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Evaluating the Social Effects of Environmental Leadership Programs

October 2008

Citation: ELR 10697

Author: Jonathan C. Borck, Cary Coglianese, and Jennifer Nash

Editor's Summary: In the past decade, EPA and over 20 states have created voluntary environmental leadership programs designed to recognize and reward businesses that take steps that go beyond compliance with the strictures of environmental law. Environmental leadership programs seek not only to spur direct improvements to environment quality but also to advance broader social goals that may lead indirectly to environmental improvements, such as improving businessgovernment relationships and changing business culture. Measuring progress toward leadership programs' social goals is a particularly challenging but essential task if researchers and decisionmakers are to understand the full impacts of these programs. In this Article, Jonathan C. Borck, Cary Coglianese, and Jennifer Nash present strategies for overcoming the three core challenges in evaluating the social effects of leadership programs and any voluntary environmental initiative: (1) defining appropriate measures of social goals; (2) inferring whether programs achieve those goals; and (3) linking social effects to environmental outcomes. Only through careful attention to these three empirical issues will it be possible to rule out alternative explanations and determine whether environmental leadership programs are truly generating their intended positive social effects as well as improvements to the environment.

Jonathan Borck is an associate with the Analysis Group, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts. Cary Coglianese is the Edward B. Shils Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Jennifer Nash is the director of the Regulatory Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The authors thank participants in the workshop, "Performance-Based Environmental Programs: Better Ways to Measure and Communicate Results," sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Multi-State Working Group on Environmental Performance, and the Environmental Council of the States, and held at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, on March 11-12, 2008. We also received insightful comments from Angela Helman and Eric Ruder. Although the research described in this Article has been funded in part by EPA contract EP-W-05-047, it has not been subject to the Agency's review and therefore does not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency. No official endorsement should be inferred.

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