Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Green GradesCan Information Save the Earth?$

Graham Bullock

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780262036429

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262036429.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM MIT PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.mitpress.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright The MIT Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in MITSO for personal use (for details see http://www.mitpress.universitypressscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 20 June 2018

The Green Debate: Information Optimists, Pessimists, and Realists

The Green Debate: Information Optimists, Pessimists, and Realists

(p.1) 1 The Green Debate: Information Optimists, Pessimists, and Realists
Green Grades

Graham Bullock

The MIT Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 1 outlines the debate about the role of information in environmental politics, and reviews the arguments both for and against the use of information-based environmental governance strategies. It describes the nature of these strategies and how they differ from other forms of governance and uses of information. It explores the use of information-based strategies by public, private, and civil sector actors historically, and discusses the factors that have driven their proliferation and the outbreaks of information in contemporary times. The chapter also presents the concept of the information value chain and its five main components (its governance, content, methods, interfaces, and outcomes), which provides an important analytical lens on these strategies and serves as the book’s primary theoretical framework. The chapter concludes with an outline of the book’s chapters and a summary of its key arguments and contributions.

Keywords:   Environmental, Information, Value Chain, Private Sector, Public, Non-Profit, History, Policy, United States

Green Decisions

Mark is standing in the grocery store trying to decide between the organic and conventional milk. He has figured out that the organic option costs more, but is unsure whether it has any additional value for him and his family. He knows that organic food has become increasingly popular in recent years, but what are the real benefits of purchasing the milk with the USDA Organic label, and would doing so reflect his personal values?

Carrie is an environmental activist who just received an email from a newspaper reporter who is doing a story on toilet paper. He wants to know if Carrie trusts either the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) eco-labels that can be found on some brands of toilet paper. She knows these two certifications have come under criticism in recent years. How should she evaluate their trustworthiness, and respond to the reporter’s inquiry?

Lynn is a college professor attending a planning meeting for a new academic building on campus. Some of her colleagues want the new building to be designed so that it earns a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification, while others claim that the LEED point system is arbitrary and often nonsensical. As the environmental scientist among them, they turn to Lynn for her opinion. Does she think that LEED is a valid metric of sustainability performance?

Anu was hired recently as the chief marketing officer for a major consumer products firm. A major challenge she faces is to turn around negative perceptions of her company’s corporate social responsibility. Fortunately she is convinced that this poor reputation is undeserved, and believes the (p.2) firm is a leading corporate citizen in many ways. But how can she effectively deliver that message to the public and her key audiences?

Vernon is a senior government official who is responsible for identifying environmentally preferable products for his agency to purchase. The agency needs to order a large batch of new computer monitors, and his boss wants to be able to claim that they actually “make a difference” in protecting the environment. Sounds good in principle, but what exactly does this mean? How should Vernon determine if the monitors under consideration—and the ENERGY STAR, EPEAT, and TCO labels on them—achieve this standard of effectiveness?

The Green Debate

The decisions that Mark, Carrie, Lynn, Anu, and Vernon face in these hypothetical examples are part of a raging debate in environmental politics. It is both an explicit debate in dueling words and an implicit one through competing actions. While much of the public and even many of those who work on environmental issues are not fully aware of this debate, it has far-reaching consequences in terms of the allocation of scarce resources, the selection of strategic priorities, and the power of competing organizations and individuals. Both sides of this debate are martialing their arguments and resources, and deploying them to win battles both in public and behind closed doors.

This is not, however, a simple rerun of past conflicts between environmentalists and industrialists. Each side has both passionate tree huggers and committed capitalists, and they do not fundamentally disagree about the importance of protecting the environment. Their disagreement is at once both larger and more narrowly focused. It is about both ideology and tactics, about ends and means, and about how society should be governed and how such governance should be achieved.

Put in its simplest terms, this debate is about the role of information in environmental governance. One side believes that information, particularly in the form of ratings, labels, and certifications, is one of the best available options for combatting threats such as climate change, deforestation, and biodiversity loss. These information optimists believe that strategies relying on traditional government regulations and international treaties are too slow, too cumbersome, and too bogged down in political gridlock. They (p.3) include both activists who are disillusioned by this gridlock and executives who view information-based approaches as important opportunities to outperform their competitors. These optimists also believe that information empowers individuals in important ways that other approaches do not. From their perspective, the programs that our five friends just introduced are deliberating about—USDA Organic, FSC, SFI, LEED, ENERGY STAR, EPEAT, and TCO—are all important examples of innovative efforts to use information to promote a more sustainable society.

The other side, meanwhile, asserts that such information-based strategies are a poor substitute for regulation and the rule of law in environmental affairs. In the view of these information pessimists, product eco-labels and sustainability ratings distract from more comprehensive approaches that do not depend on the limited capacities of individual consumers and do not give citizens a false sense of progress on pressing environmental issues. Activists, policymakers, corporate executives, and academic researchers should instead be focused on enacting legislation that mandates the creation of real and measurable benefits to society and the environment. Instead of product eco-labels and sustainability ratings, we should be developing and pushing through the Clean Air Acts, Endangered Species Acts, and Montreal Protocols of the twenty-first century. This view is held by environmental advocates who are proud of those legacies as well as business leaders who see them as important ways to level the playing field for companies and penalize the laggards who are not behaving as responsible corporate citizens.

The implications of this debate are far-reaching. On the one hand, if the public is most persuaded by the information optimists, corporations as different as Walmart and Patagonia that have invested millions of dollars in developing and marketing green products will be vindicated, and industry in general can hope to avoid new onerous environmental regulations. More financial support will likely flow to nonprofit organizations such as Rainforest Alliance and Environmental Defense Fund that have developed expertise and reputations around certifications and voluntary partnerships with industry.1 Consumers will be further empowered to take responsibility for the impacts of the products they buy, and government agencies will be encouraged to develop programs—as opposed to regulations—to help them with this endeavor.

(p.4) On the other hand, if the information pessimists are perceived as winning the debate, corporations may find consumers developing even greater skepticism about the eco-labels they encounter in the marketplace. Advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council that have traditionally lobbied for stronger environmental laws will likely have stronger support from the public and policymakers for new legislative action.2 The resolution of this debate will thus influence the direction of the twenty-first-century environmental movement for years to come. Will it be focused on traditional tried-and-true strategies that rely on government action and mandates or on innovative and cutting-edge approaches that emphasize individual action, corporate initiatives, and the voluntary use of information to protect the planet?

