Certifications

Certifications are policy actors in that they seek to regulate human activity, but also firm-like in that they often must compete with other certifications. How do the firm-like aspects of certifications shape their broader political/environmental role?

A visionary article about certifications from forty years ago

A visionary article about certifications from forty years ago

Some of us, scholars studying certifications, like to think that our field is very new. That is why I love this article by Taylor, where he touches on certifications a good forty years before we started thinking about them.

Taylor’s take is fairly descriptive. He was writing circa a decade after the introduction of the ‘Lanham Act’ in the United States, which gave statutory recognition to certification marks. There was a need to inventorise certifications.

That said, Taylor’s thinking contains considerations that are insightful even today. He approached the matter comparatively, which is best practice nowadays. He proposed a rather applicable definition, marks that certify presence or absence of XYZ characteristics in the products/services of others. He classified certifications as per the type of ownership (similarly to modern attempts to establish who is behind a certification) and hypothesised about how certifications’ goals vary as per ownership.

But what I like the most is that in addition to the above, he also boldly went where some of us, regulatory scholars, are still scared to go.

Taylor noted that the government is one of the main providers of certification and that governmental certificatory efforts can be divided into two: those that certify against legal requirements and those that enhance customer information. This remains valid today. In modern times, government-led certification is typically mandatory when it certifies that laws are being followed and optional when it aims to inform consumers.

Yet, regulatory studies do not quite know what to do with optional certificatory efforts run by governments. Are these part of what we would call state regulation? If so, how does one deal with the fact that they bear an extremely high resemblance to the activities by private actors like certifications? Are these, then, what we would call non-state regulation? If so, how do you deal with the fact that they are run by state organisations?

Header photo by Amador Loureiro on Unsplash.

Posted by J in Certifications, Public Policy
Shortest summary of my PhD—certificatory competition in voluntary carbon markets

Shortest summary of my PhD—certificatory competition in voluntary carbon markets

The shortest summary of my PhD is: it’s hard to be a voluntary carbon offset certification!

Check out the figure below. It shows the total value generated by the most prominent certifications in voluntary carbon markets (between the launch of the first fully-fledged certification and the beginning of the implementation of the Paris Agreement).

‘Blue’, ‘grey’, and ‘orange’ remain strong over time, but no certification holds to the top throughout the period of analysis.

It’s a brutal market!

Want to know who ‘blue’, ‘grey’, and ‘orange’ are? Awesome! I’ll let you know when related publications see the light of day.

Posted by J in Certifications, Public Policy
A puzzling question about free markets and regulation

A puzzling question about free markets and regulation

Carbon markets date back to the 1960s. Ronald Coase1 applied his idea of a pricing mechanism for the allocation of radio frequencies to questions of public harms such as environmental damages.2 The idea then saw improvement in the context of carbon markets in the 1960s/1970s.3

So, the mechanisms upon which modern carbon markets build are consistent with thinking by Ronald Coase, a fierce advocate of free markets.

The idea of carbon trading was not sufficient for real-life efforts to emerge. It floated in the limbo of environmental governance until the emergence of the concept of sustainable development in the late-1980s, upon suggestion by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development in the ‘Brundtland Report’.4 Interest in carbon markets increased since, and later governmental efforts like the Kyoto Protocol gave it strength.

So, carbon markets faced a problem of scale, which governmental efforts helped to solve.

Does that make carbon markets a defence of both free markets and regulation at once?

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.
Posted by J in Certifications, Public Policy
Carbon markets—simple yet not simple

Carbon markets—simple yet not simple

In many ways, carbon trading and carbon markets are not as complicated as many believe.

Explaining what carbon trading is, in fact, is surprisingly simple:

[box type=”info”] An actor (A) pays a second actor (B) so that (B) undertakes projects that compensate for the pollution made by (A). [/box]

Carbon offset certifications are also easy to explain:

[box type=”info”] A third actor (C) that confirms B is compensating exactly what A is paying for (no more, no less). [/box]

So, at the foundation, carbon trading/markets are not complicated.

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What is complex/complicated is the governance of carbon markets.

As a result of the lack of consensus there is no single global carbon market but many “parallel markets operating under the same conceptual basis, but with different governance structures”.1 Many, many! Around 50 at my last count, based on the last count by the World Bank’s Carbon Pricing Dashboard.

&&&

So, simple in theory, complex in practice.

Posted by J in Certifications, Public Policy
Certificatory organisations you can’t avoid

Certificatory organisations you can’t avoid

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO)

The quality-oriented ISO 9000 is probably the most well-spread certificatory standards on the planet, but do you know how many more standards ISO has?

A lot more! More than 21607!1

That’s right! Twenty-one THOUSAND standards, being used in ~163 countries. That’s a lot!

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

Its more than 300 fire-risk oriented codes mean that “virtually every building, process, service, design, and installation in society today is affected by NFPA documents”.2

And let’s not even mention the countless lives have been saved thanks to standards by the NFPA, which underlie the operations of emergency services such as firefighting.3

Posted by J in Certifications, Public Policy
Not all standards are certifications, enter Rockefeller

Not all standards are certifications, enter Rockefeller

Some standard-making organisations are certifications. However, not all standards come from certifications.

Standardisation is nothing else than homogenisation of processes against a ‘golden mean’, be it by one or many actors, be it formally or informally.

Consider the case of John D. Rockefeller, whose oil empire changed the face of the world back in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Rockefeller used informal standards as a competitive advantage. He even chose the name of his company, ‘Standard Oil’, as a signal of consistent quality given safety concerns about the products of competitors.1

Rockefeller’s case shows how an independent process of standardisation can lead to homogenisation at a general societal level: he was so successful in promoting the safety of his oil that competitors were forced to match the standards set by his company.

Rockefeller’s Standard Oil’s standardisation effect was so absolute that many modern certifications and even regulatory agencies can only dream.

Posted by J in Certifications, Firms & Public Policy, Public Policy