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Private Environmental Governance

Dr. Jane Snowdon, Director and Chief Innovation Officer, IBM Federal; Stephen Harper, Global Director of Environment and Energy Policy, Intel Corporation; Robert Francisco, President of FirstCarbon Solutions; and Stewart Leeth, Assistant Vice President, Environmental and Corporate Affairs, Smithfield Foods take part in a panel at "Big Data: A Game Changer for Environmental Managers, Advocates and Regulators?"

  "Private standards have played, and will continue to play, a valuable role in addressing the world’s toughest environmental problems. To be most effective, though, standard-setting requires collaboration and collective responsibility from all stakeholders to create innovative solutions to sustainability issues that span the value chain. This means bringing together the disciplines and best thinking on sustainability, advertising, and competition law to work together ...."
— Deborah P. Majoras, Chief Legal Officer of The Procter and Gamble Company, former Chairman of the Federal Trade Commision
  "I have argued that private environmental governance is an increasingly important aspect of environmental law and policy, that it is a discrete field worthy of attention by policymakers, practitioners, and theorists, and that it offers new responses to some of the most intractable remaining environmental problems."
— Michael P. Vandenbergh, David Daniels Allen Distinguished Chair in Law; Director, Climate Change Research Network; and Co-Director, Energy, Environment and Land Use Program, Vanderbilt University Law School


Corporations and other non-governmental entities now regularly work to develop voluntary agreements, standards and other practices aimed at fostering sustainability and reducing environmental impacts.  This growth in “private governance” is implemented through various vehicles, including collective standard-setting, certifications, supply chain agreements, and other mechanisms. The influence of private governance is broad, impacting industries from electronics to forestry to apparel and many others.

As environmental management increasingly relies on voluntary standards, still-evolving notions of sustainability, and changing norms of corporate responsibility, ELI has redoubled its engagement of corporations and includes the corporate perspective in all aspects of our work—from formulating effective and efficient international, national, and local policy and management solutions to educational programming and publications. We are dedicated to advancing the environment and draw from corporate practices to inspire and educate others.

For example, minimizing waste generation includes diverting waste streams to reuse and recycling as well as recapturing materials. In devising new approaches for the management of materials and the diversion of wastes under RCRA in the retail sector, managing discarded and returned consumer aerosol cans can trigger RCRA regulation requiring management as hazardous waste. In 2018 ELI examined hazardous waste and recycled product regulation of the retail sector and opportunities for further action in this area.

Corporations are also undertaking voluntary efforts to increase their reliance on renewable energy throughout their operations. ELI examined Corporate Statements About the Use of Renewable Energy: What Does the “100% Renewable” Goal Really Mean? (2019), taking a detailed look at voluntary corporate renewable energy goal-setting, reporting, and performance.

Click here for a list of ELI’s publications and events on private environmental governance, or click on the tabs above.

October 23, 2018

Private Environmental Governance (2017)

We think of private environmental governance as occurring when private organizations take actions that supplement (or perhaps displace in some instances) the traditionally governmental functions of reducing negative externalities, managing common pool resources and producing public goods. Private governance may prove especially important in light of the recent election, which may result in a reduced federal role in at least some areas of environmental governance. Our goal was to identify common research questions across disciplines, to discuss what we know about the reasons private governance is being pursued and the structure of these programs, to better understand how companies monitor performance of private governance systems, to explore whether and how private governance is or is not contributing to better environmental outcomes, and to examine how linkages between private and public governance systems might produce better outcomes.