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PART IV CONCLUSION
~ 1 New Tools for Environmental Protection: What We Know and Need to Know Thomas J. Wilbanks and Paul C. Stern A [though the potentials of the tools discussed in the earlier chapters in this volume are intriguing, the main conclusions are a bit paradoxical. On the one hand, full information is one of the foundations of responsi- ble citizenship, and voluntary action is increasingly important as a way to ensure environmental stewardship in the United States, in partnership with government- mandated rules and regulations (and often in preference to them). But in the case of information, it seems clear that many people possess far less than they need to have in order to determine what is responsible voluntary action. This suggests a powerful rationale for communication and diffusion instruments that emphasize education and information to support voluntary action. Yet in many cases, perhaps most, the effects of federal government information and educa- tion programs appear so far to have been rather modest (see Lutzenhiser, this volume, Chapter 3; Schultz, this volume, Chapter 4; Th0gersen, this volume, Chapter 5; Stern, this volume, Chapter 12~. Voluntary measures for firms and industries also have great potential in principle. They allow for a decentralization of decision making to actors who are in the best position to evaluate what works for them, thus potentially increas- ing efficiency as well as democratic control. But as with education and informa- tion, the effects of voluntary measures appear so far to have been rather modest. They are documented in only a few industries, and even there, much of the claimed effect cannot be attributed unequivocally to the programs (see Mazurek, this volume, Chapter 13; Nash, this volume, Chapter 14; Harrison, this volume, Chapter 16~. In exploring this paradox, this volume considers three central issues: 337
338 NEW TOOLS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION . Why (or why not) increase government support for education and infor- mation programs for individuals and households and for voluntary pro- grams for firms and industries in support of environmental management? · How can such programs be as effective as possible? · What do we need to know in order to do better that we do not already know? This chapter is one reading of "bottom line" answers to these questions, based on the chapters of this volume and the discussion at the workshop on which the volume is based. EXPLORING THE RATIONALE FOR EDUCATION, INFORMATION, AND VOLUNTARY PROGRAMS The growing attention to this topic, not only in scholarship but in policy- making, reflects the fact that the world of government is changing. While democratization has been spreading globally, for two decades in the United States we have been moving in the direction of less government, cheaper government, a devolution of government roles, and a tendency to question whether government regulation is the most appropriate and most effective way to reach social goals. This trend suggests that voluntary decision making will become ever more im- portant for the foreseeable future and perhaps that the rationale for programs to support voluntary decision making will become more compelling for govern- ment than for the research community, which would be a reversal of the patterns of the past. At the same time, while the context of voluntary decision making is chang- ing, so are the problems to which decisions need to be applied and the tools that are available to assist (Rejeski and Salzman, this volume, Chapter 2~. This suggests that education, information, and voluntary programs are best designed to be adaptive, so they can respond flexibly to shifting requirements. Given this framework for thought, there are a number of reasons for government to support education, information, and voluntary programs, but there are also several rea- sons to be cautious. The Central Reasons in Favor Government agencies often consider education, information, and voluntary programs for at least three reasons. First, education and information are intend- ed to inform responsible citizenship: to help close a gap between what people know or are able to know on their own and what they need to know in order to make well-informed voluntary decisions. In this connection, programs may be intended to:
THOMAS J. WILBANKS AND PAUL C. STERN . 339 Ensure information quality and reliability, especially if other sources are suspected by many citizens of being biased; Encourage broader citizen involvement; · Catalyze and support voluntary actions, including correcting erroneous perceptions; · Improve capacities to act effectively; or Encourage the establishment of voluntary partnerships and linkages across boundaries, for example, between national and local governments or between the public and private sectors. Second, some of these programs respond to the citizen's right to know by ensuring that information to which the citizen has a legal and/or moral right is made available by: . · Requiring public notification: determining what information must be made available by whom, when, and how, as with the Toxics Release Inventory (see Herb et al., this volume, Chapter 15~; and Removing constraints on access: for example, providing information labels when the citizen otherwise would have to exert a great deal of effort to find information that should be considered in making a decision (see, e.g., Th0gersen, this volume, Chapter 5~. Generally, the idea underlying education and information programs is that government should not shape the values of citizens, but that it has a duty to citizens to provide information that can reinforce values and relate them to ac- tions, if that information is not likely to be made available otherwise in forms that would be considered credible and/or affordable. The intent is to have programs that empower, not coerce. Information and education programs such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Green Lights program respond to this public need by not only ensuring citizen awareness, but also by accelerating it and by helping to close gaps between awareness and appropriate action (see Valente and Schuster, this volume, Chapter 6~. Third, education, information, and voluntary programs are believed to in- crease the efficiency of consumers' and producers' responses to economic and other signals of the need to change behavior to reduce environmental costs. Both households and firms are in a much better position than the federal govern- ment to find the best ways to economize in their own situations, so informed, decentralized decision making is more efficient theoretically than central regula- tion. This improved efficiency, however, depends on the decentralized actors' access to accurate information about the nature and costs of their decision options. Education and information can, in principle, provide this information for consumers; the kinds of dialogue among firms and government involved in
340 NEW TOOLS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION organizing and maintaining voluntary programs can, in principle, provide this information for producers. Some Reasons to Be Cautious As good as all this sounds, there are reasons to think carefully before invest- ing in education, information, and voluntary programs. First, in our society, we tend to believe that government roles in shaping human behavior should be quite limited. Any indication of social engineering by government, for example, by "experimentally manipulating social norms" (Schultz, this volume, Chapter 4), is likely to be considered a threat to true democracy. This general philosophy, of course, is less of a limitation in some fields than others; for example, govern- ment invests in advertising campaigns to discourage smoking and to influence people in some other matters of public health or disaster preparation (see Valente and Schuster, this volume, Chapter 6; Mileti and Peek, this volume, Chapter 7~. One possible reason is that most people consider government advocacy more appropriate where there is an obvious and pressing public benefit, or where policies already have been determined through democratic processes, than they do where policy objectives are still undecided.) Second, there are serious questions about the cost-effectiveness of govern- ment education and information programs, for at least two reasons (see Rosenzweig, this volume, Chapter 8~. The impact of such programs may be relatively modest compared with the costs, and education and information programs may not be more cost-effective than other policies for reaching the same goal. A relevant issue in both of these connections is that more information and knowledge may affect actions in some situations and contexts, but not others (Stern, this volume, Chapter 12~. There are also serious questions about the effectiveness of government sup- port of voluntary programs for firms and industries. Here, effectiveness must be weighed not against cost in tax dollars, but in relation to the relaxation of regula- tory oversight that is often part of the package of government support of these programs. Voluntary programs decentralize decision making, which has poten- tial benefits, but they also put the decisions in the hands of actors whose objec- tives differ from the regulator' s goal of providing public goods like environmen- tal quality (see Prakash, this volume, Chapter 18~. Randall (this volume, Chapter 19) concludes that voluntary programs "make a nice frosting on the regulatory cake. But the cake must be there." Finally, education, information, and voluntary programs (and research on them) can be ways to avoid timely action, in essence passing the buck to citizens to deal with a policy problem that would be dealt with more appropriately by government itself. This problem sometimes has been noted in policy analyses (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board, 2001~.