Green Grades Grow Up

Which side is right? How effective are information-based environmental governance strategies, and what effects have they had, if any? What role do these “green grades” play in the environmental arena, and have they complemented, replaced, or undermined more traditional governance approaches? How should they be conceptualized in order to best understand and analyze their internal dynamics and external impacts? More succinctly, can information “save the Earth?” In this book, I address these questions by using the concept of the information value chain as a framework to systematically examine the arguments made by both information optimists and information pessimists. I also present a possible resolution to this debate, or at least a third position to consider. This position is one of information realism; information-based strategies are important tools but we must be realistic about their usefulness. Their numbers have grown significantly in recent years and they have played an important role in environmental politics across a wide range of sectors and issues. This role, however, has had fundamental limitations, and these strategies must therefore enter a new phase of maturation and development. In order for these strategies to overcome these limitations, their designers must learn from both the most promising and problematic practices among them. This book examines these practices across five core areas—their organizational associations, content, methods, interfaces, and outcomes.

(p.5) These five areas are the topics of chapters 2–6, each of which uses concepts such as value, legitimacy, validity, usability, and effectiveness to analyze the practices of existing information-based initiatives. In each of these chapters, I present original research from the Environmental Evaluations of Products and Companies (EEPAC) Dataset, a database that I created of 245 cases of product eco-labels and corporate sustainability ratings, from ENERGY STAR to Greenpeace’s rankings of electronics companies. All of these cases generate publicly-available environmental evaluations of products or companies that make products that are generally available in the U.S. marketplace, and include a range of government, nonprofit, and corporate initiatives. They also include both mandatory programs established by legislation that require companies to disclose information (such as the Toxics Release Inventory and ENERGY GUIDE) as well as voluntary initiatives that companies may or may not choose to participate in (such as LEED and USDA Organic).

I also share conclusions from the relevant literature in the fields of political science, economics, psychology, sociology, and management, and report insights from the sixty-eight interviews I conducted with government officials, nonprofit representatives, academic researchers, and consumers about their perceptions of environmental ratings and certifications. In the rest of this introductory chapter, I further examine the contours of the debate over the use of information-based strategies in environmental politics. In the seventh and concluding chapter, I provide specific recommendations to improve the long-term viability and effectiveness of these strategies. These recommendations are all informed by an information realist perspective, and range from developing a more sophisticated sustainability information marketplace to enhancing the linkages between these strategies and other forms of governance, such as traditional regulations and public policy initiatives.

Understanding Information-Based Governance

In order to better understand the debate about information-based governance strategies, it is important to clearly describe the characteristics they share in common and their relationships to other forms of governance.3 Governance is a broadly used term, but can be defined in this context as the use of power to encourage collective action and create public goods.4 (p.6) Power, in its most general sense, is “the capacity to affect results,”5 or as nineteenth-century German sociologist Max Weber famously described it, the probability that an actor will be “in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance.”6 Governance is therefore distinct from its opposite, anarchy (i.e., the use of power in the absence of governance and collective action), and the broader and more inclusive concept of politics (i.e., the use of power for any means).

Traditional forms of governance typically exercise power through either physical force or economic incentives.7 As table 1.1 shows, these two dimensions can illuminate an important range of governance strategies that actors can pursue. Governance strategies that only use the stick of physical force (or threat thereof) are examples of traditional command-and-control regulation-based governance. Strategies that only use the carrot of economic incentives (e.g., tax credits, market opportunities, low-interest loans) are examples of voluntary market-based governance. Strategies that use both carrots and sticks, such as “sin” taxes on smoking or pollution cap and trade programs, are examples of mandatory market-based governance. Strategies that use neither economic incentives nor physical force are examples of information-based governance.8 Some approaches may combine elements of more than one of these strategies and exist along a spectrum between these different types of governance; for example, mandates for government agencies to purchase products with particular eco-labels not only depend on information but also have the force of law, but only for public institutions.

Not all uses of information, however, should be classified as information-based governance, as they are not all necessarily oriented toward the creation of public goods and collective action. Information can be deployed, for example, to enhance the management of private firms and the creation

Table 1.1 Types of governance

No use of force

Use of force

No use of incentives

Information-based governance: e.g., eco-labels

Regulation-based governance: e.g., food safety regulations

Use of incentives

Voluntary market-based governance: e.g., sustainable agriculture subsidies

Mandatory market-based governance: e.g., soda/sugar taxes

(p.7) of private or club goods—that is, goods that are excludable and do not suffer from the same collective action problems associated with nonexcludable public or common goods.9 Although often proprietary and not visible to the public, such information is frequently used internally by private actors to govern their own businesses, through employee evaluations, ratings of supply chain performance, and balanced scorecards.10 These are all examples of information-based management—the provision of information to create private or club goods (e.g., products, productivity, profits) for private firms. To the extent that these internal processes are motivated by a desire to create public and common goods (e.g., environmental protection), they are instead examples of information-based responsibility efforts. Such efforts include the use of information to encourage employees to reduce their carbon footprints or exercise more, and follow in the tradition of corporate social responsibility initiatives that are focused on decreasing the negative impacts and increasing the positive impacts of particular firms.

Private firms can also deploy information more widely and publicly to encourage and enable public actors (citizens, policymakers, civil society organizations) to assist them in creating private or club goods. Such a strategy can be considered a form of information-based politics, in the sense of politics being about “who gets what, when, and how” and the “actions concerned with the acquisition or exercise of power, status, or authority.”11 Such efforts can include the publication of reports demonstrating the need for industrial policy, subsidies, or other support for the private sector. While such support may be justified in terms of the value of certain companies or industries to society, its overarching motivation and function is to stimulate the creation of private or club goods.

Information-based governance, in contrast, deploys information to encourage and enable the creation of public and common goods—nonexcludable goods that are often underproduced by private markets.12 In this sense, governance is any attempt by either state or nonstate entities to mobilize individuals or institutions toward goals that transcend their own immediate private interests. It is also not limited to government activities, but can be entirely nongovernmental in nature. The goals of governance initiatives might include providing for the common defense, helping the poor, or protecting the environment. Information itself is a classic example of a public good—once it is produced it is both nonexcludable (i.e., it is difficult to (p.8) keep people from accessing it) and nonsubtractable (i.e., use of it does not reduce its value to others). Governance does not include actions that have no orientation toward specific public or common goods, such as everyday personal interactions, management activities, and market transactions.

