Multi-Level Environmental Governance
Multi-level environmental governance, closely related to private governance, global governance, and non-state market-driven governance, is understood as governance systems operating in different spatial scales (local versus global) and institutions (state, corporations, and nonprofits). Centralized and state-led systems of governance have given way to new forms of governance which promote global regulation, market-based approaches, and voluntary agreements. Multi-level governance is essential in the ability of corporations to work for the global good- they must work within the market, with civil society, and the state.
Hardin, Garrett. 1968. “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Science 162 (3859): 1243–48. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.162.3859.1243.
This classic environmental text discusses a shared resource system where individual users, acting independently and according to their own self interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users. Ultimately, the resource is depleted through collective action. These common-pool resources yield finite flows of benefits where it is difficult and costly to exclude potential users. Hardin suggests the answer to the depletion of common-pool resources is the centralization of resource control by a state or other large governing body- this concept was widely adopted into practice by the US and Europe, and only in recent history have new organizations emerged. Multi-level governance assumes, like Hardin, that there does need to be regulation of resources, but that the solution entails multiple levels of states, private governance, and civil society.
Ostrom, Elinor. 2015. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ostroms book argues that Hardin’s solution for the tragedy of common-pool resources fails to consider the ability of common users to organize and solve issues. Ostrom believes that users have the ability to escape the tragedy of the commons by self-organizing and devising institutions to extract themselves from overuse. Ostrom writes that centralization of resource control by a coercive state is not the solution. Rather, voluntary organizations are better posited to address issues of the commons. Multi-level environmental governance emerges from Ostroms frameworks; various levels of state and community or civil society engagement are required for successful regulation.
Bache, Ian, and Matthew Flinders. 2014. Multi-Level Governance. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press.
This book critically explores the notion of multi-level governance, identifying four major strands. First, decision making at various territorial levels occurs with increased participation of non-state actors. Second, complex networks overlap territorial levels. Third, given this changing context, the role of the state is being transformed, in some cases enhancing autonomy. And finally, the nature of democratic accountability has been challenged. Multi-level governance represents new frameworks in accountability. This source provides an overview and literature review of prominent scholarly work. It will contribute to my knowledge of multi-level environmental governance and provide a solid foundation to my investigation of corporate regulation through non-state actions, such as voluntary accountability legitimized by non-profits.
Cashore, Benjamin. 2002. “Legitimacy and the Privatization of Environmental Governance: How Non–State Market–Driven (NSMD) Governance Systems Gain Rule–Making Authority.” Governance 15 (4): 503–29. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-0491.00199.
This article discusses the shift away from centralized state control into new actors, and the legitimization process there in. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have created non-state market-driven (NSMD) governance system to implement environmentally and socially responsible management practices. The last 10 years have witnessed an increase in market-oriented policy instruments. Public boycotts incentivized governments to regulate businesses and non-profits to recognize potential for voluntary compliance. The resulting NSMD governance are more flexible and market oriented. NSMD systems earn legitimacy through external audience evaluations including pragmatic, moral, and cognitive forces.
This article addresses both the components of certification programs and consider the processes through which NSMD governance system are legitimized.
Newig, Jens, and Oliver Fritsch. 2009. “Environmental Governance: Participatory, Multi-Level - and Effective?” Environmental Policy and Governance 19 (3): 197–214. https://doi.org/10.1002/eet.509.
This paper explores whether and to what extent the existence of multiple levels of governance affects the ability of participatory decision-making to deliver high quality environmental policy and improved compliance. Analysis of 47 case studies from North America and Western Europe reveal that the preferences of the involved actors had the most impact on environmental outputs. Additionally, in person communication and polycentric governance system resulted in a great number of positively influenced policy decisions. These findings suggest that general claim of multi-level government resulting in more effective environmental policy may need to be examined further in specific context. This is important to my understanding of how effective multi-level governance is in delivering those goals it promises.
Voluntary Sustainability Standard Setting Organization
Voluntary sustainability standards setting organizations (VSSOs) and accompanying voluntary sustainability certifications (VSCs), create optional environmental and social standards which companies adopt to demonstrate performance above state minimums. VSSOs and certifications provide consumers with consumer goods that align with their personal beliefs. In recent years, Popularity in these standards has increased exponentially, flooding the market with fair trade and eco-labels. VSSOs are an essential component of how businesses can work for global good- they provide frameworks and audits to legitimize corporations initiatives.