THOMAS J. WILBANKS AND PAUL C. STERN CONSIDERING HOW TO CARRY OUT EFFECTIVE EDUCATION AND INFORMATION PROGRAMS 341 Where it makes sense to invest in education and information programs, the next question is how to assure that they yield environmental benefits and are as cost-effective as possible. "Information programs" can cover a wide spectrum of government actions, including regulatory initiatives and financial incentives that "send signals" for particular actions and thus have an information function, but the focus of this volume is on information and education as communication and diffusion instruments that are distinct from regulatory actions or financial inducements. In this more limited connection, the central predicament is that a particular government information program becomes one of a great many tiny tributaries feeding a virtual flood of information engulfing those citizens who are the intended audiences, like adding just one more ingredient to a complex "infor- mation soup" (Mileti and Peek, this volume, Chapter 7~. The challenge is to navigate through this complexity in ways that get the desired messages across. The contributors to this book identify five elements of effective education and information programs, beyond the imperative of pretesting any proposed approach before implementing it (see especially Valente and Schuster, this vol- ume, Chapter 6; Mileti and Peek, this volume, Chapter 7, and Stern, this volume, Chapterl2~: . Targeting selected parts of a diverse audience and addressing their par- ticular concerns. The objective should be either to reach a large part of the population or, if different audiences need different information, to focus on key groups by addressing the main questions on their minds: "Do I have to worry about this or not?" and if so, "What are the most important things to do about it?" Directing information to people who already have it or who do not need it is seldom a good use of resources. One aspect of determining the appropriate target is to assess whether the main voluntary actors are likely to be individuals or institutions and, again, focusing on the relevant concerns of the relevant target. · Personalizing the process. The more individualized, less impersonal the communication, the more likely it is that the information will be trans- ferred. This suggests several strategies, including: ensuring an ongoing communication process rather than single information provision acts or events; paying close attention to the levels of credibility and trust associ- ated by the target audiences with different information sources; utilizing the most effective channels (which often are anchored in existing social networks); and inviting information exchange, not just information pro- vision in other words, incorporating interactive and experiential stake- holder involvement, perhaps after an initial awareness-raising stage.
342 NEW TOOLS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION . . . Assuring multiple information sources/mechanisms. Education and in- formation programs are likely to be more effective if they incorporate an assortment of approaches: repeating and reinforcing the flow of informa- tion and telling people where they can get additional information; linking with other information and education efforts; paying attention to forces that might encourage partnerships; and in some cases, considering differ- ent mechanisms for different stages in the education and information process. For example, mass media approaches may be more effective in early stages, and interpersonal communication in later stages (Valente and Schuster, this volume, Chapter 6~. Being prepared for "windows of opportunity." Given that the attention level of many citizens is related to crises of the moment, information programs can prepackage strategies and information to be brought out if and as events raise questions that are answered by the packages (Mileti and Peek, this volume, Chapter 7~. For example, the response to the California energy crisis of 2001 was assisted by information packages that were on hand, advising people on ways to gain thermal comfort and other energy services with less electricity, to shift demand away from peak hours, and so forth. Making the right choices and picking the right combinations of policy tools. Designers of programs may have a larger menu of possible mech- anisms at their disposal than they are aware. Identifying the full range, considering all the options, and making the right selections for the case at hand can make a difference in the effectiveness of a program. The chap- ters of this volume mention such possibilities as the following: 1. Partnerships. Partnerships involve government information (and/or public recognition) working directly in collaboration with nongovern- mental voluntary action and education. One example is the Motor Chal- lenge program of the Department of Energy (DOE), in which DOE in- vites private-sector firms to join in a partnership where the firm makes a commitment to use state-of-the-art, energy-efficient electric motors and drives where cost-effective; in turn, DOE provides full information about technology options, along with technical assistance and considerable pub- lic recognition for the partners. 2. Scorecards and benchmarks. Government provides ways to measure performance (scorecards) and to publicize the results of measurements, often associated with levels of performance that are among the best being achieved under current market and regulatory conditions (benchmarks) (Furger, this volume, Chapter 17~. 3. Labeling. Government or another third party attaches a label or logo to consumer items to inform voluntary decisions about what to buy (e.g., appliance or automobile fuel efficiency labels, recycling symbols). The presumption is that voluntary actions will be different if consumers are
