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Voluntary Environmental Programs: A Canadian Perspective



In light of the increasing number of environmental problems necessitating government's attention and the limited scope and budget for addressing these issues, environmental protection has, and continues to evolve as more flexible approaches to regulation are being sought and embraced by governments throughout the world. Voluntary environmental programs (VEPs) are a pragmatic response by both governments and business to find a more flexible way to protect the environment. We discuss the theoretical motivations for firms to adopt VEPs in general and examine Canada's experience with three types of VEPs, public, negotiated, and unilateral agreements, to assess whether the motivating factors are present. We then argue that the institutional, political, and regulatory framework governing environmental policy in Canada does not provide the conditions necessary to effectively promote superior corporate environmental protection across jurisdictions. Despite the lack of government-directed VEPs, there has been considerable interest by both the private sector and civil society who have taken the lead by developing unilateral agreements. Using existing literature and our current research, we examine the factors that motivate firms in Canada to participate in unilateral agreements and the characteristics of firms with the higher environmental performance and suggest some policy implications.