Version classiqueVersion mobile

Agro-ressources et écosystèmes

Bernard Christophe
Roland Pérez

Première partie. Contexte et cadre d'analyse

Sustainable Development and Environmental Policy in the United States and Europe: Key Research Needs

Michael Kraft

Texte intégral

1The topic of sustainable development is of great importance and needs to be carefully considered at a time when environmental policy, both in the United States and around the world, is being challenged as never before, and where many new ideas and policy proposals, from use of market incentives to collaborative decision making, are up for discussion and debate.

2I am very encouraged by the interest in environmental issues and sustainability in France, and in Europe in general. In many ways Europe is ahead of the U.S. in environmental policy development and action, and this has been the case for years. It was well documented in a 2004 collection by Norman J. Vig and Michael G. Faure, eds., Green Giants? Environmental Policies of the United States and the European Union (MIT Press, 2004). This is particularly so in northern European nations such as Denmark, the Netherlands, France, and Germany.

3One striking case that received much press coverage in the U.S. this year was the use in Denmark of waste-to-energy plants where household and industrial waste is used for energy generation. New incinerator technology is being used so that household waste is converted cleanly into heat and electricity, with very low air emissions. Yet there is no similar facility in the entire United States, where such waste typically is placed in landfills.

4In this context, the Grenelle process is intriguing and very promising – particularly for bringing together a diversity of stakeholders to facilitate change within both government and industry. The new Grenelle 2 just approved by Parliament last week is even more encouraging, particularly if it can be implemented well. Development of new policies, of course, is important, but often implementation of them is far more challenging, and real world impacts depend on successful implementation.

5The role of universities in this transformation of the economy is also important. Universities can be among the leaders in fostering one of society′s great transitions from one era to another – by sponsoring, conducting, and communicating research; through graduate teaching programs that train professionals in a variety of fields; and through applied research and service that can directly assist government, industry, and communities in planning and decision making – for example, in such areas as investment in new energy technologies, design and change in transportation systems, and improvements in urban planning.

6To set the stage for discussing what universities can do and to set out a research agenda that fits into the Grenelle process and the day′s activities, I want to begin with the broad picture of environmental challenges of the 21st century, and the political and economic implications of a transition to sustainability or sustainable development. Much of this will be familiar, but a review might be helpful nonetheless.

7In this review I use a framework that Daniel Mazmanian and I developed for our book Toward Sustainable Communities: Transition and Transformations in Environmental Policy (MIT Press, 2009) about three eras in environmental policy: pollution control through government regulation that began in the 1970s; efforts to reform these policies to make them more efficient and less burdensome by using market incentives and voluntary actions, especially during the 1980s and 1990s; and the third and current era (beginning around 1990) focusing on sustainability or sustainable development. The three eras overlap, each building on the preceding one, and all three exist today in varying degrees even as much hope and energy are placed on the third era and the promise of sustainability.

8Mazmanian and I think it is important to understand this history and the challenges of the new era in environmental policy because it calls for a new generation of policy ideas and approaches that are very different from what has been used previously. We cannot continue with the policies adopted 40 years ago even where they have been relatively successful, as is the case with the U.S. Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970. These policies do not and cannot address the environmental challenges of the 21st century, and yet there remains insufficient agreement on what kinds of policies should replace them.

9Finally, I want to turn to what the United States and France have tried to do to meet these challenges of sustainability, including the Grenelle process, and what the future needs are for government, for business, and for individuals. As far as I can tell, France has done more than the United States, particularly with formal discussion among stakeholders and the establishment of decision-making processes that are designed to encourage sustainable development.

10One conclusion that I reach is that despite the many serious environmental problems that are faced in the 21st century, there are some genuine success stories in the transition to sustainability. Given these successes, one of the primary topics for research and teaching is to improve our understanding of these successes within government, industry, and communities or civil society. That is, we can study and learn from these successes, and in particular, about the conditions that encourage or facilitate innovative actions and that make them successful over time, from the establishment of sustainable communities to the building of sustainable businesses.

11I′ll turn first to the environmental challenges that are faced worldwide today and a brief historical review of the major actions that have been taken to deal with them. One of the defining moments for students of sustainability is the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit. This was a time when the world was just beginning to take the challenge of sustainability seriously and the conference produced Agenda 21 as a blueprint or guide to essential changes needed for the 21st century – from the problems of energy use and climate change to transportation, urban services, access to water resources, agriculture, and dealing with demographic changes, public health, and global poverty. Agenda 21 also addressed the process of involving civil society and Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs), including business leaders and workers.