THOMAS J. WILBANKS AND PAUL C. STERN 343 aware of their environmental implications (Th0gersen, this volume, Chap- ter 5~. 4. Government purchasing. The federal government can use its enor- mous purchasing power to shape supplier characteristics. An example is the EPA's Energy Star computer program, which led to a government decision to buy only personal computers meeting energy-efficiency stan- dards, making it unattractive for equipment suppliers to invest in producing equipment not meeting those standards. Large corporations also can use this strategy (see Rejeski and Salzman, this volume, Chapter 2~. 5. State-of-the-art communication modes. Information providers can follow the example of the private sector in using the power of different communication modes for particular purposes, such as use of the grow- ing arsenal of graphics tools emerging from the information technology revolution. Sorting through all these choices is clearly a complicated business. It involves considering a variety of kinds of information that government program designers may not have at hand. It requires complicated operational decisions involving financial and human resources. It calls for cost-benefit estimation that only may be possible qualitatively. It also raises more fundamental issues. For example, in designing a public information program, who should decide what information is needed? Who decides what information is true? What if either or both of the decisions are wrong? Who is accountable? As an information program proceeds, how can it be determined when the information provided is enough? How does an information program handle uncertainties and possible surprises, especially if it is providing information about the future as well as the past and the present? Nobody ever said it was going to be easy. But, at the same time, thoughtful applications of a rule of reason often can reduce the complications to a number where more careful program design is feasible. The problem is that in many cases, the detailed design stage is undermined by limitations on what even the nation's top experts know. CONSIDERING HOW TO CARRY OUT EFFECTIVE VOLUNTARY PROGRAMS FOR THE PRIVATE SECTOR The central policy question about voluntary measures is whether environ- mental objectives can be achieved more effectively or more cost-effectively if direct regulation is reduced in favor of policy instruments that enhance the pow- er of market pressure, investor influence, public concern, reputation, and the like to press firms toward better environmental performance. The proper distinction is not between coerced and voluntary behavior. It is between direct regulation (regulatory demands to meet emission goals or adopt different technologies) and other instruments that may be perceived as less coercive (e.g., Andrews, 1998~.
344 NEW TOOLS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION So-called self-regulation is perhaps the most obvious of the available possi- bilities. The preceding chapters suggest that this approach may be valuable under some conditions and in some industries where adequate incentives exist for firms to establish and maintain institutions that ratchet up environmental performance. Although more experimentation with this approach is warranted, the evidence strongly suggests that government should proceed very cautiously in the direction of relaxing regulations in the hope that self-regulation will take their place. It is not certain how much of the reported successes of industry self- regulation is real (Mazurek, this volume, Chapter 13; Nash, this volume, Chapter 14; Harrison, this volume, Chapter 16) or how much of the real improvement is attributable to the credible threat of regulation (Randall, this volume, Chapter 19) the desire for a less painful way to meet current or potential regulatory demands. The evidence indicates that successful self-regulation is most likely to occur in industries where three conditions exist: strong public concern about environ- mental damage from that industry; limited identification of this damage with specific firms; and industry leaders that are sufficiently large or well known that they have incentives to bear a disproportionate share of the costs of creating self- regulatory institutions (Nash, this volume, Chapter 14~. An advantageous com- munication structure within the industry also may be necessary (Furger, this volume, Chapter 17~. Even under these advantageous conditions, the industry's incentive is to produce a reputation for environmental stewardship, and this may be gained at lower cost by promoting a "green" image than by changing corpo- rate environmental behavior. For this reason, the effectiveness of voluntary measures may be increased greatly by government-funded or-mandated programs that monitor actual environmental progress so that reputation can be tied to valid environmental indicators. The Toxics Release Inventory in the United States has this function, though it is vulnerable because its indicators are taken from firms' self-reports. Little is known about how to make self-governance work in other kinds of industries. These include industries in which consumer products are tightly linked to brands so that the incentives fall on single firms rather than industries (e.g., pharmaceuticals), in which there are no industry leaders (e.g., dry clean- ing), or in which environmental damage is not easily traceable to particular firms (e.g., trucking). It is reasonable to expect that industrywide self-governance is more difficult to achieve under these conditions, even though some individual firms may take voluntary action. "Voluntary" strategies other than industry self-governance may have signif- icant potential. Although there is little or no systematic knowledge about how to make them work, they are worthy of further attention. We mention three interesting mechanisms involving voluntary action as illustrative. One is the notion that information about the environmental performance of publicly traded firms may change their behavior through the influence of "green" investors (Herb
