Global Private Regimes, Domestic Public Law: ISO 14001 and Pollution Reduction.



Debates about the efficacy of private environmental regimes have been fueled by disparate research findings, such as when the same regime that has been effective in one setting is found to be ineffective in another. In this article, we show that the efficacy of ISO 14001, the most widely adopted voluntary environmental regime in the world, is conditioned by the stringency of countries’ domestic regulations. In doing so, we outline a model of strategic corporate environmentalism wherein firms strategically focus their International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification to reduce emissions of visible air pollutants as opposed to less visible water pollutants. Our analyses of pollution levels for a panel of 159 countries (73 for water pollution) from 1991 to 2005 indicate that ISO 14001 certifications reduce air (SO2) emissions in countries with less stringent environmental regulations but have no effect on air emissions in countries with stringent environmental regulations. We also find that ISO membership levels are not associated with reductions in water pollution levels (Biochemical Oxygen Demand BOD), irrespective of stringency of domestic law. Our article suggests that the efficacy of global private environmental regimes is likely to be conditioned by the domestic regulatory context in which firms function, and given firm’s strategic considerations, this efficacy could vary across pollution types.