he explosive growth in voluntary environmental programs since the early
s in the United States, Europe, and Japan refects, in part, changing so-
cietal attitudes about the environment and a growing optimism about the pos-
sibility oF enhanced cooperation between government and business. It also
refects widespread Frustration with the long and expensive battles oFten as-
sociated with new environmental regulations. In most cases, voluntary programs are being
used to control pollutants that have not yet been regulated and For which legislative author-
ity may be diF±cult to obtain. Unlike market-based approaches to environmental manage-
ment, where the conceptual roots are largely academic, voluntary programs have emerged
as a pragmatic response to the need For more fexible ways to protect the environment.
But do these programs actually work as advertised? That is, do they deliver signi±cant en-
vironmental gains without the burdens associated with traditional, command-and-control
regulation? Quantitatively, how large are the likely gains? And can they really substitute For
mandatory requirements, or should expectations be more modest?
Getting credible answers to these questions is important. ²riends and Foes oF voluntary
programs are increasingly at odds, sometimes drawing opposite conclusions about the same
program. The Former, typically on the side oF industry, see voluntary programs as a more prac-
tical, fexible approach to regulation. The latter, including some environmental advocates,
oFten see them as an obstacle to more stringent, mandatory programs. This polarization may
be partly a consequence oF poor inFormation.
A Loose Taxonomy
ecause the existing literature on voluntary programs primarily Focuses on why ±rms
choose to participate, rather than on the ±nal results, we chose to take a diFFerent ap-
proach, relying on case studies oF representative programs (see the box on page
. The re-
sult oF this work is a book that we edited,
Reality Check: The Nature and Performance of Environ-
mental Programs in the United States, Europe, and Japan
, which this article is
excerpted From (see the R²² Press advertisement on the back cover).
Regulators have come up with numerous terms to describe particular mechanisms: selF-
regulation, negotiated agreements, environmental covenants, business-led environmental
strategies, and others. Nonetheless, a loose taxonomy has evolved, with three reasonably dis-
tinct bins, based on how the parameters oF the commitment are determined:
Unilateral agreements by industrial frms.
Business-led corporate programs Fall under this
heading, as do commitments or reduction targets chosen by ±rms or industry associations.
Examples oF such agreements in the United States include the American Chemistry Coun-