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In the past decade, EPA and over 20 states have created voluntary environmental leadership programs designed to recognize and reward businesses that take steps that go beyond compliance with the strictures of environmental law. Environmental leadership programs seek not only to spur direct improvements to environment quality but also to advance broader social goals that may lead indirectly to environmental improvements, such as improving business-government relationships and changing business culture. Measuring progress toward leadership programs’ social goals is a particularly challenging but essential task if researchers and decision makers are to understand the full impacts of these programs. In this paper, Jonathan C. Borck, Cary Coglianese, and Jennifer Nash present strategies for overcoming the three core challenges in evaluating the social effects of leadership programs and any voluntary environmental initiative: (1) defining appropriate measures of social goals, (2) inferring whether programs achieve those goals, and (3) linking social effects to environmental outcomes. Only through careful attention to these three empirical issues will it be possible to rule out alternative explanations and determine whether environmental leadership programs are truly generating their intended positive social effects as well as improvements to the environment.


Administrative law, regulatory agencies, state and federal regulation, regulatory policy making, voluntary environmental leadership programs, business responses to regulation, innovative models of regulation, self-regulation, evaluation of social effects of voluntary environmental initiatives, empirical research

Publication Title

Environmental Law Reporter

Publication Citation

Environmental Law Reporter 38:10697 (Oct. 2008).