An institutional analysis of voluntary regulation : examining resource efficiency initiatives 1997-2001
The potential global consequences of rates of resource consumption in modern economies have prompted several governments to use forms of voluntary regulation to promote improved resource efficiency within the firm. The UK government outsourced a wide programme to encourage waste minimisation. Part of this promoted local 'waste minimisation clubs' (now called resource efficiency clubs) which worked with members to achieve simultaneous reductions in materials and energy use, and in costs. More than 80 were run. Typically, intermediaries (some from universities) helped establish local partnerships, grant funding was obtained, volunteer firms participated, and activity ceased when funding did. Some results were inspiring and cited in policy documents. Yet it was hard to recruit and few published reports. This thesis focuses on the intermediaries. It examines their insecure and sometimes contentious positions, their claims-making and bricolage, and their abilities to shape communications about, and arrangements within, such best practice projects. Previously, intermediaries have been almost invisible participants in these temporary 'project worlds' where change is constantly recommended. Using constructs from institutionalist theory to study activity relating to short-term initiatives is unusual and 'stretches' the theory to its very edges. Yet interorganizational projects are now common and reflect what W. W. Powell (2001:30) calls "a new logic of organizing," involving, in his terms, profoundly new and discontinuous approaches to mechanisms of governance, creating disturbances at the boundaries of organizations and to the status order of organizational fields. The final chapters suggest ways of conceptualising the intermediaries' roles within institutionalist theory and consider their significance in voluntary regulation. One suggestion likens them to commensals, operating between fields of formal organizations, proffering various fashionable services related to norms, translating ideas more or less well, and constituting a mere potentiality for change, whilst reinforcing certain expectations. The thesis ends with suggestions for further research.