ABSTRACT

For more than a decade, corporate leadership groups have advocated a business-led approach to environmental management as an alternative to the rigidity, uneven enforcement, and other imperfections of governmental regulation in a global economy. In preparation for the United Nations Earth Summit in 1992, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) proposed the development of what became the ISO 14000 suite of voluntary standards for environmental management systems and practices. WBCSD’s leaders apparently sought not only to forestall any initiative toward a global environmental regulatory system, but also to “harmonize upward” the basic expectations of good environmental management practices that the most visible firms felt compelled to follow, preventing a “race to the bottom” by competitors in countries lacking the political will or resources to enforce such practices (Schmidheiny 1992). According to these business leaders, sectoral codes of good practice, voluntary certification to international management standards, supply-chain mandates by dominant transnational firms, investor pressures, and simply enlightened corporate self-interest can create more effective pressures than government regulation for environmental and social outcomes that are good both for society and businesses themselves.