12The conference followed the path-breaking report by the World Commission on Environment and Development, better known as the Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future (1987). That report sold over 1 million copies in some 30 languages, and it spurred extensive policy changes in both the public and private sectors. It was the first major report to describe the need for sustainable development and to define it in what remains the most commonly used concept of sustainable development: ″development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.″ The report was far more visible in Europe than in the United States, and I suspect had a greater impact in Europe.

13In the United States, the Clinton administration created a President′s Council on Sustainable Development and a series of reports from it were released in the mid-1990s. The lead report was published in February 1996 as Sustainabl e America: A New Consensus for Prosperity, Opportunity, and a Healthy Environment for the Future. It was a remarkable document in many ways, and it covered much of what is today discussed as the agenda for sustainable development, from the role of information and education to how to strengthen communities, promote natural resource stewardship, deal with U.S. population growth, and provide international leadership on these and other issues.

14The Clinton administration appeared not to advance much in the way of major initiatives based on the 1996 report, but the timing of its release was a major disadvantage in this regard. The Republican Party captured the U.S. Congress in the November 1994 elections, and from 1995 through the end of Clinton′s administration, the president faced a Congress determined to roll back environmental protections and sharply cut the budget of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Other issues took precedence during this time, and the Clinton administration was forced to defend existing U.S. environmental policy against the partisan attack in Congress, and thus it was not in a position to advance an agenda for sustainable development.

15The eight years of the George W. Bush administration were, of course, not a time when anyone would have expected advancement on that same agenda. The Bush administration was generally not supportive of environmental policy, and this was most notable in the administration′s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Its actions on U.S. domestic environmental policy were similar. The administration thought environmental policy to be a hindrance to economic growth, a position that the Republican Party maintains today, when it often describes environmental and energy policy actions as ″job killing,″ and a barrier to economic growth. This is, of course, the position that the Brundtland Commission sought to repudiate in the 1980s by offering the concept of sustainable development as an alternative that suggested the need to integrate economic development and environmental and resource policies so that one reinforced the other.

16The presidency of Barack Obama has been far more receptive to environmental and energy policy than was the Bush administration, although following the 2010 election the president faced a Republican House of Representatives that offered very little support for environmental policy actions and was determined to challenge the president on his major initiatives to invest federal funds in a major new effort to foster renewable energy sources and to reduce the risk of climate change. The Obama administration, much like the Clinton administration, has strongly supported actions to use resources sustainably, greatly improve energy efficiency requirements, encourage ecosystem-based management, strengthen the agencies charged with implementing environmental policy, and to ″reinvent″ environmental policy for a new era that demands more than command-and-control regulation from the 1970s. For example, the budget for the U.S. EPA rose substantially in the first year of the Obama administration.

17President Obama has been outspoken on the need for new energy and climate change policy, he attended and strongly supported the Copenhagen climate change meeting, and he recruited a very able and committed team of senior administrators on energy and environment.

18In October 2009 President Obama also issued an Executive Order on federal government sustainability. It calls on the federal government to lead by example on energy conservation and efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, and water conservation and waste reduction. The effort is housed in the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and it can be seen at GreenGov Challenge: A symposium in October 2010 further clarified what the administration sought to accomplish. There is also a GreenGov collaborative effort that seeks ideas and good practices for sustainability from federal government employees.

19But let′s step back and return to the 1990s to provide a suitable context for how to assess whether these recent actions will be sufficient. Consider this summary and appraisal from one prominent report released a year before the 1992 Earth Summit that underscored astonishing world trends in population and economic growth in the twentieth century:

Since 1900, the world′s population has multiplied more than three times. Its economy has grown twentyfold. The consumption of fossil fuels has grown by a factor of 30, and industrial production by a factor of 50. Most of that growth, about four-fifths of it, has occurred since 1950. Much of it is unsustainable. Earth′s basic life-supporting capital of forests, species, and soils is being depleted and its fresh waters and oceans are being degraded at an accelerating rate. (Jim MacNeill, Pieter Winsemius, and Taizo Yakushiji, Beyond Interdependence: The Meshing of the World′s Economy and the Earth′s Ecology, 1991, 3)

20At the time the authors were looking back to social, economic, and environmental changes earlier in the twentieth century, especially to the period of 1950 to 1990, and highlighting the phenomenon of exponential growth in economic activity and world use of resources.

