Category Archives: Eco-efficiency

Carbonomics on Free Exchange

From The Economist Blog Free Exchange:

STEVEN LEVITT, Freakonomist, can expect an angry letter from Greg Mankiw. At Mr Levitt’s New York Times blog today, he says:At least some choices are beyond reproach environmentally. It is clearly better for the environment to walk to the corner store rather than to drive there. Right?

Now even this seemingly obvious conclusion is being called into question by Chris Goodall via John Tierney’s blog. And Chris Goodall is no right-wing nut; he is an environmentalist and author of the book How to Live a Low-Carbon Life.” Read more from Free Exchange

Divorce and the environment


Resource-inefficient lifestyles such as divorce?  Yu and Liu in Environmental impacts of divorce , published online Dec 5 2007 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA suggest that divorce increase the amount of resources devoted to housing and quantify such increase.

The point they make is simple: there are economies of scale in housing so that a person living in a large household consumes less resources than one living in a smaller one. Divorce increases the number of households and thereby the amount of resources housing uses up.

In the abstract, the authors use the expression “resource-inefficient lifestyles such as divorce“. I am perplexed: shouldn’t one evaluate the efficiency or inefficiency of a lifestyle taking into account, in addition to the resource used, also the benefit such use yields? Russ Roberts is outright critical in Not from the Onion:

The environmental impact of divorce? Are you kidding me? This is the cost of not understanding economics, not understanding trade-offs, not understanding the role of prices. The virtue of prices is that prices tell us what things cost. Some things are relatively cheap. Some are relatively expensive. Marriage is tough on cotton. When you marry, you tend to have kids. Kids tend to wear clothes and that means marriage is tough on cotton. But we don’t worry about that. We understand that the price of clothes discourages people from consuming too much clothing. And when clothing gets cheaper, as it has over the last 50 years, people buy more clothing as a result, use more cotton, devote more land to cotton farming and so on. That’s not a downside of marriage or having kids–people pay for the clothing they use. They take account of the cost when they decide to buy something. So when they do buy it or use it, that means that the benefits outweigh the costs. And that means that live IMPROVES and gets better, not worse when we use more of something.

In the case of water or electricity, if they’re subsidized, then yes, people ignore the full costs when they use more of those things, whether it’s because they’re divorced or simply because they want a warmer home or take a longer shower. The solution isn’t to decry divorce, it’s to fix the prices.”

We could fix prices with Pigouvian taxes as suggested in the Pigou club manifesto.

More on the topic: NPR podcast ‘Marketplace:’ Divorce, an Environmental Hazard?

ISO 14001 certification and environmental performance

The environmental management standard ISO 14001 gives firms the freedom to set the environmental impact reduction targets they see more fit, only requiring that firms document the environmental impacts of their operations and comply with existing regulations.

This has lead critics to view ISO14001 certification as greenwashing, that is, as a way to improve the public image of the firm without significantly reducing its environmental impacts.

Is ISO14001 certification a form of greenwashing? An answer can come from research on whether the adoption of ISO 14001 certification positively affect firms’ environmental performance. A recent study by Philippe Barla suggests it doesn’t. Barla examines the environmental impact of the adoption of ISO 14001 in the Quebec’s pulp and paper industry by analyzing monthly data from 37 plants for the period 1997- 2003 and finds that :

While BOD emissions slightly decline following certification, we do not find any significant change in TSS emissions or in the quantity of rejected process water. We also find that over time, non-adopting plants experienced more significant emission reductions than plants that eventually adopt ISO. Moreover, the impacts of ISO are very variable across plants. If a few plants considerably reduce emissions following certification, a majority of adopters either maintain or even increase emissions after being accredited.” (Barla 2007, 305.)

Other research, however, yields opposite results. Potoski and Prakash (2005) for instance write:

Our analysis of over 3,000 facilities regulated as major sources under the U.S. Clean Air Act suggests that ISO 14001-certified facilities reduce their pollution emissions more than non-certified facilities. This result persists even after controlling for facilities’ emission and regulatory compliance histories as well as addressing potential endogeneity issues between facilities’ environmental performance and their decisions to join ISO 14001.

More research is needed before we can assess with some confidence of the possible environmental benefits of ISO14001 certification. In the meantime, we suspend judgement.


Barla. Philippe (2007) ISO 14001 certification and environmental performance in Quebec’s pulp and paper industry , Journal of Environmental Economics and Manangement, volume 53, Issue 3, May 2007, pp. 291-306.
Here is the abstract
Download an earlier version from IDEAS.

Potoski, Matthew and Prakash, Aseem (2005) Covenants with weak swords: ISO 14001 and facilities’ environmental performance,
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management
Volume 24, Issue 4, Autumn 2005, pp. 745-769
Here is the abstract

See also International Organization for Standardization in Geneva,

Is organic food environmentally friendlier?

In a new Swedish study published in Ambio on organic farming, Andresson et al (2005) report that “we found that organic farming and organic products were not in general superior to conventional products and practices with respect to environmental impact and product quality.”