As table 1.2 summarizes, information—and green grades specifically—can thus serve as important instruments of corporate responsibility, internal management, transactional politics, and public governance. On the one hand, in information-based governance and information-based responsibility initiatives, information plays a primary role in the creation of public and common goods. On the other hand, in information-based politics and information-based management, information plays a primary role in the production of private or club goods—either directly through private firms or with the assistance of public entities. While these distinctions may be difficult to make in some instances, it is usually possible to identify the general orientation of an information-based strategy by the language it uses and the extent to which its information is made available to the public. Such distinctions are helpful in analyzing the motivations behind these programs, their primary purposes, and how they define effectiveness, a subject to which we return in chapter 6.

Information-based strategies can be deployed by a range of different actors, including advocacy organizations, corporations, government agencies, academic researchers, individual citizens, and coalitions of all or some of theseactors. In studying these strategies, it is important to consider the activities of the full range of these social stakeholders. Past studies have often taken a relatively narrow and disciplinary approach to analyzing

Table 1.2 Types of information-based strategies

Club goods and private goods focus

Public and common goods focus

Internal organizational orientation

Information-based management (e.g. balanced scorecards)

information-based responsibility (e.g., information designed to encourage employees to reduce their carbon footprints)

External public orientation

information-based politics (e.g., data-driven reports calling for industry subsidies)

information-based governance (e.g., product eco-labels, public ratings of corporate environmental performance)

(p.9) governance dynamics, with separate emphases on government, business, social movement, and consumer perspectives.13 While these bodies of work have contributed to our understanding of environmental certifications and ratings, such an approach hides the commonalities across these divisions and obscures the relationships between these different groups and their use of information-based strategies. This book instead takes a broader perspective, and investigates this phenomenon as it has developed across a broad range of government agencies, private companies, and civil society organizations.

Something Old: Histories of Information

The use of information-based strategies for management, political, and governance purposes is certainly not a new phenomenon. The first newspapers, dictionaries, encyclopedias, libraries, and museums were all projects to deploy information for specific ends and have had profound effects on society over at least the past hundreds of years.14 Indeed, the information studies literature discusses the revolutionary novelty of these new forms of information in their own times and challenges the notion that the current age is a distinctly “information age.”15 Each age has witnessed sophisticated and contested efforts by private, public, and civil society actors to use information to advance their interests.16

Trade associations and guilds, for example, have used information-based strategies like examinations and certifications to regulate the quality and size of their own industry for centuries. The bar in the legal profession and the boards in the medical profession are two well-known modern examples of information-based management strategies, but historically smaller guild-based professions often utilized these approaches well. Guilds in medieval Europe, for example, overcame the problem of widespread counterfeiting and adverse selection by inspecting their members’ products and prohibiting the sale of low-quality products.17 They also sold merchandise with conspicuous characteristics—unmistakable colors, weaves, or other attributes—that served as signals of quality.18 The words used to describe these products—Damascus steel, Parmesan cheese, London pewter—helped establish the reputation of these guilds and differentiate them from counterfeiters.19 Guilds also used specific marks—such as abstract symbols and allegorical figures—to communicate information about their products to consumers, as did individual craft masters.20

(p.10) Public authorities have also used information for their purposes historically as well. A widespread example is the provision of statistical information about various social, demographic, and economic trends in society—Great Britain’s census reports and the United States Statistical Abstract are two prominent examples.21 William the Conqueror commanded the first population survey of England in 1085, and its results—documented in the Domesday Book—were likely used to calculate taxes and feudal duties owed to the Crown.22 The modern British census was initiated in 1801 to address concerns about the population increases and food shortages predicted by Thomas Malthus, and it quickly became a powerful instrument of the rising state bureaucracy.23 The data provided by the census not only served as a tool of surveillance and control, particularly of migrant people and the urban poor, but also as a mechanism of empowerment and representation for the public.24 The census also contributed to a growing sense of national identity and identity with specific social subgroups, and it enabled reformers within and outside the government to advance their agendas to improve the working and living conditions of the British people.25

Information-based strategies have also been utilized by advocacy organizations to advance their causes for quite some time as well. One of the earliest examples is the nineteenth-century product marks that were used by labor unions to differentiate union-made goods and boycott nonlabeled products.26 The first union label was adopted by the Cigar Makers’ International Union of America in 1874 to distinguish products made by white unionized workers from those made by Chinese immigrants.27 By the 1890s, union labels were being used by unionized printers, bakers, barbers, brewers, and other “first class” workmen.28 While it can be argued that these marks increased profits for shops and therefore created private goods, the broader benefits that these labor marks promised—higher wages for (generally white) workers who would then have a higher standard of living and be able to buy more goods themselves—is a distinctly nonexcludable public good (and similar to today’s Fair Trade label).

Each of these historical examples of information-based strategies were highly debated in their respective eras, and consumers, government officials, businesspeople, and social activists in those eras faced decisions similar to those facing Mark, Carrie, Lynn, Anu, and Vernon in the examples given earlier. As a manufacturer, how should I use information to distinguish my product from those of my competitors and counterfeiters? As a (p.11) consumer, should I buy a product certified as union-made? As a policymaker, what census information—if any—should I collect from the public, and how should I make use of that information? As an activist, should I support and use these information-based strategies as mechanisms to advance social progress, or should I criticize and oppose them as dangerous instruments of government control and private interests?

Something New: Outbreaks of Information

While information-based strategies have been around for centuries, they have become more common and prominent in recent years. Consumer products, colleges, hospitals, movies, stocks, and much more are being rated, ranked, certified, boycotted, and labeled by nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies, media outlets, government agencies, and consumers all over the world. Examples include U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings, Morningstar stock ratings, Consumer Reports product ratings, Nielsen’s television ratings, Freedom House’s democracy ranking, Charity Navigator’s nonprofit ratings, and FICO’s credit scores.29 The subjects of these efforts are not only products and companies, but also entire countries and individual politicians, doctors, professors, and citizens.

