[We’re pleased to welcome author Thomas P. Lyon of the University of Michigan. He recently published an article in Organization & Environment entitled “Introduction to the Special Issue on ‘Social Movements and Private Environmental Governance’,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Lyons reflects on the research published in this issue:]
What motivated you to pursue this research?
From a practical perspective, private environmental governance is of crucial importance to solving pressing environmental problems. Laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act produced enormous benefits, but in recent years political gridlock has often blocked further progress. The failure of the US Congress to address climate change is the most egregious example. As a result, attention has shifted to what can be accomplished by social movements and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working directly with business.
From an intellectual perspective, the study of social movements and private environmental governance is a rich area of inquiry, but one that is being pursued in intellectual “siloes” in economics, political science, sociology, management, and law. There is a need for true interdisciplinary research bringing together the insights from these disparate research fields.
In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?
The papers in this Special Issue represent a bold attempt to bridge the gaps between disciplines and spark new research that combines their insights. They emerged from a workshop I organized in May, 2016, with financial and logistical support from the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise. Its purpose was to help build an international, interdisciplinary research community interested in social movements, NGO activism, private governance, and information disclosure.
Of the five papers in the Special Issue, two were papers I commissioned from specific authors. I asked Anthony Heyes and Brayden King—leading scholars in economics and sociology, respectively—to collaborate on a survey of research frontiers in the organization of environmental activism. Seldom do economists and sociologists write together, but these two produced a first-rate paper that I believe will shape the next generation of research in this area.
I also asked Graham Bullock and Hamish van der Ven—two exciting young political scientists–to collaborate on a paper about the role of consumers in ratings, certifications and eco-labels. Both have new books on information disclosure programs, and I felt that a paper combining their insights on the role of consumers would be of broad interest. They graciously accepted the challenge and produced a first-rate paper that reconciles paradoxical findings in the literature and offers a pathway forward for future research.
What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?
Read the papers in the Special Issue! Although much has been learned about private environmental governance, much remains to be understood. Many of the most interesting questions lie at the boundaries between disciplines. Answering them will require a new generation of interdisciplinary research that builds on existing insights and fills in the many gaps that remain. Finally, as President of the Alliance for Research on Corporate Sustainability (ARCS), I encourage interested researchers to join ARCS! Our annual conference, held each year in late spring, gets great papers and provides tough but constructive feedback in a friendly atmosphere.
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