The Role of Voluntary Industry Standards in Environmental Supply-Chain Management

An Institutional Economics Perspective


  • Christine Meisner Rosen,

  • Sara L. Beckman,

  • Janet Bercovitz

  • Christine Meisner Rosen is an associate professor and Sara L. Beckman is a senior lecturer with security of employment at the Haas School of Business, Uni-versity of California, Berkeley, California, USA. Janet Bercovitz is an assistant professor at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, Durham, North Caro-lina, USA.


Our article uses a new institutional economics (NIE) framework to explore the role of voluntary industry standards in the development and implementation of environmental supplier-management programs in the computer industry. We examine two different voluntary standards, one for the management of design for environment (DfE) in the semiconductor fabrication equipment sector and the other for assessing the implementation and use of environmental management systems throughout the computer industry supply chain. We compare and contrast the two standards to explain why the former was widely adopted and has helped integrate DfE into buyer-supplier relations among adopters, whereas the latter failed to gain acceptance. In line with NIE logic, both standards aimed to lower transaction and customization costs by setting “rules of the game” for interfirm transactions that would help simplify and routinize novel environmental supply-chain programs and activities. Their differential success can be elucidated in terms of how well each met the NIE criteria for remediableness and legitimacy. We conclude that voluntary standards have the potential to play an important role in promoting DfE in industrial supply chains. We further conclude that NIE provides a conceptual framework of great value to industrial ecologists who analyze how industry standards and other institutions help firms move toward more sustainable supply-chain management practices.