21What lies ahead in the rest of the twenty-first century is equally striking and worrisome, and to many even a summary of the trends will seem to be discouraging.

22The United Nations estimates that the world′s 2010 population of 6.9 billion people will grow to about 9.4 billion by 2050, with virtually all of that growth occurring in the developing nations. That is a gain of 2.5 billion people in the next 40 years. Yet the problem are not confined to developing nations. The United States, for example, continues to grow at over 1 percent a year, or five to ten times as fast as most European nations, which average about 0.2 percent annual growth. This growth rate will likely take the U.S. from its mid-2010 population of over 309 million to about 420 million by 2050, an increase of 111 million people, or 36 percent. And this in a nation with a very high per capita consumption of energy and other resources. By the way, 111 million people is nearly twice the population of France. So the U.S. will add the equivalent of nearly two Frances in the next 30 years.

23Because most of the coming demographic pressures will be in developing nations, the challenge will be to feed, house, and otherwise provide for people′s needs and aspirations as both the number of people and the level of economic development increase substantially in the decades ahead. It is clear that meeting these needs will put enormous pressures on natural resources and ecological systems throughout the world. This is particularly so given the high level of economic growth that is expected over the next half century and beyond.

24So while today businesses and many governments around the world look forward to the expected economic growth that lies ahead in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, it must be growth of a certain kind to succeed – sustainable development.

25There is no universally acknowledged definition of sustainability. Yet it is clear that conventional economic growth of the 20th century cannot continue without unacceptable environmental consequences that in turn may well constrain future economic growth. Hence the need for what we call sustainable development. As the Brundtland Commission report made clear, development and the environment must be pursued together. Neither can be considered in isolation from the other. Sustainability also is put as the ″triple bottom line″ or achieving economic prosperity, environmental quality, and social well-being, all at the same time. That is the core reality of sustainability that many of us have long understood. Yet it is still not at all well recognized or understood by many, if not most, governmental and corporate leaders. Or, I might add, even university leaders, where commitment to sustainability is very thin and has barely changed traditional priorities, programmatic and budgetary. This is true even at campuses like my own that have an historic mission to study the environment and where we put the word sustainability into the campus′s mission statement and goals..

26The same is true of many cities that have sustainability programs and directors. In most cases there has not been meaningful change so far. These differences are well documented in Kent Portney′s book on the subject: Taking Sustainable Cities Seriously (MIT Press, 2003). He examines the great range of actions taken on urban sustainability and finds that some cities take sustainability seriously and many others adopt only very modest actions.

27These results occur despite the existence of hundreds of Internet sites, books, articles, and reports devoted to sustainability topics, sustainable communities, industrial ecology, smart growth, redefining progress, sustainability measures and community indicators, ecological footprint analysis, sustainability in higher education, and much more.

28In short, it is easy for political, corporate, and university leaders to make speeches, issue press releases, and create sustainability offices, or a vice president for sustainability. Yet real and lasting change is far more difficult to attain. It also faces very substantial institutional, cultural, and political barriers that will be hard to overcome.

29A few examples illustrate the challenges that we face. Consider China. It has long expected its economic output to quadruple over the next 15 years, although the recession of 2008 – 2009 slowed its growth rate somewhat. We can see what that means by looking to energy use. Coal-fired electricity and oil use in China have been increasing by about 24 percent a year recently. Consider the example of coal-fired power plants. By 2006, every week to ten days China was opening a new plant large enough to serve the energy needs of every household in a large American city such as Dallas or San Diego. By 2008, the press was reporting estimates of two new coal-fired power plants per week in China, with India rapidly increasing its own use of coal for similar purposes. It is hardly a surprise that China has now emerged as the world′s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. There is some comfort in these trends, however. At least China was ahead of the United States in the transition to cleaner coal-fired plants and was rapidly advancing in solar power and wind technology. China is also the world′s leader in nuclear power plant construction.

30Many political leaders in the U.S. now argue that the nation must become competitive in the world economy of clean or green energy and transportation (e. g., high speed rail and electric vehicles) because this will be a core element of the economy in the future. In 2010 China signed agreements with the state of California to help build a new high-speed rail system. No U.S. industry was able to build the system. But China can, and Japan, Germany, South Korea, Spain, France, and Italy, all of whom approached California about its needs. China is building such systems around the world – in Turkey, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia. And yet conventional automobile sales in China were soaring as well, growing nine-fold from 2000 to 2009 despite extensive construction of mass transit lines, including high speed rail, to handle growing demand in China for transportation. And of course this means enormous use of concrete and asphalt to build the necessary infrastructure for these automobiles.

