Next Generation Environmental Self-Governance

For much of the last 40 plus years, federal and state officials have pursued environmental protection chiefly by means of compliance education and vigorous enforcement of laws and regulations that mandate the application of technological controls to point sources of pollution. Starting in the mid-eighties, behaviorally-oriented approaches that rely on self- governing, voluntary actions to curb pollutants arose in parallel to this enforcement paradigm. These approaches rely on instituting operational practices that regularize environmental management practices within organizations, influence the attitudes and behaviors of employees related to meeting environmental requirements, and focus more on tactical and strategic life-cycle management decisions about materials use, processes design and products development and distribution. Some of the impetus for this parallel discipline came from ideas about Sustainable Development that have gradually displaced what many now see as a false dichotomy of profits versus environmental protection.

Among the primary tools that support these complementary strategies is the rapidly evolving array of consensus-based, management standards that are developed and published by diverse standards development organizations in the U.S. and overseas. Examples of these alternative tools include environmental and energy management standards of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), risk assessment and environmental/energy product criteria standards from ASTM International, the Electric Vehicle Standards Cooperation Panel of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) standards of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and the sustainable forest management criteria created by the Forest Stewardship Council. Voluntary programs based on consensus standards can improve operational disciplines and facilitate attention to environment, energy and resource issues at all appropriate points of the life-cycle. Voluntary action can also be enhanced through encouraging the use of environmental auditing as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has done through its Environmental Auditing Policy.

Finally, voluntary actions are also being driven by green supply chain management (GSCM) requirements. These programs essentially form a set of private environmental regulations that can influence behavior in locations well outside of the territorial boundaries of countries. While governments are for the most part not directly involved in GSCM decision making, governments can play an important role in encouraging, supporting and spreading the use of these approaches.

The goals of the Environmental and Energy Management Institute (EEMI) include raising awareness and promoting the application of next generation voluntary strategies, and encouraging the development of governmental initiatives that reflect such strategies in official policies and programs. We aspire therefore, to catalyze a dialogue between public and private sectors to help increase creative approaches for next generation environmental self-governance in order to advance Sustainability in organizations. To do this, EEMI will partner, affiliate, and collaborate with industrial, academic and governmental policy experts and centers throughout the world to advance this agenda through scholarship and inclusive dialogue.

Focal area lead: Leroy C. (Lee) Paddock, Esq. – Associate Dean for Environmental Law Studies, GW Law School.