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Big Data and Environmental Protection: An Initial Survey of Public and Private Initiatives

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Big data sets and analytics increasingly are being used by government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private firms to forward environmental protection. Improving energy efficiency, promoting environmental justice, tracking climate change, and monitoring water quality are just a few of the objectives being furthered by the use of big data. This paper provides examples of the many ways big data sets and analytics are being used to achieve environmental and sustainability goals. These examples are not intended to provide a comprehensive list of all efforts underway, but rather to illustrate the range of initiatives and approaches being used by government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private firms.

This white paper builds off of ELI's October 22, 2013 event, Big Data: A Game Changer for Environmental Managers, Advocates and Regulators? This white paper is the first of three publications by the authors on the subject of Big Data. Lookout for Big Data and the Environment: A Survey of Initiatives and Observations Moving Forward in a forthcoming issue of the Environmental Law Reporter, and Big Data — Enabling Big Protection for the Environment, in the forthcoming book Big Data, Big Challenges in Evidence-Based Policy Making (West Publishing), and check back here for updates!


Environmental Law Reporter Special Issue on Private Environmental Governance, February 2014

A Summit on Private Environmental Governance: Facing the Challenges of Voluntary Standards, Supply Chains, and Green Marketing, Deborah P. Majoras

The Emergence of Private Environmental Governance, Michael P. Vandenbergh

Private Governance of Green Claims in the Marketplace: The Role of NAD and Advertising Self-RegulationDavid G. Mallen

Marine Stewardship Council: A Case Study in Private Environmental Standard-Setting, Will Martin

Interviews With Private Governance Experts, Linda Breggin


Why Benefit Corps May Matter

Linda Breggin, The Environmental Forum (July/August 2013)


Other Publications

Gold Standard for Sustainable Aquaculture Ecolabel Design (Environmental Law Institute and The Ocean Foundation, December 2008)

The Environmental Law Institute (ELI) and The Ocean Foundation (TOF) have carried out the first evaluation of the farmed seafood purchasing standards recently released by the Whole Foods Market grocery chain. The evaluation compared the Whole Foods purchasing standards against the Gold Standard for Aquaculture Ecolabel Design. ELI and TOF found that the retailer is taking commendable steps to reduce the environmental and social impacts of fish and shrimp farming, or aquaculture, but also identified some weaknesses and offered several clear steps to improve the standards.


Harnessing Consumer Power: Using Certification Systems to Promote Good Governance (Pooja Parikh, May 2003)

Harnessing Consumer Power: Using Certification Systems to Promote Good Governance explores how certification mechanisms that have been used previously to promote environmental and social sustainability can be applied to advance transparent and democratic government processes, reduce corruption, and promote peace. Certification systems may be designed to directly cut off major sources of revenue for armed conflict or to indirectly improve environmental and social sustainability such as ecotourism certification. Highlighting the current international certification systems


A Framework for Understanding the Relationship Between Environmental Liability and Managerial Decisions Affecting Pollution Prevention (Environmetnal Law Institue, September 1993)

This report analyzes the current state of several specific types of environmental liability and how managers might react to information about potential environmental liability. The report then describes the management and accounting systems typically used to provide managers with information to be used in decision making and analyzes how information about liability is used in the various management systems and identifies some problems with the way this information is used by management. The report concludes with recommendations for improvements in how lawyers and managers communicate and use information about environmental liabilities.


Environmental Gatekeeping in State Laws (Environmental Law Institute, December 1991)

This report explores the use of  “gatekeeper” mechanisms as a means of enhancing the effectiveness of state environmental programs. A gatekeeper is an independent third party who is enlisted by the government to assure that regulated entities properly perform under a regulatory scheme. Several existing and one proposed state environmental gatekeeping mechanisms are described and analyzed, ranging from certifying toxic use reduction plans to managing the cleanup of hazardous waste sites