United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards. 2013. “Voluntary Sustainability Standards: Todays Landscape of Issues & Initiativese to Achhieve Public Policy Objectives.”
This report from the United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards frames the discussion of voluntary standards in relation to the UN General Assembly sustainable development goals. It considers policy issues surrounding international trade, life cycle analysis, price premiums, sustainability goals, the voluntary nature of VSSOs, and the role of governments and consumers. This article is useful in understanding the connection to and position of the UN in relation to voluntary sustainability certifications.
Potts, Jason, Matthew Lynch, Ann Wilkings, Huppe, Gabriel, Cunningham, Maxine, and Voora, Vivek. 2014. The State of Sustainability Initiatives Review 2014: Standards and the Green Economy. Winnipeg; London, England: The State of Sustainability Initiatives (SSI). https://www.iisd.org/pdf/2014/ssi_2014.pdf.
This review of the state of sustainability initiatives strengthens literature on the development of standards and market impact over time. The study finds that sustainability standards continue to experience exceptional growth, have forcefully penetrated mainstream markets in more advanced, export-oriented economies, are creating new opportunities for stakeholder participation in supply chain decision making, are strengthening the reliability of market claims through increasingly independent monitoring and enforcement processes, and, overall, contribute to the green economy. However, the research stresses that we cannot assume standards alone can deliver sustainable development outcomes. This review is immensely helpful in understanding the current status of sustainability standard organizations and certifications, including their limitations.
Gereffi, Gary, Ronie Garcia-Johnson, and Erika Sasser. 2001. “The NGO-Industrial Complex.”
This article describes the emergence of various voluntary regulatory organizations, questioning if voluntary arrangements truly help workers and the environment or only serve to weaken local government control. The new codes, production guidelines, and monitoring standards embody a new model for global corporate governance. As certification use grows, states must accept certification as an opportunity to reinforce labor and environmental laws, rather than let standards override state authority. This source consider the reaction of states to VSSOs and considers how to two powers can foster a successful partnership which elevates rights for all.
Bennett, Elizabeth A. 2017. “Who Governs Socially-Oriented Voluntary Sustainability Standards? Not the Producers of Certified Products.” World Development 91 (March): 53–69. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2016.10.010.
This article challenges the notion that VSSOs governance structures have multi-stakeholder input. Bennett argues that most certification systems do not require the input of producers, suggesting that VSSOs attempt to promote businesses for all stakeholders without giving power to those most vulnerable. While this study is limited to socially oriented VSSOs, it no doubt relates to both social and environmental governance as it cautions outright buy-in to VSSOs governance structure as one of equality. The lessons from this study will be useful in critically evaluating the possibility of VSSOs to do good. Specifically, it suggests an investigation into the governance of B Corp Certification would provide relevant information.
Conroy, Michael. 2007. Branded! How the ‘Certification Revolution' Is Transforming Global Corporations. New Society Publishers.
This book outlines the ability of civil society to affect corporations through market campaigns which signify that consumers demand greater standards for the goods they purchase. A corporation risks damage to their brand if they do not recognize such moral responsibilities. Conroy considers certifications in a more broad sense- the insurance that what we think, or want, is happening. The relation between VSCs and branding is a prominent component of the market approach to regulation, as it allows corporations to simultaneously retain their preferred image and align it more clearly with consumer preference.
Paterson, Mark. 2017. Consumption and Everyday Life. 2nd ed. Routledge.
This book examines the major theories which dominate consumption and consumer culture. In his section on branding and certification, Paterson delves into the use of signs, symbols, and semiotics to describe consumers relationship to voluntary sustainability certifications. The production of meaning is especially important to my studies, as ethical consumerism and voluntary sustainability standards rely on such relationships to operate.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Corporate social responsibility is a form of corporate self-regulation that promotes businesses as responsible for their supply chain impacts on human and non-human actors. Corporate Social Responsibility often includes the creation of codes of conduct meant to promote greater responsibility for their operations including reduced emissions, product development, and product supply chains. Corporations often advertise these acts to earn profit from consumers willing to pay more for ethically produced goods or services. CSR movements engage the topic of businesses for good insofar as a for-profit companies ability to profit and take responsibility for the impacts of their operations.
