Since the early 1990s, voluntary programs have played an increasingly prominent role in environmental management in the U.S. and other industrialized countries. Programs have attempted to address problems ranging from climate change and energy efficiency to more localized air and water pollution problems. But do they work? Despite a growing theoretical literature about how and why voluntary programs might be effective, there is limited empirical evidence on their success or the situations most conducive to their approaches. Even less is known about their cost-effectiveness.<P>Getting credible answers to these questions is important. Research to date has been largely limited to individual programs, and protagonists and antagonists to the trend are at ever greater disagreement, sometimes drawing opposite conclusions about the same program. This innovative book seeks to clarify what is known by looking at a range of program types, including different approaches adopted in different nations. The focus is on assessing actual performance via seven case studies, including the U.S. Climate Wise program, the U.S. EPA's 33/50 program on toxic chemicals, the U.K. Climate Change Agreements, and the Keidanren Voluntary Action Plan in Japan. <P>The central goals of Reality Check are understanding outcomes and the relationship between outcomes and design. Most of the programs it studies have positive results, but they are small compared with business-as-usual trends and the impact of other forces — such as higher energy prices. Importantly, potential gains may be quickly exhausted as the "low-hanging fruit" is picked up by voluntary programs. By including in-depth analyses by experts from theU.S., Europe, and Japan, the book advances scholarship and provides practical information for the future design of voluntary programs to stakeholders and policymakers on all sides of the Atlantic and Pacific.
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