Learning through Disclosure: The Evolving Importance of Transparency in the Practice of Nonstate Certification

In Aarti Gupta and Michael Mason (eds), Transparency in Global Environmental Governance: Critical Perspectives. Cambridge (USA), MIT Press, 2014, pp. 271-296.

Governance by disclosure has gained mainstream popularity as a means of social steering using the disinfectant power of information to improve the legitimacy and accountability of global governance. Set within these trends, certification programs -- organized and coordinated by nonstate actors -- exemplify efforts to encourage and control information flows to resolve environmental and social challenges within and beyond state boundaries. This chapter extends an initial analysis of the Marine Stewardship Council and the Forest Stewardship Council to other programs operating in the fisheries and forest sectors, and it assesses what the individual activities of nonstate certification programs mean for the practices that emerge in the growing field of private regulatory initiatives. Not unlike innovation in the knowledge economy, nonstate certification programs are generating new governance arrangements, mechanisms and norms which may have broad value for collective efforts to manage earth systems. However, we argue, incomplete or uneven transparency within the community of nonstate certification programs presents problems for this collective model of innovation. This unevenness can mean certain programs are gaining from the experiences of others, without reciprocating with information about their own successes and failures.