Environmental Leadership Programs: Toward an Empirical Assessment of Their Performance

64 Pages Posted: 25 Nov 2008 Last revised: 10 Jan 2010

See all articles by Jonathan C. Borck

Jonathan C. Borck

Analysis Group, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts

Cary Coglianese

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

Jennifer Nash

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)


Over the past decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states have developed environmental leadership programs (ELPs), a type of voluntary environmental program designed to recognize facilities with strong environmental performance records and encourage facilities to perform better. Proponents argue that ELPs overcome some of the limitations of traditional environmental regulation by encouraging managers to address the full gambit of environmental problems posed by their facilities, reducing the costs of environmental regulation, easing adversarialism, and fostering positive culture change. Although ELPs have been in place for at least five years at the federal level and in seventeen states, these programs have been subject to little empirical evaluation. In this paper, we chart a course for assessing whether ELPs achieve their goals. Drawing on archival research and interviews with government officials who manage these programs, we provide the first comprehensive analysis of the characteristics of these programs, describing program goals, activities, communication strategies, and data collection practices. We find that EPA and many states have established ELPs to improve the environment and to achieve various social goals such as improving relationships between business and government. When it comes to collecting data that could be used to assess these programs' successes, however, government efforts fall short. Even when agencies collect reliable data, these data usually cannot be aggregated sensibly and are insufficient to draw inferences about the true impact of these programs. They also cannot help answer the question of whether ELPs are actually prompting pollution reductions or improving regulatory relationships. These general data weaknesses are significant, even surprising, given the aspirations for ELPs to facilitate policy learning and advocates' claims that these programs are delivering important environmental benefits.

Posted paper, uploaded January 2010, is the published version of the working paper originally posted November 2008.

Keywords: Administrative law, regulatory agencies, state and federal regulation, regulatory policy making, voluntary environmental leadership programs, business responses to regulation, innovative models of regulation, self-regulation, evaluation of social effects of voluntary environmental initiatives

JEL Classification: D73, K23

Suggested Citation

Borck, Jonathan C. and Coglianese, Cary and Nash, Jennifer, Environmental Leadership Programs: Toward an Empirical Assessment of Their Performance. Ecology Law Quarterly, Vol. 35, p. 771, 2008, U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 08-46, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1307033

Jonathan C. Borck

Analysis Group, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts ( email )

111 Huntington Avenue
10th floor
Boston, MA 02199

Cary Coglianese (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215-898-6867 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.upenn.edu/coglianese

Jennifer Nash

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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