31The broader picture is no more encouraging on growth trends, but does underscore the necessity of technological innovation and energy efficiency. In its 2009 annual World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency forecasted that global electricity demand would rise by 76 percent by 2030, much of it generated by burning coal. The agency anticipated a continuing growth in use of coal for such purposes despite its obvious implications for climate change and for public health. China and most of Asia (India, Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia) are predicating their economic growth on increased use of coal.

32Widespread economic growth is obviously important for increasing opportunities for billions of people around the world and in advancing social justice – that is, in reducing the inequalities within nations as well as between rich and poor nations. And after the global recession of 2008-2009, governments all over the world have been trying to stimulate a strong recovery. This recent experience demonstrates vividly that economic growth remains the preeminent national goal all over the world, typically with few questions asked about its environmental effects.

33Yet as the Brundtland Commission noted so well, economic growth must also be compatible with the limits of natural systems.

34It is somewhat encouraging in the U.S. that President Obama at least put some of the economic stimulus money of 2009 and 2010 into so-called Green Jobs such as those related to development of clean energy sources. And there is little question that his administration takes these issues far more seriously than did the George W. Bush administration. Nevertheless, President Obama has not been able to persuade Congress to adopt a cap and trade program to respond to climate change or to put into place some kind of tax or fee on carbon emissions.

35Climate change is a good example of the environmental challenges in this third era of environmental problems and public policy. It is caused for the most part by our use of fossil fuels and global deforestation, and especially the former. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) and reports by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, among many others, suggest severe environmental and economic impacts as the twenty-first century advances. Most of the anticipated effects have yet to occur, but they are unavoidable at this point because of the lag between greenhouse gas emissions and their effects on the world′s climate. Scientists anticipate a doubling of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere over the next 100 years, the consequences of which likely include a climate that is warmer and wetter, with rising sea levels, significant risks of abrupt and unpredictable shifts in weather patterns, and extreme events such as droughts, floods, and more severe tropical storms. Among other effects, there could be catastrophic consequences for agriculture, and thus for the food supply, and major risks to ecosystem integrity and biological diversity as well as to human health, particularly in developing nations.

36Yet it is noteworthy that despite the detailed reports and the scientific consensus that they reflect, there remains widespread scepticism about the reality of climate change and the seriousness of the risks that it poses. This is particularly the case in the United States. Over the last several years, the public has become even more sceptical about climate change despite the mounting evidence of its very real risks. Public opinion polls have found this astonishing change repeatedly over the past several years, and there is little doubt that the so-called climate sceptics have managed to confuse the American public on this score.

37Given the 2010 BP oil spill in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, I should say that this catastrophe, by some measures the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, has not affected the public′s general view of energy use and the price of energy. There was, of course, strong public reaction and outrage, similar to the Prestige spill off France and Spain in 2002, and a sharp decline in public support for off-shore oil drilling. Yet the latest polls show that despite a high level of public concern over energy and environmental issues, most people do not favor any increase in gasoline taxes that might discourage uses of gasoline. Gasoline prices in the U.S. remain about half of what they are in Europe.

38How do we explain these kinds of findings? Energy and the environment are not salient issues for the public despite the oil spill and in 2011 sharply increased costs for gasoline. Generally these issues are at or near the bottom of a list of the ″most important problems″ that people report to pollsters, which is the way we measure issue saliency. Only when questions focus on the more distant future does the environment emerge as an important problem for most people.

39Inequality: There is another side to economic growth and its environmental effects: inequality, both within nations in terms of the distribution of income and the risks, costs, and benefits of resource use and environmental threats, and also among nations, and esp. between rich and poor nations. Ideally, a focus on sustainability would seriously address issues of inequality both within nations and among nations. Most definitions of sustainability note this as part of the ″triple bottom line.″ And yet often considerations of inequality are missing from discussions of sustainable development.

40The developing world. As is well known, much of the developing world has limited access to clean water, sanitation, a reliable food supply, and essential health care services. There are high rates of poverty and unemployment in Latin America, Africa, and Asia without much chance of short-term improvement in the situation despite the international commitments reflected in the Earth Summit′s Agenda 21 and adoption of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Most rich nations have fallen far short of those commitments in economic assistance funding.