Meadows, D et. all. 1972. The Limits To Growth; a Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind. New York: Universe Books.
Limits to Growth is a 1972 report on a computer simulation which, given exponential economic and population growth and Earth’s finite resources, predicted a rapid decline in population and industry capabilities by 2072. Limits to Growth inspired the environmental movements out of the US and Europe; if corporations continued business as usual, there wasn’t a future to look forward to. This book is relevant to my topic as it spurred widespread public concern over industry and demand for change. As environmental governance became more market-based in approach, and in relation to boycotting consumers, corporate social responsibility emerged.
Elkington, John. 1998. “Partnerships from Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business.” Environmental Quality Management 8 (1): 37-51.
John elkington coined the phrase “triple bottom line” in 1994 , referring to a new framework to evaluate the success of a business- does its bottom line consider social, environmental, and financial factors? To succeed in the 21st century, businesses must adopt strategies such as these. Elkington predicts a rise in government-NGO partnerships, earned loyalties, and trust between consumers and corporations. The triple bottom line is essential to ideas of corporate responsibility- it assumes that companies consider impacts on environment and people in it's calculations of profit. It also predicted a movement wherein consumers will not purchase from companies without such considerations.
Luke, Timothy W. 2013. “Corporate Social Responsibility: An Uneasy Merger of Sustainability and Development: Corporate Social Responsibility: An Uneasy Merger.” Sustainable Development 21 (2): 83–91. https://doi.org/10.1002/sd.1558.
This study examines the origins and operations of CSR in the US. The study finds that while corporations adopt sustainable rhetoric, their interpretations of sustainable development remain in profit-driven agendas, thus limiting sustainability. CSR is often a response to ongoing turmoil in markets, thus the marketing aspect becomes more central than the actual accomplishments. This paper helps understand the reasons companies adopt CSR and how the ideas of sustainable development impacted the formation of market-driven decisions.
Social Responsibilities of Business Corporations: A Statement on National Policy. 1971. Research and Policy Committee of the Committee for Economic Development.
In 1971 the UN Committee for Economic Development coined the concept of the ‘social contract’ between business and society. This idea was central to the development of CSR. Consumers began to identify ways that corporations ought to care for them and the people, calling for greater partnerships between market and state actors. The statement intertwines the role of nations in corporate accountability, but leans more heavily on the capabilities of market actors to respond. This paper helps to situate CSR with consumer beliefs about the role of businesses.
Crane, Andrew, McWilliams, Abagail, Matten, Dirk, Moon, Jeremy, and Stegel, Donald. 2008. The Oxford Handbook of Corporate Social Responsibility. New York: Oxford University Press.
This handbook reviews academic research regarding corporate social responsibility. It considers changing relationships between businesses, society, and government, stakeholder debates, political systems and value system. The handbook critiques CSR, considers actors and drivers and examines CSR in a global context. This book provides a wide review of relevant topics relating to CSR. As I discover those areas I wish to dive into, such as the relationship to government, or why and how corporations adopts CSR strategies, this book will be useful in providing a jumping off point.
Demirag, Istemi. 2005. Corporate Social Responsibility, Accountability and Governance: Global Perspectives. Routledge.
Corporate Social Responsibility, Accountability and Governance seeks to explore the "missing link" between CSR (and associated reporting initiatives) and governance mechanisms that are capable of embracing stakeholder accountability. It takes a specifically international perspective, questioning how CSR can become more than a soundbite but a substantial force for better global corporate governance and accountability. This book will support investigation into the transnational work of CSR.
Porter, Michael, and Kramer, Mark. 2007. “Strategy and Society: The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility.” Strategic Direction 23 (5): sd.2007.05623ead.006. https://doi.org/10.1108/sd.2007.05623ead.006.
This study finds that efforts of CSR programs have not been as productive as they could be. First, they pit business against society, rather than acknowledging the two are interdependent. Second, they pressure companies to think of CSR in general ways rather than what’s appropriate to a given firm. Additionally, article suggests the best thing a business can do is contribute to a prosperous economy. This article relates to Benefit Corporation certification because the certification was designed to be adapted to the needs of various organizations. Corporate responsibility can’t be a one size fits all to succeed.
