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Green by Choice? Cross-National Variations in Firms' Responses to EMS-Based Environmental Regimes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2011

Kelly Kollman
The George Washington University.
Aseem Prakash
School of Business and Public Management, The George Washington University


Environmental Management Systems (EMSS) represent a new generation of voluntary “beyond compliance” environmental policies that neither set substantive goals nor specify final outcomes. As a result, many stakeholder groups are lukewarm toward them. Since 1993 two major supranational EMSs—ISO 14001 and the European Union's Environmental Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS)—have been introduced. Firms receive formal accreditation after their EMS has been certified by outside verifiers. This accreditation can potentially bestow monetary and nonmonetary benefits on these firms.

Firm-level EMS adoption patterns in the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States vary, thereby suggesting that national contexts influence firms' responses to them. In Germany and the U.K. a significant number of sites have become either ISO 14001 or EMAS certified, while the take-up of ISO 14001 in the U.S. (EMAS is available only to European sites) has been less enthusiastic.

This article begins with the hypothesis that firms in countries with adversarial economies— where regulators and business are on less than friendly terms—are less likely to adopt EMS-based programs. This hypothesis explains why ISO 14001 take-up has been relatively high in the U.K. and relatively low in the U.S. However, it cannot explain (1) the high rate of take-up of both ISO 14001 and EMAS in Germany, where the stringency of environmental legislation has been a contentious issue between the government and industry and (2) why EMAS has been more popular in Germany than in the U.K. This article argues that the original hypothesis, while largely correct, is underspecified. To better explain the cross-national differences in EMS adoption, one must take into account the type of adversarial economy (adversarial legalism versus prescriptive interventionism) and the nature of the policy regime (procedural versus substantive).

Research Article
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 2001

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1 For recent contributions to the private regimes literature, see Claire Cutler, A., Haufler, Virginia, and Porter, Tony, eds., Private Authority and International Affairs (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1999)Google Scholar; Braithwaite, John and Drahos, Peter, Global Business Regulation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).Google Scholar For a review of the beyond-compliance literature, see Prakash, Aseem, “Why Do Firms Adopt Beyond-Compliance Environmental Policies?” Business Strategy and the Environment (forthcoming)Google Scholar; and idem, Greening the Firm: The Politics of Corporate Environmentalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).


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15 Bennett points out that convergence can occur at various levels: setting objectives, establishing systems, adopting technologies, and achieving outcomes. See Bennett, Colin J., “Review Article: What Is Policy Convergence and What Causes It?British Journal of Political Science 21 (April 1991).CrossRefGoogle Scholar EMS-based policies focus on convergence of management systems based on the assumption that if such systems are in place, firms will adopt technologies most suitable to them and improve their environmental performance over time.

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18 These tables measure take-up rates in absolute terms, as well as by the number of certified sites in relation to GDP. Because no comparable data exist on the total number of sites in these countries, we are unable to calculate the ideal comparative measure—the ratio of certified sites to total sites for each country. As such, we assume that GDP is a rough proxy for the total number of sites. We base this assumption on the fact that the U.S., U.K., and German economies have broadly similar structures. In comparing take-up rates of EMAS, which is only available to firms in manufacturing sectors, we also look at the share of manufacturing as percentage of GDP in the U.K. and Germany. In the U.K. manufacturing makes up 21 percent of GDP, while in Germany it makes up 24 percent, again showing that they are roughly similar. It should also be pointed out that we are not comparing the take-up rates of EMAS and ISO 14001 within countries but rather are comparing the take-up rate of each EMS separately across countries. As such we compare only like with like. Data are from World Bank, 1999/2000 World Development Report (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 252–53.Google Scholar

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54 See Vogel (fn. 12); and Kagan (fn. 12, 1994, 1991).

55 Environmental Protection Agency/EPA, Oral History Interview 1, William K. Reilly,, 1995 (retrieved November 17, 2000).

To illustrate further, in the recently decided Browner v. American Trucking and American Trucking v. Browner cases by the U.S. Supreme Court, the trucking industry challenged the EPA's authority to make rules under the Clean Air Act. In 1997 the EPA promulgated regulations on stricter ozone and particulate emission standards. A large number of business groups also filed friends-of-the-courts briefs arguing that such regulatory powers are not inconsonant with the nondelegation doctrine that requires that laws be made by the elective representatives only (the EPA being a nonelected body). Further, firms were outraged that the EPA promulgates regulations predominantly to achieve public health objectives, without doing adequate cost-benefit analysis. At a broader level, this case suggests that businesses are challenging the authority of all federal regulatory agencies and reinforcing the continuation of an adversary economy.

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64 Author interview with Bernard Walsh, Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, July 13, 1998.

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67 Author interview with Geoff Smith, Department of Trade and Industry, July 13, 1998, and Ruth Hillary, March 9, 1999.

68 Another interview with Bernard Walsh, July 13, 1998.

69 See Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, Environmental Reporting: Getting Started (London: HMSO, 1999)Google Scholar; idem, Sustainable Development: Opportunities for Change and Sustainable Business (London: HMSO, 1998).


70 Waskow(fn. 66).

71 Kagan (fn. 12, 1994, 1991).

72 For an account of how American adversarial legalism negatively affected the U.S. government's desire/ability to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity, see Raustiala (fn. 35).

73 Rose-Ackerman, Susan, Controlling Environmental Policy: The Limits of Public Law in Germany and the United States (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995)Google Scholar; Weidner, Helmut, Basiselemente einer erfolgreichen Umweltpolitik (Berlin: WZB, 1995).Google Scholar

74 Katzenstein (fn. 13).

75 Müller (fn. 56); Weidner (fn. 58).

76 Prakash (fn. 1, 2000).

77 Levy, Keohane, and Haas, as well as Braithwaite and Drahos, conclude that environmental regimes that are strategically vague (similar to procedural regimes in this paper) provide governments with flexibility in implementing them and are therefore less likely to be opposed in the domestic political economy. See Levy, Marc A., Keohane, Robert O., and Haas, Peter M., “Improving the Effectiveness of International Environmental Institutions,” in Haas, , Keohane, , and Levy, , eds., Institutions for the Earth (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993), 14Google Scholar; and Braithwaite and Drahos (fn. 1), 295.

78 Soskice, David, “Divergent Production Patterns: Coordinated and Uncoordinated Market Economies in the 1980s and 1990s,” in Kitschelt, Lange, Marks, and Stephens (fn. 36).Google Scholar

79 Roht-Arriaza, Naomi, “Environmental Management Systems and Environmental Protection: Can ISO 14001 Be Useful within the Context of APEC?Journal of Environment and Development 6, no. 3 (1997).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

80 Putnam (fn. 11).

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