41Similar differences between rich and poor nations can be seen in their use of natural resources. For example, Americans represent about 4 percent of the Earth′s inhabitants, yet we use about 20 percent the world′s energy, 20 million barrels of oil a day – most of which (about 60 percent) is imported. Hence the reason for expanded off-shore drilling despite the obvious risks of oil spills such as the 2010 BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. On an average day, the 311 million Americans (the 2011 population) consume more petroleum than the nearly 3 billion people who live in China, India, Russia, Japan, and Brazil. About 70 percent of that oil in the U.S. goes to transportation; hence the importance of improving transportation efficiency and developing new technologies.

42It is not just oil. The world′s wealthier nations consume a far greater share of global resources than their numbers suggest. The richest one-quarter of the world′s nations, for example, control about 75 percent of its income and consume a disproportionate share of meat and fish and of the world′s energy, paper, chemicals, iron, and steel. They also generate more than 90 percent of hazardous and industrial waste. Americans alone produce about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and they have by far the highest level of per capita emissions in the world even if China has now emerged as the larger emitter of greenhouse gases. As these numbers indicate, the human impact on the environment is substantial and growing. Even without considering such inequities in resource use, there are the environmental consequences of the economic growth that we have seen and that we will see in coming decades. Clearly, this pattern is not sustainable.

43Consider one of the major assessments of how natural systems are affected by human beings. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment released by the World Health Organization in 2005 concluded that 60 percent of critical ecosystem functions are being degraded by human activities.

44At the same time, half of the urban population in Asia, Africa, and Latin America suffers from diseases associated with inadequate water and sanitation, leading to some 1.7 million deaths a year. Without greater commitment to alleviating poverty, for example by working toward the U. N. Millennium Development Goals, environmental and public health conditions like these are likely to deteriorate further. Already it appears that some 10 million people a year die from hunger or hunger related diseases, primarily in developing nations.

45It is difficult for most of us to understand these historic economic and demographic trends and their effects. Yet, as biologist Jane Lubchenco noted over a decade ago in her 1997 presidential address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), over the last several decades ″humans have emerged as a new force of nature.″

46We are, she argued, ″modifying physical, chemical, and biological systems in new ways, at faster rates, and over larger spatial scales than ever recorded on Earth.″ The result of these modifications is that humans have ″unwittingly embarked upon a grand experiment with our planet,″ with ″profound implications for all of life on Earth.″

47Put otherwise, the next few decades will see a range of new problems that we humans are creating and that are not easily correctable. Among others, they include adverse impacts on the world′s water supply, air quality, agricultural productivity, oceanic and fresh water fisheries, forests, and critical habitats and ecosystems, as well as the Earth′s biogeochemical cycles, such as the climate regulation system, on which life depends.

48So given these trends, some key questions arise, especially for social scientists and students of sustainable development and environmental policy, but they apply to many different disciplines.

49Will political systems around the world, and business corporations, prove capable and willing to address these problems. Will they be able to design, adopt, and implement effective policies to protect public health, and to do so before millions of people face dire consequences 31?

50Will they be able to do the same to promote sustainable use of natural resources before ecological systems are pushed to the breaking point?

51How will scientific and engineering knowledge be integrated with both business and governmental planning and decision making so that we ensure that smarter choices are made by society and policymakers?

52Obviously these are very substantial challenges. They illustrate how the third generation environmental and resource issues are far more difficult to deal with than what was faced in previous generations.

53To summarize these differences about third generation environmental problems such as loss of biodiversity and climate change, the following characteristics stand out:

  • The problems are global in their origins and effects as well as national and local.
  • Their impacts on society may be observed only in the long term, with the full effects often noticeable only over several generations.
  • They have low visibility. They are not sensed as readily as air pollution, water pollution, or traffic congestion. Thus they are not as likely to be salient to the public.
  • They are characterized by some degree of scientific uncertainty. Experts disagree on the magnitude of the problems, and often on the timing and location of their effects.
  • The decision-making process is complex, with diverse policy actors involved in many different institutions in both the public and private sectors and at multiple levels of government, from the local to the international level.
  • The problems are not easily resolved, in part because the causes are rooted in fundamental social, economic, and political institutions and behavior.
  • The solutions may be very costly, and the costs are likely to be imposed in the short term whereas benefits are uncertain and long term, creating few incentives for either governments or businesses to act on them.