THOMAS J. WILBANKS AND PAUL C. STERN 345 et al., this volume, Chapter 15~. A second mechanism is the use of consumer boycotts and other collective action to exert pressure on firms independent of regulation. An example was the consumer boycott and demonstrations directed at McDonalds restaurants that led to an agreement to end Styrofoam packaging in 1991 (for an account, see Gardner and Stern, 1996~. A third interesting mecha- nism of voluntary action involves arrangements between industries and non- governmental organizations (NGOs) to support improved environmental perfor- mance. For example, some coffee marketers have been willing to pay extra for imported coffee they could certify as shade-grown if an NGO was willing to inspect the coffee plantations to provide legitimacy for the claim. The knowledge base on voluntary measures is not as well developed as that for education and information, so it is early to draw conclusions about how to make these measures work best. Some insights about education and information may prove relevant to voluntary measures, though. In particular, targeting, the use of multiple mechanisms, preparation for windows of opportunity, and mak- ing the right choices of instruments all are likely to be important. Further in- sights probably can be gained from relevant theories in areas such as organiza- tional behavior and collective action (e.g., Furger, this volume, Chapter 17; Prakash, this volume, Chapter 18~. But much more knowledge is needed for voluntary measures to become a tool that can be used with precision, rather than . · · · 1 Just a promising Plea. WHAT DO WE NEED TO KNOW IN ORDER TO DO BETTER? From the perspectives of the experts, including those represented in this volume, government program designers and decision makers are asking a num- ber of critically important questions that cannot be answered with confidence from the existing knowledge base. The experts themselves need to know a lot more in order to be as helpful as the government needs, given the imperative of using taxpayers' money and government regulatory authority effectively and responsibly to aid voluntary decision making. Most of what still needs to be learned, however, is not specific to govern- mental environmental education and information programs. It concerns broader issues for both government program effectiveness and the social and behavioral sciences at large. Based on the contributions to this volume, the highest priority questions to address for improving the knowledge base to support education and information program design are the following: · When and how do people and organizations demand and use informa- tion? More needs to be known about information demand as well as supply, given the diversity of audiences and the need to target particular audiences. The challenges include understanding how information feeds into the voluntary deci- sion making processes of organizations and individuals, how information de-
346 NEW TOOLS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION mend varies across cultures, how organizations and individuals adapt to changes in information, and how organizations and individuals can become more adapt- able in a changing, uncertain world (National Research Council, 1999~. . How can success be measured and documented? In an era of reengi- neered government, there is an urgent need to improve the capacity to evaluate all kinds of government-supported programs. The challenges include evaluat- ing the success of efforts to transmit information and learning in stimulating voluntary actions and evaluating the impacts of the voluntary actions, both of which in many cases require establishing baselines against which to compare program-related outcomes. When effects are substantially lagged in time, the challenge is even greater. In these regards, there appear to be abundant opportu- nities to apply insights from evaluation research (Harrison, this volume, Chapter 16; Weiss, 1998) and learn from industry experience (Nash, this volume, Chap- ter 14~. When and how does information lead to action? As indicated, we know far too little about how information relates to knowledge and how knowledge relates to action. We need to learn more about how different information pro- cesses may relate to underlying common issues, how a particular information program may reinforce or contradict other information processes, and how a variety of information programs may have cumulative impacts that add up to more than the sum of the parts (e.g., encouraging a stronger "environmental ethic". In many cases, unraveling these questions calls for types of longitudinal studies, followup studies, and cumulative impact studies for which funding is exceedingly difficult to find. . . How can information infrastructures and programs be designed so they are more adaptive? Unless education and information programs are constructed so they can change as their contexts change, they are likely to become outdated quickly. The Toxics Release Inventory is an example (see Herb et al., this volume, Chapter 15~. The challenge is to build adaptability into the structure from the beginning in the language and implementation of statutes and in rela- tion to ongoing evaluation processes. This calls for communication between the executive and legislative branches and with the parties to which they listen. · How can effects of the information technology revolution be harnessed in support of government education and information programs? Clearly, the world is being transformed rapidly through the tools available to facilitate com- munication. Electronic mail was uncommon a decade ago, use of the Internet is mushrooming, and graphics capabilities such as geographic information systems and hypermedia packages are growing rapidly. Such capabilities may make possible dramatic advances in instrumentation and measurement that can allow quick feedback about the effects of actions on environmental indicators. The ability to assess the potential and limitations of such new developments for information dissemination and for interaction between providers and receivers is still in its infancy.
