My article with Fred Dahlmann at the University of Warwick on sustainability nexus thinking in companies was just published in Environmental Science & Policy. The article explores how some companies are beginning — slowly — to break out of conventional silo-based thinking and engage climate, food, water, energy, and other sustainability challenges using more integrated approaches based on “nexus thinking.” We analyzed the corporate sustainability reports and Carbon Disclosure Project submissions of 14 firms we identified as “comprehensive-disclosers,” and found that while they are still largely thinking about these issues in isolation from one another, there is some embryonic evidence to suggest that they are beginning to engage them more holistically and simultaneously. Check out the paper, “Nexus thinking in business: Analysing corporate responses to interconnected global sustainability challenges,” to learn more!
I’m pleased to announce that my new book from MIT Press, Green Grades: Can Information Save the Earth?, is coming out this Friday! The book directly addresses the debate between “information pessimists” and “information optimists” over the effectiveness of the hundreds of eco-labels, environmental ratings, and sustainability certifications that have inundated our lives in recent years, from organic food to LEED-rated buildings to ENERGY STAR-certified appliances. It provides a comprehensive analysis of these initiatives that is oriented not only to scholars but also practitioners and ordinary consumers and citizens. It synthesizes micro and macro perspectives based on both quantitative and qualitative research involving a large and unique dataset of 245 ratings and labels, 68 stakeholder interviews, and in-depth case studies of particular industries and initiatives.
The book also combines theoretical perspectives from a variety of academic disciplines with practical recommendations for scholars, policymakers, corporate executives, environmental advocates, and consumers and citizens. It is based on both my academic background in environmental science, policy and management as well as my practical experiences in both the for-profit (as a co-founder of the venture-funded firm GoodGuide) and non-profit sectors (with The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Resources for the Future, and Stony-Brook Milstone Watershed Association. Filled with both insightful data and engaging vignettes, the book is designed to be useful and informative to a wide range of audiences that are interested in better understanding the phenomenon of “green grades.”
For a limited time starting now, you can use the discount code MGREEN30 for 30% off the list price. Check it out if you’re interested…https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/green-grades.
In May earlier this year, I had the opportunity to attend a fantastic workshop at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on social movements and private environmental governance. The attendees came from a wide range of disciplines, including economics, sociology, political science, and law, and shared some valuable insights about how companies, non-profit organizations, government agencies, social movements, and consumers more generally have influenced the emergence of environmental governance initiatives that are not based primarily on the power of the state.
I had the chance to discuss some of the data and ideas presented in my forthcoming book, and focused particularly on possible future trajectories for these initiatives. It was great to re-connect with people such as Tom Lyon, John Maxwell, and Ben Cashore, who had attended earlier workshops at Michigan on eco-labels five or six years ago. I also enjoyed catching up with a classmate from Berkeley’s ESPM Department, Zdravka Tzankova, and meeting new friends and other colleagues as well. I hope we can stay in touch and follow-up further in the future, as we share a lot of common interests!
Scholars generally characterize activist organizations as pursuing either “reformist” or “radical” agendas and using either collaborative or confrontational strategies to engage with firms. This paradigm oversimplifies the behavior of these organizations and ignores the possibility that they may pursue hybrid approaches that combine a range of strategies.
Published earlier this year in Sustainable Management of Luxury (Springer), This chapter, “Promoting Sustainable Management: World Wildlife Fund’s Hybrid Strategy to Change the Luxury Industry,” explores how the nonprofit WWF used such an approach to engage the luxury industry in its 2007 Deeper Luxury report. The chapter analyzes the report’s descriptive and injunctive normative statements that positively engage the industry and its controversial rating system that directly confronts the top ten luxury firms. The chapter also examines the sustainability-related documents of the ten rated companies, and finds that their responses to WWF’s normative demands varied significantly, with L)’Oreal, LVMH, and PPR demonstrating the greatest responsiveness. It concludes that this hybrid approach had mixed results in promoting sustainable management within the luxury industry, and may require collaboration among organizations with different skills and reputations.
The luxury industry has received less attention in the sustainability literature than it deserves, so I am glad that Miguel Gardetti has pulled together such a great collection of papers in this book and that my chapter has been included among them.
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!
Earlier 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.
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.
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.
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.