54I believe these are the preeminent institutional challenges of the third era of environmental policy: the sustainability era. We can see the effect in the difficulty the United States has in acting on climate change. Yet much the same is true in Europe.

55For example, over the past two years, there has been a weak economy in Europe, including in France. In 2010 President Sarkozy backed away from the carbon tax, leading NGOs to say this is a serious blow to the Grenelle process.

56In France as in the United States, the resistance to a carbon tax and moving ahead on sustainable development comes from conservative forces, including what in France is called the eco-skepticism.

57So how committed is France to the Grenelle process, especially in a time of economic recession? Does inclusiveness of all stakeholders actually work? In the United States, currently there is much anti-government sentiment (particularly in the Republican Party) that makes it difficult to advocate a stronger government role in environment and energy. And yet government must assume such a role because the private sector cannot succeed by itself.

58As I understand it, ″Le Grenelle″ is a federal-government led initiative that is to bring together the various stakeholders: government, unions, employers, NGOs, local officials in a decision-making process that deals with sustainable development, including climate change. There are action plans on a host of environmental challenges. But is it working out well enough? If not, what might be done to improve it?

59Given the many barriers to success, in both France and the United States, it makes sense to proceed incrementally, or step by step, in adopting the most viable solutions in the near term while continuing to plan for and debate more substantial changes for the long term.

60I view this as a form of hopeful pessimism, or maybe it is better called hopeful realism. It is hard to be an optimist in light of the massive challenges that we face. And yet one can be realistic but still hopeful that various initiatives can work. And we can try to discover what works best.

61For example, we should adopt the easy and non-controversial solutions first, such as improving energy efficiency in automobiles, homes, universities, and businesses. We can replace much use of coal with less polluting natural gas. We can increase funding for research on new and promising energy technologies, such as highly efficient batteries for electric vehicles. It is easy to gain consensus on many such actions, and to demonstrate that they achieve important goals at an acceptable societal cost.

62The summary report from the Grenelle roundtable discussions at the November 2007 meeting was filled with these kinds of suggestions: new standards for building sector energy use, adoption of economic incentive measures such as tax credits for renovation of existing buildings and credits to encourage investment in new energy sources, and improvements in professional training and recruitment of construction professionals who can work effectively on energy efficiency programs. And much more, such as creation of an eco-tax based on vehicle mileage and emissions, action on central cities now in decline, steps to fight urban sprawl, and restrictions on sale of energy intensive devices and encouragement of new product development that improves on energy efficiency. All of this makes a lot of sense and it can be discussed and adopted despite some of the barriers to action that I have noted.

63One recent development merits mention. There is a new Earth System Governance Project underway that puts the matter this way: ″Establishing effective strategies for mediating the relationship between humans and the natural world represents one of the most daunting tasks in the quest for global environmental sustainability. Environmental problems, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, water quality and access problems, soil erosion and others, call into question the fundamental viability of how humans have organized the relationship between society and nature over the last two hundred years, creating an urgent need to identify and develop new strategies for steering societies towards a more sustainable relationship with the natural world.″ The Earth System Governance Project of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change was launched in 2009 to address these problems of environmental governance. See the Web site at:​.

64In terms of a broader research agenda, we should also study what has been done and what has been successful in a broad and diversified set of environmental, energy, and resource policies. That is, what have been the effects of various efforts to mount these policies, including recent experimental efforts to devise sustainability policies? In the United States sustainable development, much like environmental policy innovation in general, is a work in progress and with very mixed results, as Mazmanian and I discuss in Toward Sustainable Communities, and as many contributors cover in detail in a new volume that Sheldon Kamieniecki and I are editing for Oxford University Press (The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Environmental Policy, forthcoming in 2012). We need careful studies to be sure of the effects and therefore the value of the various approaches to environmental policy that are used, whether new or old, conventional or innovative. This applies to the Grenelle process as well as to actions in the U.S.

65Some of the best research today asks about the effectiveness of policies as well as their efficiency and equity. For example, what does environmental regulation achieve in terms of real environmental outcomes? How can such policies be made more effective? How can the compliance costs for industry be lowered and the policies be made more efficient?

66Similarly, does collaborative ecosystem-based management work well, or does it not? Under what conditions does it work well or not so well? So we need to study the processes and their results, especially over time. Judith Layzer′s book Natural Experiments: Ecosystem-Based Management and the Environment (2008) does this by use of multiple case studies of ecosystem restoration.

