Panel Paper: Are Variations in Stakeholder Pressures Related with Different Types of Local Government Sustainability Policies?

Thursday, November 8, 2018
8219 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Won No, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics

A central challenge for environmental governance is creating policies that are designed to improve environmental conditions. Some local governments are addressing this challenge by adopting a variety of sustainability policies (ICMA, 2016). These policies include statements or directives that cities voluntarily formalize in an effort to reduce their environmental impacts beyond the requirements established by the federal environmental regulatory system. In return for adopting such policies, cities can receive goodwill benefits from their internal and external stakeholders and an enhanced reputation. However, little is known why local governments might adopt one sustainability policy over another.

Previous research has focused on local governments’ decisions to adopt a sustainability policy, broadly defined (Lubell, Feiock, & Handy, 2009; Svara, Watt, & Jang, 2013). However, cities can adopt a variety of sustainability policies. For instance, recycling policies, green building design policies, energy conservation and water conservation policies, and sustainable procurement policies are designed to improve internal efficiencies. Other policies focus on sustainability concerns more broadly that may or may not reduce internal costs.

We argue that cities’ adoption of one type of sustainability policy over another is in response to variations in their internal and external stakeholder pressures. Internal stakeholders reside inside local government (e.g., departments, managers/mayor, city council, and city employees) and are more likely to recognize how some sustainability policies can improve internal efficiencies (recycling, green building design, energy and water conservation policies, and sustainability policies). Moreover, members of city council and city managers and mayors’ positions are politicized, they are also more likely to endorse policies that appeal to popular notions of reducing costs and saving taxpayers’ money.

By contrast, external stakeholders reside outside of local government. While some (namely citizens) may also pressure for cities to adopt sustainability policies that save taxpayers’ money, federal and state governments and environmental groups may be more likely to pressure for policies that are designed to improve a range of environmental conditions more broadly. Such policies (e.g., general sustainability policies and greenhouse gas emissions policies) are less likely to be linked directly to cost-savings. Finally, pressures from vendors and business associations may be associated negatively with cities’ adoption of all types of sustainability policies.

This study takes a significant and much-needed step in evaluating how variations in stakeholder pressures are related to local government’s adoption of different types of sustainability policies. It draws on survey data for 459 U.S. local governments and considers how internal and external stakeholders are associated with two types of sustainability policies: targeted policies that focus on cost-savings and policies that focus on broader sustainability concerns. After controlling for a variety of demographic and political factors (using U.S. Census and voting data, respectively), our findings offer a more nuanced understanding of how local governments respond differently to various stakeholder pressures for sustainability concerns.