Ethical consumption emerged in the late 70s as a type of political activism, counting each consumer dollar as a vote. By boycotting or buycott products which reflect their own concerns, consumers can demand products meet preferred attributes. Often, decisions are made relating to the fair trade principles, organically grown processes, working practices in developing nations, and the depletion of natural resources. Ethical consumerism operates in both the material and symbolic world, creating new meanings of values for those who partake. Ethical consumerism is integral to business ability to be a force for good- if consumers won’t buy in and pay more for products, businesses have little incentive.
Meadows, D et. all. 1972. The Limits To Growth; a Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind. New York: Universe Books.
Limits to Growth is a 1972 report on the computer simulation that, given exponential economic and population growth and Earth’s finite resources, predicts the rapid decline in population and industry capabilities by 2072. Limits to growth inspired the environmental movements out of the US and Europe; if corporations continued business as usual, there wasn’t a future to look forward to. This book is relevant to my topic as it spurred widespread public concern over industry and demand for change. The popularity of ethical consumerism gained ground during this period, especially as individuals began to identify regulation in more bottom-up or market based approach rather than state regulation.
Marx, Karl. 1867. Das Capital.
In Das Capital, Marx presents his analysis of the capitalist system, wherein production and profit is possible only because of the exploitation of laborers surplus value. The system reproduces, in part, because of what Marx calls the commodity fetishzation. Fetishzation occurs when individuals accept the social relationships of production as economic relationships. The basis for ethical consumerism lies behind fetishization of commodity chains- this is where the purchaser is removed from the labor relations behind a product. Ethical consumerism in turn attempts to defetishize and make visible the commodity and relations behind it, this occurs by the consumers reliance on symbols of ethics to signify that social relations, rather than economic relations, have been considered. Ethical purchasing is asking consumers to consider the social value and the human relations of product.
Goodman, Michael. 2004. “Reading Fair Trade: Political Ecological Imaginary and the Moral Economy of Fair Trade Foods.” Political Geography 23 (September): 891–915. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2004.05.013.
This paper explores the moral economy of ethically motivated consumerism. Goodman describes the material and semiotic commoditization process of ethical goods. First, the material production of the commodity as situated in its specific socio-economic materialities of production in a given local. The second moment of commoditization occurs when consumers observe a label (which signifies ethical production) and imagines a production chain wherein workers are paid well and the environment is treated right, and, perhaps most importantly, are directly benefiting from the consumption of their product. However, this production of knowledge semiotically does not reflect reality, rather it re-fetishizes those relationships involved, placing the consumer in the midst. This relates directly to ethical consumerism as it touches on those processes which allow a consumer to choose ethical products and explains the role of the consumer in the creation of ethical products themselves.
Carrier, James G. 2010. “Protecting the Environment the Natural Way: Ethical Consumption and Commodity Fetishism.” Antipode 42 (3): 672–89. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8330.2010.00768.x.
This article explores the foundation of ethical consumerism. It argues that through ethical consumerism, people achieve two main objectives. At the personal level, individuals can lead lives that are more moral. At the public level, people can use their purchases to affect the larger world but putting pressure on firms. The assumption is that individuals have the power to, in a competitive market, demand corporations make changes to retain consumers. Ethical consumerism is not without it's errs, most commonly cited is the inability of consumers to act ethically at all times. The process of defetishizing the commodity results in the redirection of attention in some ways and not others- and this occurs at the discretion of the branding body. And finally, there is the fear that ethical consumption strengthens the belief that personal consumption decisions are an adequate method of change, perpetuating a capitalist system which itself relies on continued production. This article is helpful in explaining why consumers may purchase ethically and identify potential pitfalls of ethical consumerism. It lays the groundwork for the generally accepted facets of ethical consumerism.
Bray, Jeffery, Nick Johns, and David Kilburn. 2011. “An Exploratory Study into the Factors Impeding Ethical Consumption.” Journal of Business Ethics 98 (4): 597–608. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-010-0640-9.
