Voluntary Instruments: A New Way for Environmental Regulation?
Revue Internationale de Droit Economique, Vol. 4, pp. 461-481, 2004
Posted: 10 May 2005
Despite the large use of the notion of voluntary approaches, economic literature is generally unassuming their definitions. Discussions about definitions are not unimportant quibbles over words and can change the way we think. Do voluntary approaches constitute a new form of regulation? The answer to this question is twofold. Firstly, we show that voluntary approaches are new to some extent, i.e. under specific aspects. Their originality is mainly related to (1) the intervention of new regulators, notably from the civil society, (2) extension of the covered fields, such as ethical and human rights tied with environmental considerations, and (3) large development of these approaches. Secondly, we challenge the traditional characteristics of voluntary approaches: their voluntary character; commitment to go beyond regulation; and promise of better economic efficiency (i.e. the minimization of the whole costs to achieve a result). We show that the voluntary character could be defined on a continuum going from the free agreed initiative determined by only the will of the agent to the pseudo or quasi-compulsory commitment due to external constraints. The analysis of the target and its achievement allows a critical appreciation of the capacity of voluntary approaches to generate better environmental effectiveness. Many arguments supporting the better economic efficiency generally attributed to voluntary approaches could be (1) associated to the traditional instruments to environmental regulation - command and control and market-based instruments, (2) questioned when revisited in depth, and (3) nuanced by empirical studies. This analysis allows us to stress the gap between theoretical arguments and reality, and highlights several implications in term of economic policy. The issues developed in this paper constitute a challenging topic for further research.
Keywords: Voluntary instruments, Environmental effectiveness, Economic efficiency, Environmental management, Regulation
JEL Classification: K32, Q28
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation