How Viable are Green Clubs?

by Caitlin Suh

Matthew Potoski (2015) analyzes a different method of dealing with climate change than with government policies and action that he calls “Green clubs.” Green clubs are the author’s nickname for voluntary environmental programs that target corporations as the subject of climate change adaption.

Green clubs are analogous with country clubs. Just as country clubs give their patrons exclusive bragging rights and use of their facilities in exchange for monthly or yearly dues, these green clubs offer a club good such as environmental technology or certifications of environmentally conscious business practices in exchange for their efforts to reduce the detrimental effects of climate change.

In order for green clubs to come into existence, there need to be well-known sponsors to provide the guarantee and authority needed for certifications to be of benefit to the participants. Examples of sponsors include non-governmental organizations, trade associations, governments, and international inter-governmental organizations.

The author suggest that the idea of green clubs can apply broadly to “corporate social responsibility, labor, fair trade, food supply, and accounting.” Through these models, Potoski refers to papers by Steward, Oppenhimer, and Rudyk to introduce a “building block approach” towards implementing measures against climate change in areas without strong policies already in place. This approach is lucrative in its ability to link non-environmental incentives with environmentally beneficial outcomes.

One main problem with the green club approach is, according to Potoski, the difficulty in maintaining strict regulation of each participant’s efforts against climate change. In order to properly set up a green club, one must have a sponsor willing to invest in accrediting these participants on a regular basis.

In addition, the incentive must be lucrative enough that other companies will want to invest the money and risk it takes to get accreditation from green clubs.

Potoski argues for green clubs whose focus is on certifications, rather than technology, which may be proprietary, and thus less generalizable.

In further support of certifing firms, Potoski introduces studies done that found that the presence of certified firms can “improve actual environmental conditions in developing countries.”

He ends his paper with a disclaimer based on the lack of empirical data on the effectiveness of green clubs. However, he believes that the problem in this generation lies in finding partial solutions to assuage the effects felt now while laying the grounds of long term solutions.

Potoski, Matthew. “Green Clubs in Building Block Climate Change Regimes.” Climatic Change (2015). doi 10.1007

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