Put one down for your green intuition, or maybe just your common sense, if you’ve had a hunch that voluntary environmental programs might not achieve their goals very well. Because that’s pretty much what George Mason University found through a new mega study on companies that launch voluntary environmental programs, referred to as VEPs. 

While lots of studies in recent years have evaluated single programs, this new paper synthesizes the data from nine previous studies that in total included 30,000 companies to give an over all picture of the success of VEPs.

In a nutshell, the researchers found that companies with VEPs show worse environmental performance when compared to companies without an environmental program. And that companies without VEPs improved the environment significantly more than VEPs that monitor themselves (as opposed to monitoring by an uninterested third party).

“We show that collectively VEP [Voluntary environmental program] participants do not improve their environmental performance over nonparticipants. Rather, nonparticipants improve their environmental performance by 7.7 percent more than VEP participants. Additionally, nonparticipants improve the environment 24 percent more than participants in self-monitored VEPs, whereas participants in International Standards Organization 14001 as a group exhibit inconclusive environmental performance improvements.”

According to George Mason University the EPA gave $69 million toward promoting VEPs last year alone.

Why do we bring all this up? Because when it comes to tackling climate change there was a certain president who argued voluntary measures are the solution. While our green Spidey senses have always suspected this wasn’t the case, we now have some experts to back it up.

Story by Victoria Schlesinger. This article originally appeared in Plenty in March 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Beyond greenwashing
Vapid, corporate-minded "voluntary environmental programs" are not the answer to our climate woes.