This article provides possible explanations for the ‘ethical purchasing gap’, or the difference between an individual's intention to consume ethically and their actual purchasing behavior. The study found eight major explanations to these differences: Price sensitivity, personal experience or knowledge of ethical consequences to purchasing, ethical obligation (which exhibited a contradiction between rhetoric and action), lack of information, quality perception (of ethical goods as both potentially better and worse than traditional goods), interia in purchasing behavior, wherein consumers purchase brands they trust, cynicism towards ethical claims as a marketing ploy, and the experience of guilt, commonly in retrospect, of not purchasing ethical alternatives. This study thus identifies various factors which intervene in consumers’ attitudes, intentions and actual behavior of ethical purchasing. The investigation into ethical rhetoric and behavior is important to my topic as consumers play an essential role in the success of market-based mechanisms. If consumers don’t buy into corporate programs, voluntary standards, or certifications, corporations won’t adapt improved regulation.
Certified B Corporation
Certified B Corporations are the context with which I investigate the ability of business to work for the global good. B Corp certification works within the various concepts above. It is a component of multilevel environmental governance, a voluntary standard setting organization and a voluntary sustainability certification, a major component of many corporate social responsibility practices, and in response to the rise in ethical consumerism. B Corporations are an emerging method to support businesses working for the global good by working within the various levels of the market, the state, and civil society.
Hiller, Janine S.1, email@example.com. 2013. “The Benefit Corporation and Corporate Social Responsibility.” Journal of Business Ethics 118 (2): 287–301. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-012-1580-3.
This article introduces the concept of the Benefit Corporation, a new legal business which is obligated to pursue public benefit in addition to return of profits to shareholders. The article examines the legal history of corporations, describing the benefit corporation and varying regulation in states. This article provides a background to the legal benefit corporation, an essential component to B Corp certification.
Reiser, Dana Brakman. 2011. “Benefit Corporations - A Sustainable Form of Organization The Sustainable Corporation.” Wake Forest Law Review, no. 3: 591–626.
This article compares the benefit corporation to low-profit limited liability company and the community interest company. It also assesses the benefit corporation based on four factors: articulating a dual mission, expanding funding streams, branding enterprises, and achieving sustainability. The benefit corporation status supports the articulation of a dual mission (people plus profit). Yet, it lacks robust mechanisms to enforce dual mission, which will ultimately undermine its ability to expand funding streams and create a strong brand for social enterprise as sustainable organizations. This is source considers what benefit status actually achieves.
Honeyman, Ryan, and Jana, Tiffany. 2019. The B Corp Handbook: How Can You Use Business as a Force for Good. 2nd ed. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
This book provides lessons learned from conversations with leaders of over 200 Certified B Corporations. Topics covered include the process, improving performance, and building an inclusive economy. This second edition has an explicit focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, the B Impact Assessments most recent set of standards. This source provides an overview of certified B Corp topics.
Gehman, Joel, and Matthew Grimes. 2017. “Hidden Badge of Honor: How Contextual Distinctiveness Affects Category Promotion Among Certified B Corporations.” Academy of Management Journal 60 (6): 2294–2320. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2015.0416.
This study investigates the relationship between corporations which pursue membership in Certified B Corps yet forego opportunities to brand with that membership. Through analysis of certified websites, the study finds various explanations for this phenomenon. First, the decision to pursue certification and to brand with certifications emerge from various motivations. Second, in certain industries, factors other than social or environmental standards are most integral to the identity of that service or good, and certification could detract from that. Lastly, the specific industry (size and competitiveness) may influence willingness to engage with other certified products, especially in fear of becoming too similar to competitors. This article thus challenges the assumption that adoption of certifications always result in greater branding opportunity and communication to consumers. This is especially relevant to benefit corporations given the duality of the certification system and the State law, which can be achieved with less compliance and fanfare.
Wilburn, Kathleen, and Ralph Wilburn. 2014. “The Double Bottom Line: Profit and Social Benefit.” Business Horizons 57 (1): 11–20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2013.10.001.
This article discusses the role of B Lab, the non-profit which creates, audits, and awards the B Corporation certification for businesses. B Lab has taken the lead in evaluation of corporations for both profit and social benefit. It also addresses concerns raised about the standards. B Lab is an essential component to the certification process.