps to Teach Corporate Sustainability,” “Time and Sustainability,” “Stakeholders through the Value Chain,” and “Entrepreneurship and Sustainability,” among others.  Definitely learned a lot, and met a great number of cool people doing some fascinating work.

I presented a paper I’ve been working on with one of my students, Philip Yu ’16, on the mental budgeting and organic food preferences.  We showed using a survey experiment that people who are told that they can credit the extra costs of organic food to either their philanthropy or personal health budgets are more likely to indicate an intention to buy organic food.  I got some great feedback on the paper from other participants in the session, and we are looking forward to revising and submitting it soon.

MPSA 2016

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.

International Environmental Communication Association

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:


Paper published in Business and Politics

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:

Paper published in Political Research Quarterly

My paper, “Independent Labels? The Power behind Environmental Information about Products and Companies,” has been published by Political Research Quarterly as an OnlineFirst article. The paper develops a method to estimate the power of different actors over an organization, and then uses this method to analyze the power of the public, private, and civil sectors within an original dataset of 245 cases of product and corporate environmental evaluations, such as ENERGY STAR, LEED Certification, and Newsweek’s Greenest Company Rankings. You can access it at the following link: The print version will be included in the March 2015 edition of PRQ.


AESS 2014: Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences in NYC

12138_AESS-2014-Conference-HeaderI attended the fifth annual meeting of the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) last month.  I had attended the inaugural meeting in Wisconsin in 2009 and the third meeting in Santa Clara in 2011, and had very much enjoyed these interdisciplinary gatherings of scholars who study the environment and society.  This meeting was hosted by Pace University in New York City, which was a nice change of pace from the less urban venues of past meetings.

I spoke on a panel focused on environmental policy, and presented some of my research on “The Meaning of  Embedded Values in Environmental Certifications and Ratings.”  It was a great opportunity to talk about my plans for the second chapter of my book manuscript, which analyzes the development of information-based environmental governance strategies.  In this particular chapter, my goal is to explore the role of values in determining the extent to which consumers and organizations pay attention and respond to sustainability ratings and labels.  I mapped out some of the ideas I want to cover in the chapter in the presentation, and received some helpful questions and feedback that I am looking forward to incorporating into my next draft.

I also attended several other interesting panels at AESS, including ones on the Montreal Protocol, sustainable business, synthetic chemicals and society,  and US climate policy.  One of the highlights of the meeting was the field trip I went on to the new Sims Recycling Plant in Brooklyn.  It was an odoriferous but fascinating tour of where now much of New York City’s recyclable materials goes for processing.  Supposedly it is the largest recycling facility of its kind in the US.  They have an educational exhibit and classroom for local schoolkids and citizens (and environmental studies conference participants) to learn more about the recycling process.  See the photos below for a glimpse into that process — and a great view of NYC from the facility!

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ISEAL’s Global Sustainability Standards Conference

20140521_141048In May, I attended ISEAL’s Global Sustainability Standards Conference in London, England.  ISEAL is an alliance of standards organizations, such as FairTrade International, the Rainforest Alliance, and the Forest Stewardship Council, that is working to “to strengthen sustainability standards systems for the benefit of people and the environment.”  Amy Jackson, ISEAL’s Senior Credibility Manager, had invited me last year to speak on a panel at the conference, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more about the organization, meet both practitioners and scholars working on sustainability standards, and share some insights from my research.

The title of the panel was “The Claims Jungle,” and focused on “how to improve consistency and trust in claims and labeling and avoid label confusion and misleading claims.”  I was fortunate to have three distinguished individuals with me on the panel with rich and diverse sets of experiences relating to sustainability standards —

  • Amanda Long, Executive Director, Consumers International
  • Adam Lavis, Senior Policy Adviser – Sustainable Business, UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Blake Lee-Harwood, Communications & Strategy Director, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership

My talk started off the session, and provided an overarching framework for thinking about the current “claims jungle.”  It also laid a foundation for the insights from the other panelists and their various backgrounds.  Our combination of academic, consumer, government, business, and NGO perspectives made for a great blend of perspectives on the cacophony of labels that have emerged in recent years.

The rest of the conference was engaging as well — representatives from businesses such as IKEA, McDonalds, Chipotle, Mars, and HSBC, advocacy organizations such as Greenpeace and WWF, and a host of  certification organizations spoke at a wide range of plenary and breakout sessions.  While I didn’t see any “magic bullets” to the challenges that sustainability standards face, it was clear that there are many innovative efforts to to make these standard systems work as best they can.  I had the opportunity to meet and talk with a good number of the conference attendees who are working on these initiatives, and look forward to following up with them and learning more about their work in the future.

The conference was held at The Crystal on Royal Victoria Dock in East London, which is a very new and “green” conference facility (with Outstanding BREEAM and Platinum LEED accreditation) built  by Siemens that explores the future of cities (see photo above).  It features “the world’s largest exhibition focused on urban sustainability,” which was indeed very impressive and well-designed.  You can learn more about the facility and the exhibition by clicking here.

Duke Nicholas School of the Environment Seminar Series

duke nichLast week I gave a talk as part of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment Spring Seminar Series, which is organized by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the University Program in Environmental Policy.  The goal of the series is  to feature “leading experts discussing a variety of pressing environmentally focused topics,” and last fall Professor Erica Weinthal of the Nicholas School had asked if I had wanted to present some of my work on environmental certifications and ratings as part of the series.  I thought it would be a good opportunity to share some of the work I have been doing during my sabbatical, and so agreed to give a talk on “The Purveyors of Green: The Organizational Legitimacy of Eco-Labels and Sustainability Ratings.”

It actually turned out to be perfect timing to do this presentation, because I had just received an invitation to revise and re-submit an article on precisely this topic.  I am also in the process of working on Chapter 2 of my book manuscript, which is also focused on the organizational legitimacy and credibility of information-based governance strategies.  I was particularly interested in getting feedback on a new conceptual framework I have been working on that uses principal-agent and delegation theory to connect the concepts of legitimacy, credibility, and accountability.

A good mix of students and faculty attended the talk, including some from outside the Nicholas School, which was nice to see.  I got about halfway through the talk before questions from the audience started coming in, which was great as it allowed for more interaction and back-and-forth about my research.  Audience members were interested in discussing not only my theoretical model, but also learning more about my research methods and empirical results, and it was nice to have the opportunity to talk about them in more depth.  Definitely a helpful discussion, and I plan to incorporate many of the comments into my next drafts.