67The studies that we have are mixed on these questions of effectiveness and efficiency. Sometimes ecosystem restoration efforts work well, and collaboration is productive, but sometimes this is not the case. I have examined the same kind of collaborative decision making in regional water quality efforts, and reached the same conclusions (my own chapter in Toward Sustainable Communities). So it is important not to assume that new approaches such as collaborative decision making always work or work well under all circumstances. This would be a serious mistake in policy design and implementation. Yet learning how to make such efforts work better is clearly important.

68Similarly, instead of assuming that use of market incentives such as cap and trade programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions do work, we need to study how they work and their effects, and also determine how to design and implement them so that they are more likely to do work well. This is equally true for redesigning our cities and adopting local and regional sustainability initiatives. This was the focus of our 2009 book Toward Sustainable Communities.

69In a new book released in early 2011, Coming Clean: Information Disclosure and Environmental Performance, my colleagues and I do this through an elaborate study of the effects of the U.S. Toxics Release Inventory and its impact on industrial manufacturing enterprises in the U.S. We wanted to know how information disclosure programs work, and how they achieve their goals of improved environmental performance. Our findings were contrary to many of the assumptions that are made about such programs, and we make a number of suggestions for how to improve such programs, including their use to distribute information about greenhouse gas releases as part of climate change policy.

Sustainability, Business, and Urban Areas

70Much the same can be said about efforts within business and cities to achieve more sustainable practices. Both popular and academic studies have tried to describe the challenges that business and cities face. For example, we have James Gustave Speth′s book, The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability (2008), and his earlier work, Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment (2004) and Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins′book, Natural Capitalism (2008).

71We have new university programs on sustainable management or sustainable business (e. g., the UW-Madison Business School has a new certificate program in Business, Environment and Social Responsibility).

72And we have research on corporate sustainability efforts by scholars such as Aseem Prakash at the University of Washington and Matthew Potoski at Iowa State University, Richard Andrews at the University of North Carolina, and Cary Coglianese at the University of Pennsylvania, among others. And we have studies of the effects of adopting environmental management systems such as ISO certification. We discuss much of this literature on business and the environment in the Coming Clean book.

73We know that many voluntary corporate actions simply do not amount to sufficient change because they can go only so far in light of market realities. There are, as David Vogel argues in his book The Market for Virtue: the Potential and Limits to Corporate Social Responsibility (2005), important limits to what we can expect from corporations and free markets given the very nature of corporations and capitalism. So Corporate Social Responsibility and voluntary environmental initiatives are not likely to be enough. We also need government regulation, despite the current campaign in the United States and elsewhere to relax such regulation. And we also need consumer demand to change. In Coming Clean we refer to this approach as relying on ″hybrid″ policies, or a combination of regulation and voluntary programs. Whatever one′s general posture on corporate responsibility, voluntary actions, or regulation, it is critically important to study what works and what does not and not simply to accept assumptions based on ideology or personal beliefs.

74In Coming Clean we studied why some companies are green and others much less so in terms of trends over ten years in reducing the release of toxic chemicals and also the public health risks associated with them. Some of the companies made real and important progress over time, but many did not. Why was there such a difference? The answers were not so clear. Corporate leadership is important as is technological capacity for change, and the state and local political environment, and pressure from local communities. No one pattern dominated and thus there is no easy answer to how to improve the environmental performance of industry.

75Yet the good news is that some corporations really do move toward green goals. That is, they reduce their releases of toxic chemicals and the health risks associated with them, they cut their waste, they reduce their energy use, and so forth. Some thoroughly redesign manufacturing processes. Examples given often include Wal-Mart, Duke Energy, S. C. Johnson Company, and Johnson Controls.

76Similarly, there has been much progress in community sustainability efforts. Indeed, sustainable development is far more visible at the state and local level in the United States than it is at the national level. It is easier at this level for public officials to adopt innovative programs that deal with real local concerns, free from the political and partisan differences that often block national policymaking today in the U.S. These efforts are particularly visible in cities such as Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and Boulder, Colorado. But many, many more cities have adopted intriguing local energy policies and land use plans, and have instituted improvements in mass transit. They are rethinking urban redesign, trying to limit sprawl, and rebuilding central cities by encouraging renovation of older buildings, and adding green spaces to improve the quality of life.