Building on earlier signaling efforts by craft masters and guilds, corporations have increasingly used information to differentiate themselves within their industries through trademarks, branding, marketing, awards, corporate reporting, and certifications. On average, U.S. firms spend 11 percent of their budget on marketing (an amount that increased 3 percent between 2011 and 2014), and the average American consumer sees 247 commercial images per day.30 Nearly 640,000 trademarks were registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office between 1870 and 1962; that number increased to over five million between 1982 and 2012. There are more than 300 professional certifications available in the United States for professions as diverse as archivists, fire code inspectors, and food executives.31

Advocacy organizations have also expanded their use of information-based strategies since the first union labels, and become prominent supporters of a wide range of product certifications, boycotts, and rating systems that advance their causes. Consumers Union rates products on their quality and safety, Transparency International rates countries on their levels of corruption and transparency, Freedom House rates countries on (p.12) the quality of their democratic institutions, and Charity Navigator rates nonprofits on their financial health, accountability, and transparency.32 Some of the more well-known boycotts in the past century include the anti-Nazi boycott of German goods before World War II, the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, the United Farm Worker boycott of grapes and lettuce, and the boycott of Nestle for its promotion of breast milk substitutes in less developed countries.33 Media organizations and academic researchers have also become involved in similar information-based governance strategies. For example, U.S. News and World Report has published rankings of colleges and universities since 1983, while the National Research Council produced rankings of graduate research institutions in 2010.34 All of these information-based governance efforts share a common interest in creating public and common goods for society.

Government agencies are also collecting or mandating the disclosure of information across a wide range of sectors and issues. The U.S. federal government has required public companies to disclose their financial performance and risks, packaged food companies to provide nutrition labels on their products, banks to report on their mortgage lending practices, and employers to inform their workers about workplace hazards.35 States such as New York and Pennsylvania have required hospitals to publicly report data on cardiac surgeries, and cities such as Los Angeles have mandated that restaurants post their hygiene grades at their entrances.36 The Consumer Product Safety Commission manages a website (www.SaferProducts.gov) that the public can use to report harm caused by particular consumer products; these reports are publicly available on the same website, as is information about recalls issued by manufacturers and the Commission.37 Government agencies are also awarding companies and certifying products for strong performance on issues the government has prioritized, through programs such as ENERGY STAR and the Green Power Partnership.38

Indeed, nowhere is this increased use of information-based strategies more apparent than in the environmental field. Between 1975, when Congress created the EnergyGuide Program to label products in eleven household categories, and today, nearly four hundred environmental certifications of products, or eco-labels, have been introduced around the world.39 These include the U.S. Government’s ENERGY STAR label, the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC) wood product label, and the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED building certification.40 As the Global Ecolabeling (p.13) Network explains, these eco-labels identify products or services that have been determined to be environmentally preferable, compared to similar products or services within their categories.41

During this same period, environmental ratings of companies have proliferated as well. Nonprofit organizations such as Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, and the Union of Concerned Scientists have issued corporate environmental ratings across a wide range of sectors, as have socially responsible investment firms such as KLD and Innovest (both now part of MSCI) and media outlets such as Newsweek and Fortune magazine.42 Meanwhile, Yale University and Columbia University have developed a rating system that ranks the environmental performance of 192 countries, and a myriad of organizations have developed websites to calculate the carbon footprints of consumers.43 Similarly, sustainability rankings of cities have been developed by German manufacturing company Siemens, the media company SustainLane, and Kent Portney, a political scientist at Texas A&M University.44 The environmental performance of products, organizations, cities, countries, and individuals are thus all being evaluated by these initiatives.

This development represents a radical shift in emphasis and strategy for these organizations. While environmental organizations have traditionally focused on government regulation as their primary strategy, many now are dedicating their resources to initiating these information-based strategies, whether they are boycotts, eco-labels, or green ratings.45 In response to such efforts, corporations have engaged in similar approaches, such as the forestry industry’s Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the chemical industry’s Responsible Care Program.46 Government agencies, recognizing the popularity and merits of these nonregulatory mechanisms, have also initiated programs to reward strong performers and provide more information to the public.47 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for example, has more than sixty such voluntary programs, including WasteWise, Water-Sense, and Safer Choice.48

The Promise of Information

This proliferation of information-based environmental strategies is likely due to several factors. Technology has of course played an important role—the rise of personal computers and the Internet have made the processing (p.14) and sharing of information easier for all of the actors mentioned. While technology has supplied the means, politics and ideology have provided the motivation for organizations and individuals to embrace these approaches. Shrinking resources and political challenges at the international and domestic scales of government have frustrated traditional governance strategies and created a strong pragmatic “push” toward more creative efforts to encourage collective action. Meanwhile, economic, populist, and media logics have generated an unmistakable ideological “pull” toward policy solutions that are perceived as improving the efficiency of the marketplace, supporting grassroots social movements, and enabling individuals to make their own decisions based on “objective” information. These forces have provided a host of both strategic and philosophical arguments to justify the move toward information-based governance strategies.

The Push of Politics

After the excitement of the historic negotiation of the Montreal Protocol in 1987 to confront the challenge of the depleting ozone layer, efforts to coordinate and harmonize environmental protection across national boundaries appeared to have a hopeful future.49 Instead, however, these efforts suffered several major setbacks only a few years later at the Rio Earth Summit. While leaders from around the world at the Rio Summit made many nonbinding declarations of intentions such as Agenda 21, commitments to binding international environmental treaties with specific targets and timetables were limited.50 Particularly disillusioning for environmental advocates was the lack of a binding agreement on protecting the world’s forests, which was vetoed by developing countries led by Malaysia.51 Also disappointing was the United States’ blocking of a binding accord on combatting climate change at the Summit.52 As Ohio State sociologist Tim Bartley summarizes, “Environmental groups viewed Rio as a nearly complete failure on forestry issues,” and some became “especially disenchanted with intergovernmental areas at this point. … [They] seem to have interpreted Rio as one more piece of evidence that private rather than intergovernmental, initiatives were the place to focus their energies.”53

Progress was not much better on the domestic front. The heady days of the early 1970s had witnessed the passage of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act under Richard Nixon, but the implementation of these seminal laws had numerous technical challenges, mixed (p.15) results, and legal and political resistance from many state officials, businesspeople, landowners, and conservatives.54 Due to claims from companies that the legislated deadlines were too onerous and unrealistic, the EPA granted a host of extensions to companies to comply with the Clean Air Act in the 1970s, and was the subject of more than 150 lawsuits brought by companies regarding its implementation of the Clean Water Act.55 The agency’s budget was slashed by a third by the Reagan administration, and efforts to revise the Clean Air Act were blocked by Democrats in Congress with strong ties to the automobile and coal industries.56 While levels of most major pollutants had decreased significantly between 1970 and 1987, nearly 102 million Americans still lived in counties that exceeded at least one air quality standard in 1987.57 Likewise, that same year—fifteen years after the Clean Water Act was passed—30 percent of river miles assessed were found to be at least partially impaired and not fully supportive of beneficial uses.58