Later in the paper the result is qualified as follows:

The question is, does organic farming lead to sustainable agricultural production? This was studied in several research projects within the Food 21 program. A general answer is maybe in terms of some aspects, but not in others. Although the organic concept for animal production is less related to a systematic health and welfare approach, it seems to be more in agreement with long-term sustainability (36) than that of crop production. A high risk for N leaching related to the use of organic manures (37) and insufficient compensation for some essential nutrients (19) are two of the main obstacles to achieving sustainability in organic crop production systems. On the other hand, pesticides are not used and can therefore not pollute natural waters in such systems.

Product quality was compared for conventional and organically produced milk, pig meat, and bread. The general picture was that no significant differences were found with respect to most parameters analyzed (22, 23, 24, 38). For parameters with detectable tendencies for more favorable levels of a specific substance, sometimes in conventional products and in other cases in organically produced products, the differences were always found to be so small that any animal or human health effects are unlikely.

In an earlier Finnish study Maatalouden tuotantotavat ja ympäristö (2000) by Juha Grönroos and Pasi Voutilainen, a similar result was found with respect to rye bread. When the environmental impacts were calculated per unit produced rather than per hectare farmed, the most environmentally friendly mode of production of rye bread was not organic farming but conventional farming. On the other hand, organic milk production had a lower environmental impact than conventional milk production. (for more background information on this study from here )

These results suggest that organic food is not always environmentally friendlier nor healthier than conventionally produced food.
How then should we interpret the choices of consumers who do not purchase organic food? Given the above results, it may be problematic to say that they fail to express “pro-environmental behavior” if they favor conventional over organic food. This assumption is however done in many survey-type studies of pro-environmental behavior.

As far as food is concerned, a better indicator of consumers’ pro-environmental behavior would be his/her level of meat consumption.
In ‘Anderssons et al (2005) words

Animal production in Sweden today is, to a large extent, based on feed concentrates from tropical countries. However, this production is very much associated with severe land degradation, and the transport of these products to Sweden represents a considerable part of the environmental impact caused by the animal production (40).

It may also be concluded that a balanced diet with less meat would feed more people and decrease environmental problems like the greenhouse effect and eutrophication of waters due to nitrogen and phosphorus losses. It would also reduce the energy consumption per unit of protein in food produced and improve human health.


Andersson, R. , Algers B., Bergström, L., Lundström, K., Nybrant, T., & Sjödèn, P-O (2005) Food 21: A Research Program Looking for Measures and Tools to Increase Food Chain Sustainability, AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment: Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 275282.

Grönroos, J. & Seppälä, J. (2000) SY431 Maatalouden tuotantotavat ja ympäristö, Suomen ympäristö 431, luonto ja luonnonvarat, 244 s.
URN:ISBN:9521107715. Julkaisu on saatavissa vain painetussa muodossa (In Finnish)

Households' eco-efficiency and creative communities

At the households’ eco-efficiency seminar held September 19 at the Finnish Environment Institute in Helsinki, Ezio Manzini discussed creative communities :

Looking at society carefully and selectively in this way, what we can see are people and communities who act outside the dominant thought and behaviour pattern. Creative communities that when faced with a result to achieve, organise themselves in such a way as to achieve what they want directly themselves. Groups of people who re-organise the way they live their home (as in the co-housing movement) and their neighbourhood (bringing it to life, creating the conditions for children to go to school on foot; fostering mobility on foot or by bike). Communities that set up new participatory social services for the elderly and for parents (the young and the elderly living together and micro-nurseries set up and managed by enterprising mothers) and that set up new food networks fostering producers of organic items, and the quality and typical characteristics of their products (as in the experience of Slow Food, solidarity purchasing and fair trade groups). The list of promising cases could continue“. [Manzini, E. 2005. Enabling Platforms for Creative Communities]

Creative communities are still minority phenomena, weak signals of sustainability, nevertheless they are important as

They tell us that, already today, it is possible to do things differently and consider ones own work, ones own time and ones own system of social relationships in a different light. They tell us that the learning process towards environmental and social sustainability is beginning to build up a body of experience and knowledge. They tell us that there is an inversion of tendency from the disabling processes of the past (and sadly still dominant today): the cases we are talking about here are the result of the enterprise and ability of certain people creative communities – who have known how to think in a new way and put different forms of organisation into action. ” [Manzini, E. 2005. Enabling Platforms for Creative Communities]

What could policy maker do to facilitate the emergence and development of creative communities? Make sure that we design appropriate enabling platforms, that is, “the set of material and immaterial elements (products, services, infrastructures, knowledge an rules) that, implemented in a given context, enhance its possibility to be a fertile ground for creative, bottom-up initiatives. i.e. it is able to support creative communities and enable a larger number of innovative citizens to move in the same direction.

Practically, what enabling platform have to do is: to facilitate the access to appropriate technologies; to promote the diffusion of know-how, skills and abilities; to define new, flexible norms and rules; to enhance the social and political tolerance.“[Manzini, E. 2005. Enabling Platforms for Creative Communities]

New energy-saving targets for buildings in Britain watered down

According to Paul Brown, the environmental correspondent of the Guardian, the new building regulations, due to be announced this week, won’t be as strict as promised in the 2003 government’s energy white paper. Apparently, the 2003 energy efficiency targets are being significantly watered down, with some provisions being dropped altogether.

Will the government explain the economic logic behind the relaxation of energy efficiency objectives for new building regulations?


Brown, Paul Energy-saving targets scrapped July 18 2005, The Guardian