THOMAS J. WILBANKS AND PAUL C. STERN 347 THE BOTTOM LINE Even though education and information programs are not the answer to every environmental policy need, they are fundamentally important in support- ing responsible citizenship in a democracy. Voluntary programs in the private sector are also highly attractive from a governance perspective. The impact of these tools, however, often seems to have been modest at best. This record seems to call for increased attention to ways to make such programs more effec- tive, which in turn calls for more attention to strengthening the knowledge base on which program planning and design is based. The evidence strongly suggests that it is past time to move beyond debates about which tool is best for environmental protection whether regulation or market-based approaches are better, whether it is good to increase voluntarism and decrease regulation, and so forth. Each tool has its place, not only because of the variety of policy targets, but also because each tool performs particular functions. The best policy normally uses a combination of tools, each serving its proper function (Stern, 2000; Stern, this volume, Chapter 12~. For example, authors in this volume argue that voluntary measures in industries work best under the threat of regulation; that they depend on good information in the form of monitoring data on environmental performance; that they benefit from market forces that favor "green" performance; and that their success depends on wheth- er an industry has agents (such as trade associations) to diffuse best practices. Thus, command and control, communication and diffusion, and market instru- ments all may help voluntary programs be more effective. Much can be gained by developing better understanding of the functions performed by each type of policy tool so that policies can be designed to employ the tools in appropriate combinations. The need for new combinations as well as for the new tools is likely to increase as the nature of environmental prob- lems and the identity of pollution sources changes (Rejeski and Salzman, this volume, Chapter 2~. NOTE 1 One should not presume that good information necessarily will reduce social and political conflict or differences of opinion about what kinds of voluntary actions make sense. Experience has taught that more information, far from generating agreement, can in fact strengthen the views of different constituencies in opposition to each other. The same body of information can be used by different parties to make opposing arguments and to justify opposing actions. "Information is pow- er"; thus its contents and mechanisms are (or can be) politically sensitive. As one consequence, when education and information programs touch on controversial issues, some constituencies may oppose the programs because of the prospect that their content might be used effectively to support . . Opposmg views.
348 NEW TOOLS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION REFERENCES Andrews, R.N.L. 1998 Environmental regulation and business "self-regulation." Policy Sciences 31:177-197. Gardner, G.T., and P.C. Stern. 1996 Environmental Problems and Human Behavior. Nee&am Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon. National Research Council 1999 Our Common Journey: The Transition to Sustainability. Board on Sustainable Devel- opment. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Stern, P.C. 2000 Toward a coherent theory of environmentally significant behavior. Journal of Social Issues 56(3):407-424. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board 2001 Improved Science-Based Environmental Stakeholder Processes. Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Weiss, C.H. 1998 Evaluation: Methods for Studying Programs and Policies. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.