These challenges and mixed results motivated some actors to redouble their efforts to strengthen these regulatory approaches. Their work led to amendments to the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts being passed by Congress (in 1987 and 1990 respectively) that made significant improvements to these laws.59 Others became increasingly disillusioned with the standard command-and-control model and began advocating for more collaborative, integrative, and innovative strategies.60 These included the Toxics Release Inventory, which was passed by Congress in 1986 and tracks and publishes chemical releases to the environment by companies, which are required by law to provide this information to the EPA.61 Other new approaches included a federal program embedded in the 1990 Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act (otherwise known as the “farm bill”) that would develop and enforce a national definition of organic food and a market-based cap-and-trade system incorporated in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments that enabled companies to buy and sell pollution credits.62

Partisanship and polarization over environmental policymaking continued into the 1990s and 2000s, providing further justification for regulation skeptics to continue their quest for more effective governance strategies. President Bill Clinton gave up on the BTU tax he initially proposed as part of his deficit reduction package in 1993 after facing resistance to it from within his own party.63 His tenure became particularly punctuated with (p.16) conflicts over environmental regulations once Republicans took control of Congress in 1994.64 As a strategic response to these partisan clashes, his administration strongly emphasized voluntary programs and public-private partnerships with industry.65 This emphasis on collaboration as well as further conflict over environmental regulations and international agreements continued during George W. Bush’s time in office.66 As exemplified by its development of the Clean Power Plan and support for the Paris Climate Agreement, the Obama administration has placed more emphasis on regulatory approaches, but gridlock in Congress and lawsuits in the courts continue to drive many actors toward exploring alternative governance strategies.67

The Pull of Information

As the possibilities for passing far-reaching domestic environmental regulations or international treaties dimmed in recent decades, optimism about the power of information has skyrocketed. Such optimism is undergirded by a deeper ideology—in the sense of ideology being a “systematic scheme of ideas, usually relating to politics, economics, or society, and forming the basis of action or policy”—that has multiple roots and manifestations.68 This “ideology of information” has grown in popularity as the appealing concepts of the “information society” and the “information age” have become increasingly commonplace since the 1970s.69 The foundation of this ideology is a belief in the ability of information to transmit knowledge, catalyze change, and improve social conditions. For example, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Google Ideas Director Jared Cohen claim in their book, The New Digital Age, that “everyone benefits from digital data”: governments, the media, nongovernmental organizations, companies such as Amazon, and even an illiterate Maasai cattle herder in the Serengeti.70

This information optimism spans the political spectrum. For example, George Gilder, Ronald Reagan’s most quoted living author and a proponent of supply side economics, posits that information—not incentives—drives economic growth in his book Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How It Is Revolutionizing Our World.71 Meanwhile, Cass Sunstein, former administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration, discusses the power and potential of new information technologies—such as wikis, prediction (p.17) markets, and blogs—to facilitate the development of beneficial products and activities in his book Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge.72 Such bipartisan support has enabled information-based governance strategies to proliferate while many traditional governance initiatives have been mired in political gridlock.

Each of these authors would agree with journalist Simon Rogers, who asserts that “information is power” in the title of his article about the British government’s release of a “tsunami of data” and government-held datasets. This belief in the power of information is rooted in Sir Francis Bacon’s older and more well-known statement, “Knowledge is power” (“Scientia potentia est”).73 Nearly four hundred years later, French philosopher Michel Foucault reiterated this relationship, but reframed it as being more complex and bidirectional—“in knowing we control and in controlling we know.”74 As its means of communication, information is central to this power of knowledge.75 Information represents an individual’s ability to translate tacit, internalized knowledge into explicit, articulated words and symbols that can influence the knowledge and actions of other individuals.76 As the capacity of individuals and organizations to create such information has increased with the advent of new technologies, recognition of the power of information to influence others has increased as well.

Awareness of this power is also rooted in economic theory, which considers “perfect information” to be one of the four prerequisites of well-functioning markets.77 Friedrich Hayek considered price to be the most relevant information for markets to function efficiently,78 but more recent work has revealed that other forms of information—signals of quality or willingness to pay, for example—are also relevant to buyers and sellers.79 Such information is often underproduced because the public good nature of information limits incentives for its dissemination.80 Thus information asymmetries can develop where buyers know more than sellers (or vice versa), which can cause individuals with more information to increase risks for those with less information by behaving differently (i.e., moral hazards) or by acting on hidden information only available to them (i.e., adverse selection).81 Different schools of economic thought, from public choice theory and public finance theory to new institutional economics, cultural economics, and behavioral economics, offer a range of arguments for why the provision of relevant information (by either public or private actors) can eliminate these issues, enable markets to work more (p.18) efficiently, and increase everyone’s overall utility—without infringing on their rights.82

A third contribution to the rising interest in information-based strategies comes from populist social movements that view information as a liberating and powerful weapon against injustice and repression. These movements have mobilized around concerns about civil rights, public health, environmental degradation, government corruption, and other social issues, and participants in these movements believe that information on these issues should be provided to citizens, consumers, and society at large.83 This is the basis of the grassroots “right to know” campaigns that have created laws requiring public disclosure of government-held information in seventy countries around the world.84 Harvard Kennedy School scholar Mary Graham has explored how these campaigns are a form of “technopopulism” that—like the initiatives and referendums of the original populism movement—embrace direct democracy over deliberation.85 They build on Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’s insight that just as “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants” and “electric light the most efficient policeman,” “publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases.”86 As Graham’s coauthor and Harvard colleague Archon Fung has pointed out, such publicity has the potential to create an “infotopia” that enables citizens to exercise their democratic rights of self-government, make better choices that advance their “own welfare and flourishing,” and, “collectively, to control the organizations that affect their lives.”87

Another basis of this belief in information is the relatively modern concept of objectivity.88 As information became more widely available with the invention of the printing press, contestation over its veracity and value increased, and by the late nineteenth century, had contributed to the development of a “norm of objectivity.”89 In 1922, the American Society of Newspaper Editors adopted a Code of Ethics that demanded the “sincerity, truthfulness, accuracy … and impartiality” of journalists.90 Such a norm of objectivity has become a fundamental tenet of the journalism industry, and now pervades the rhetoric that the industry uses to describe itself. Scholars such as Donna Haraway, a feminist studies scholar at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have pointed out that absolute objectivity is not possible, given the human, “situated” biases that inevitably are incorporated into any form of knowledge.91 Yet the public still expects and assumes that the information it consumes from the media can be, should be, and (p.19) is objective. This expectation and assumption further undergirds the new faith in information as a promising basis for effective governance.