77Over 1,000 mayors of U.S. cities have signed climate change commitments and are working on some of the ″best practices″ recommended. Encouraging use of bicycles for commuting to work, fostering revision of dated building codes, instituting high speed and light rail systems, encouraging use of solar energy through municipal financing mechanism to reduce their cost, and much, much more. Actions like these are increasingly common in the U.S. right now, but we are decades behind France, Japan, China, and other nations.

78There are many other encouraging examples of local and regional innovation that are moving ahead rapidly in the United States and Canada: use of lake water for cooling (Toronto and Lake Ontario), building green roofs in cities such as Chicago, adopting and installing new smart electrical grids in Boulder, Colorado that should greatly improve energy use. Other examples abound. Berkeley, California adopted an innovative financing mechanism to encourage homeowners to install solar roofs on homes. Cities like Madison, Wisconsin have adopted far-researching sustainability plans that involve actions on improving energy efficiency and transportation, construction of green buildings, renovation of older buildings to high standards, installation of additional bicycle lanes to provide alternatives to use of private vehicles, and construction of light rail systems, and much more.

79As you may know, the model here often is European cities, which are described as urban villages or livable communities, and the question that is asked is how the U.S. might do the same.

80Similar, some U.S. states have adopted smart growth policies, such as the one in my own state, Wisconsin. It mandates development of 20-year land use plans for all communities to force them to think about long-term needs and to involve stakeholders in ″visioning″ meetings that encourage consideration of sustainable development. These seem to be working fairly well.

81So there are many public and private sustainability initiatives and many models to examine, some of which are within government and other mostly in the private sector.

82Among the topics that might be studied and programs that might be developed, what are the most promising? In general terms, the following stand out:

  • The need for long-term, comprehensive, and integrated analysis and decision making. For example, the development of new roles for city planning departments and use of sophisticated analysis and computer modeling to demonstrate to the public and policymakers the consequences of conventional urban growth. This often involves linking different sectors – transportation, water, energy, housing, etc.
  • The use of systems thinking, including the incorporation of life cycle analysis, and inclusion of the full range of environmental and social costs of business decisions.
  • The use of adaptive management systems that fit and encourage experimentation, evaluation, and change.
  • The use of creative pricing and development of new markets. As economists say, there is a pressing need to ″get the prices right″ to provide suitable incentives for consumers and for businesses. This means integration of social costs into market prices.
  • The building of political and community support and commitment to sustainability goals, especially on the part of the often skeptical business community. Public involvement is an important part of any such efforts, but we do not understand how to create the requisite support to advance sustainability efforts.


83I have tried to review at least some of the major environmental and energy challenges that both the United States and France now face, including what has been done, what is most promising, and what remains to be done. Clearly there is a major role for universities, but also for those in other sectors: government, business, and nonprofit organizations. The Grenelle process emphasizes ongoing discussion among stakeholders and working toward identifying critical issues and solutions. This is very similar to what we see in the United States, but the effort here appears to be much more organized. There is much more to be discussed, and I would be happy to do so at any time in the future.



BRUNDTLAND G. H., (Ed.), Our Common Future, NY, World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987

HAWKEN P., LOVINS A., and LOVINS H., Natural Capitalism, Rocky Mountain Institute, 2008

KAMIENIECKI S. and KRAFT M., (eds), The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Environmental Policy, Oxford University Press, 2012.

KRAFT M. and MAZMANIAN D., Toward Sustainable Communities: Transition and Transformations in Environmental Policy, MIT Press, 2009

KRAFT & alii, Coming Clean: Information Disclosure and Environmental Performance, MIT Press, 2011

LAYZER J., Natural Experiments: Ecosystem-Based Management and the Environment, MIT Press, 2008

MACNEILL J., WINSEMIUS P., and YAKUSHIJI T., Beyond Interdependence: The Meshing of the World′s Economy and the Earth′s Ecology, Oxford U. Press, 1991

PORTNEY K., Taking Sustainable Cities Seriously, MIT Press, 2003.

SPETH J. G., The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability, Yale U. Press, 2008.

SPETH J. G., Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment, Yale U. Press, 2004.

VIG N. J. and FAURE M. G., eds., Green Giants? Environmental Policies of the United States and the European Union, MIT Press, 2004

VOGEL D., The Market for Virtue: the Potential and Limits to Corporate Social Responsibility, Brooking Institution Press, 2005

V. A., Sustainable America: A New Consensus for Prosperity, Opportunity, and a Healthy Environment for the Future, Washington D. C., Council on Sustainable Development, fév. 1996


© Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 2012

Conditions d’utilisation :

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search