Each of these logics of objectivity, technopopulism, and market efficiency contribute to an ideology of information that is an important explanation for why such a wide range of actors have chosen information-based strategies over other governance strategies. For different reasons, this ideology resonates with liberals, conservatives, and libertarians alike, as it respects individual liberties, reduces the need for government regulations, and empowers civil society. Because it requires neither the carrots or sticks that are the basis of the three other forms of governance discussed previously (command-and-control-based regulation, mandatory market-based governance, and voluntary market-based governance), it is perceived as being less costly for society and less demanding of both individuals and companies. It is also seen as more personally empowering, more objective, less “political,” and for all of these reasons, more politically feasible. Proponents of information-based strategies thus find them attractive for both ideological and pragmatic reasons, and contend that they can transcend the polarization and partisanship that has dominated environmental politics for decades.

The Pitfalls of Information

As support for this ideology of information has grown and initiatives based on its doctrines have proliferated, the concerns of skeptics have grown as well. These information pessimists have strongly criticized the new emphasis on the use of information to encourage collective action on both strategic and philosophical grounds. Chief among their concerns is that eco-labels and sustainability ratings are part of a broader corporate takeover of the environmental and social justice movements. University of British Columbia researchers Peter Dauvergne and Jane Lister, for example, assert that the “eco-business” model has allowed “big-brand retailers and manufacturers” to “use ‘sustainability’ to protect their private interests.”92 They argue that this model cannot on its own solve the ecological challenges facing humanity, as it is focused on “sustainability for big business, not sustainability and the planet” and in many cases is “actually increasing risks and adding to an ever-mounting global crisis.”93 In their view, certifications and ratings are primarily a tool for corporations to better control their (p.20) supply chains and increase their productivity and profitability.94 As Queen Mary University scholar Frances Bowen explains, these critical perspectives consider information-based programs to be examples of symbolic corporate environmentalism that maintain existing power structures and delay meaningful environmental action.95

Other critics have raised a host of additional concerns about efforts that rely on consumers “shopping for good.”96 As Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, explains, such consumers are often comparing results from small-scale and limited corporate initiatives that obscure the deeper environmental and social problems with modern supply chains.97 Consumers are also confronted with a host of deceptive and fraudulent claims that amount to disinformation and greenwashing”—intentional attempts by companies to mislead the public about their environmental performance.98 The structure and format of these claims can further mislead consumers by grading on a curve that emphasizes the relative rather than absolute and often poor performance of companies.99 More fundamentally, critics are concerned that eco-labels promote a dangerous myth of the power of consumer influence and “private politics,” and weaken the motivation for new environmental regulations and international agreements that make deeper change and progress possible. This is the heart of the skeptic’s argument; they believe that despite the time and resources they require, government action is necessary to tackle society’s most pressing sustainability challenges. Labels and ratings, however, are often only relevant to the rich and well-to-do, and offer marginal environmental and social benefits, if any at all.100

Örebro University sociologist Magnus Boström and Lund University sociologist Mikael Klintman add several other reasons for skepticism about eco-standards and product labels. In their research, they found that some stakeholders believe labeling adds an unwanted additional layer of rules for “already overregulated” industries and gives too much power and control to certain advocacy groups, large companies, and developed countries.101 Stakeholders also complained that labeling initiatives disregard the experience of public authorities, provide only a “shallow transparency” about products, put too much responsibility on the consumer, and are not an effective or “radical enough” instrument of change.102 Boström and Klintman also cite skeptical arguments relating to the validity of green labels—that they are “pseudo-science” marketing tools that do not “take environmental (p.21) and social consequences sufficiently into account.”103 For these reasons, information pessimists would advise our five friends introduced earlier in this chapter to treat the green claims facing them with extreme caution, and instead pursue other, more effective avenues of political action.

The Obama administration, reversing a longstanding policy orientation promoted by both Democratic and Republican presidents, has accepted many of these critiques of information-based governance. In 2009, Lisa Jackson, President Obama’s first administrator of the EPA, announced the termination of the National Environmental Performance Track Program, a voluntary program that had recognized companies for their “continuous environmental improvement” and rewarded them with public recognition and fewer enforcement inspections.104 A 2007 report on the program by EPA’s Inspector General found that “only 2 of 30 sampled Performance Track members met all of their environmental improvement commitments.”105 In her letter announcing the program’s termination, Jackson stated that such “stewardship initiatives should not take the place of our regulatory framework but should augment it by bringing to bear advanced technology and innovation to achieve progress on emerging problems that our regulations do not yet address.”106 Two years later, EPA also announced the termination of the Climate Leaders program, another voluntary initiative designed to recognize corporations for their efforts to inventory and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.107

The reasons for this increased skepticism about information-based governance strategies are diverse and complex, but can be divided into five main categories. The first is a fundamental distrust in the information being provided by these initiatives. Why should the public trust the organizations behind these initiatives or the processes by which their standards are developed? The second is a perception of the irrelevance of this information. Even if the public trusts these organizations, why are the ratings and labels they are providing important and worth paying attention to? The third set of reasons for skepticism relate to uncertainty about the quality of the information provided. How does the public know if the information is accurate and valid? Even if this uncertainty can be overcome, the public can also develop a sense of information overload from the complexity and diversity of the claims they encounter. How can the public effectively identify and make use of the most trustworthy, relevant, and accurate information available? Finally, and most importantly, information pessimists are concerned (p.22) that information-based governance is ineffective and impotent—both in absolute terms and relative to other forms of governance. How can the public know whether these efforts are leading to positive and meaningful environmental outcomes?

Theoretical Framework: The Information Value Chain

These five areas of concerns about information-based governance strategies raise important questions about their efficacy as solutions to society’s environmental challenges. Proponents of these strategies generally acknowledge these concerns, but point out that other forms of governance have their own sets of problems.108 A fundamental concern about regulation-based governance, for example, is its political feasibility in the current domestic climate. Alternative forms of governance, as Lisa Jackson argued in her letter terminating the Performance Track program, can demonstrate the feasibility of new technologies that such regulations would require and build support for their future passage.109 In the meantime, information optimists have argued that information-based strategies can and have created significant shifts in the market toward more environmentally friendly products.110

This is true, although in most cases these strategies are fundamentally limited by their voluntary nature. Even in cases where disclosure of environmental information (e.g., the Toxics Release Inventory) or agency procurement of green products (e.g., Executive Order 13693) is required by the government, the use of disclosed information by the public and other stakeholders is still voluntary. Given the public goods nature of the benefits that the use of this information creates, individuals can benefit from others buying green products without themselves doing so. This is a classic free rider problem, and suggests that a large number of people will not “buy green” on their own.111 Some environmental information is a blended good (i.e., impure public good) that has both public and private benefits (e.g., an energy efficiency label that indicates both reduced energy costs and environmental impacts), and thus may attract more interest among the public.112 But even this information faces the five categories of concerns listed previously, each of which may short-circuit the public’s interest in paying attention to environmental certifications and ratings. Designers of these programs must address these concerns if they hope to maximize (p.23) the potential of information-based governance, both as a mechanism to facilitate more far-reaching regulations and as a means of creating direct environmental benefits themselves.

This book provides a theoretical framework that can help designers accomplish these dual goals. It can also assist researchers, consumers, and other actors to better compare and evaluate these strategies. The framework builds on the idea that green ratings and eco-labels are tangible objects that are produced by specific organizations and individuals and have particular characteristics. In order to more clearly analyze and visualize these initiatives, I have conceptualized the information that they deliver as products themselves. These information products have four basic components—the organizations that are affiliated with them, the issue areas they cover, the data they are based on, and the interfaces through which they are delivered.

These components are developed in an information value chain through four distinct processes—institutional engagement, issue identification, data analysis, and interface design. In this sense, they are similar to supply or value chains that begin with raw materials and produce a final product for end consumers to utilize,113 but differ from traditional supply chains in the sense that they pull together more intangible resources (e.g., ideas, organizations, data, delivery mechanisms) and create a more intangible asset (i.e., information).

Corresponding to each of the value chain’s main components is a set of four basic attributes that are common to all information-based governance strategies—organizational trustworthiness, content relevance, methodological credibility, and cognitive usability.114 The processes, components, and attributes of this information value chain are shown graphically in figure 1.1. Each of these four components and their attributes influence how different audiences perceive and make use of the information created by these value chains.

Outline of the Book: A Path toward Information Realism

Using a broad range of social science concepts and empirical examples, the next four chapters describe these attributes in more detail. While recognizing other types of information-based initiatives are important in their own right, given the controversies that surround them I have focused on (p.24)

The Green Debate: Information Optimists, Pessimists, and Realists

Figure 1.1 The information-based governance development process.

Note: While these processes are displayed linearly, they can all have important feedback effects on each other.

information-based governance strategies in this book. The empirical data presented comes from my EEPAC Dataset, mentioned earlier in this chapter, which contains more than 2,500 webpages and PDF files that were downloaded from the websites of 245 examples of information-based governance in 2009 and 2010. These pages were analyzed using a rigorous coding process that generated nearly ten thousand coded text segments across 223 different codes. These codes represent characteristics that are relevant to each of the five core areas mentioned earlier. This original dataset provides a unique perspective on the landscape of information-based environmental governance strategies and the prevalence of different characteristics and practices. More information about the methods used to construct and analyze this dataset is provided in appendix I.

Building on this data, chapter 2 focuses on the relevance of the information provided by these initiatives, with particular attention to the issues they cover—from climate change to toxic waste—and the values they activate. Chapter 3 discusses the trustworthiness, legitimacy, and accountability of organizations that must be recruited to help develop information-based initiatives, by providing expertise, funding, data, and other types of assistance. Chapter 4 analyzes the validity and reliability of the methods used to develop the information provided by these initiatives. Chapter 5 (p.25) explores the prominence, intelligibility, and feasibility of the interfaces by which the public makes use of the information—the final component of the information value chain.

Chapter 6 then focuses on the effects and effectiveness of the information itself, once it emerges from this value chain. Because of the basic voluntary nature of information-based governance, audience responsiveness to these programs is the primary mechanism through which they act. If audiences respond positively to the information, they may then pursue complementary governance strategies that may make use of new or existing markets, regulations, technologies, information, or moral arguments. Consumers and institutions may change their purchasing behavior, manufacturers may introduce new technologies, government agencies may enact new regulations, and advocacy organizations may begin new campaigns, all in response to the information provided by these information-based strategies. The environmental performance related to the original issue—whether it was climate impacts or some other issue—may then be improved and a public or common good created. Chapter 6 examines these different pathways of effectiveness, summarizes stakeholder perceptions of their viability and usefulness, and investigates examples that demonstrate both their strengths and weaknesses.

Chapter 7 synthesizes the results from the previous chapters in a discussion of the idea of information realism and its cousin, green realism. It acknowledges that both sides of the debate about the role of information-based governance strategies have made important points about the promise and pitfalls of these approaches. It also highlights the shortcomings of these two opposing perspectives. While it is true that information-based strategies have made important contributions to protecting the environment, these contributions will be short-lived and overshadowed by their unintended negative effects if they do not further grow into more mature governance initiatives. Likewise, information-based strategies do indeed have important limitations, but they can serve as a critical foundation for other governance approaches that may not come to fruition without the catalytic effect that information-based strategies can provide.

In order to fulfill the expectations of the information optimists and overcome the concerns of the information pessimists, information-based initiatives must become more trustworthy, salient, valid, and usable sources of information. They must directly confront their limitations and tangibly (p.26) demonstrate how they complement more far-reaching governance strategies. While it will not resolve all of the philosophical and strategic differences in the debate discussed earlier, this book presents a realistic appraisal of the role of information in environmental governance and its relationship to other forms of governance. Based on an interdisciplinary review of the relevant literature and an analysis of over 240 initiatives and over 60 stakeholder interviews, the book distinguishes between the different purposes that these information initiatives serve, and provides guidance for those facing decisions like the five individuals described at the beginning of this chapter.

The book’s final chapter outlines a range of recommendations that designers of these programs can implement and users of them can follow that will facilitate the further maturation of information-based governance strategies. Based on the analyses and insights of the previous chapters, these recommendations not only can enhance the effectiveness of information-based environmental governance strategies, but also are relevant to the use of information to encourage collective action on a host of other issues facing society. All members of society—policymakers, corporate executives, civil society advocates, researchers, and individual consumers and citizens—have an important role to play in ensuring that the information we use to help us make decisions also helps us solve our most pressing social and environmental challenges.


(2.) For more on the political and legislative strategies of these two organizations, see Natural Resources Defense Council, “Policy Library”; Sierra Club, “Politics and Elections.”

(3.) Parts of this section have been adapted from Bullock, “Green Grades,” and Bullock, “Information-Based Governance Theory.”

(4.) This definition builds on discussions of the term by several scholars of governance, including Bevir, Key Concepts in Governance, 3; Kjær, Governance, 10; Young, On Environmental Governance, 3.

(8.) Other scholars have classified the different forms of governance in a range of different ways. Bevir (Key Concepts in Governance) for example, discusses authority-based, network-based, market-based, and participative governance types. Rosenau (“Governance in a New Global Order”) classifies governance in terms of its processes (either unidirectional or multidirectional) and structures (either formal, informal, or mixed) and identifies six primary governance types—top-down governance, network governance, bottom-up governance, side-by-side governance, market governance, and mobius-web governance. Treib, Bähr, and Falkner (“Modes of Governance”) suggest four types of governance—coercion, voluntarism, targeting, and framework regulation, while Jordan, Wurzel, and Zito (“The Rise of ‘New’ Policy Instruments in Comparative Perspective”) differentiate between forms of governance that use, respectively, regulation, voluntary agreements, market-based (p.270) instruments, eco-labels, and environmental management systems. Hysing (“From Government to Governance?”) delineates five different “governing instruments and styles” that include command and control (legal sanctions), incentive-based instruments (taxes and grants), delegated public functions (outsourcing, decentralization, privatization), information instruments (consultations, counseling, education), and voluntary instruments (agreements and labeling).

These typologies provide intriguing insights into the dynamics of governance strategies, but do not provide a clear articulation of their fundamental differences. Also, only Hysing’s work explicitly mentions information, but does not explore how it operates, other than describing it as a “soft” instrument. The governance typology in this book builds on this earlier work by more directly addressing the role of information and defining the range of governance approaches more clearly. To accomplish this task, it uses two of the most basic forms of power—physical force and economic incentives—to differentiate between four basic types of governance.

(9.) For a straightforward explanation of public vs. private goods, see EconPort, “EconPort—Handbook—Public Goods—Classification Table.”

(12.) It should be noted that “information-based governance” is distinct from Arthur Mol’s (Environmental Reform in the Information Age) concept of “informational governance.” Mol’s work makes a valuable contribution toward integrating the two fields of information and governance, and provides a helpful synthesis of much of their relevant theoretical and empirical work. Mol (“Environmental Governance in the Information Age”) uses the idea of informational governance to describe the “idea that information (and informational processes, technologies, institutions, and resources linked to it) is fundamentally restructuring processes, institutions, and practices of environmental governance, in a way which is essentially different from that of conventional modes of environmental governance.” Mol argues that the modern flows of information have enabled new sets of actors and networks to be more engaged in both authoritative and network-driven governance processes.

While this concept provides an insightful lens on the use of information in environmental governance, it does not clearly differentiate between two distinct phenomena—the general use of information in all governance strategies versus the specific use of information as the primary instrument of power in a subset of governance strategies. Unlike informational governance, the concept of information-based governance introduced in this book focuses on the specific instances of governance that not only use information, but also use it as their primary mechanism for driving collective action. While all governance strategies use information (p.271) to some degree, “information-based governance” begins with and depends on the provision of information to effect change. While informational governance provides an overarching description of “information in governance,” information-based governance is a more specific and operational definition of “information as governance.” Thus Mol’s informational governance is a different type of classification that transcends and pervades the governance types described in the preceding typology. According to Mol (Environmental Reform in the Information Age), information increasingly is an essential part of all forms of governance, and is changing its basic nature.

(13.) Fung, Graham, and Weil (Full Disclosure), for example, examine eight information disclosure policies that are mandated by government regulations, but do not consider voluntary disclosure programs. Cashore, Auld, and Newsom (Governing through Markets) focus on nonstate actors in their comprehensive analysis of forest certification programs, but do not discuss government certifications and ratings programs. Conroy (Branded!) surveys a broad range of certification programs and characterizes them as products of different social movements. Dauvergne and Lister (Eco-Business) discuss these programs more from the perspective of business and corporate strategy. De Vinney, Auger, and Eckhardt (The Myth of the Ethical Consumer) use original survey research to focus on consumer perspectives on eco-labels, but do not explore their broader institutional dynamics.

(36.) Ibid., 82, 88.

(40.) For more information about these environmental information initiatives, see ENERGY STAR, “Facts and Stats”; Forest Stewardship Council, “Our History”; U.S. Green Building Council, “LEED.”

(73.) Rodriguez Garcia, “Scientia Potestas Est–Knowledge Is Power.” On March 51, 2014, I found 4,430,000 Google results for “knowledge is power,” as opposed to 721,000 Google results for “information is power.”

(88.) For a comprehensive discussion of different interpretations of objectivity, see Porter, Trust in Numbers, 1–8.

(93.) Ibid., 2–3.

(94.) Ibid., 111.

(97.) Ibid., 37.

(100.) These arguments are clearly articulated by Scott Nova, Juliet Schor, Lisa Ann Richey, Stefano Ponte, Andrew Szasz, Richard Locke, and Margaret Levi in O’Rourke, Shopping for Good; and by Vogel, The Market for Virtue.

(102.) Ibid., 79–82.

(p.276) (103.) Ibid., 73–75.

(114.) These attributes have been discussed extensively in the broader governance, management, and information literatures. This framework also builds on earlier work in the policy evaluation and sustainability science fields. Cash et al. (“Salience, Credibility, Legitimacy and Boundaries”), for example, have developed a useful framework for analyzing environmental policy initiatives that focuses on their credibility, legitimacy, and salience. While not directly correspondent, it reinforces the importance of these attributes in characterizing and evaluating different types of governance efforts.