Rival private governance networks: Competing to define the rules of sustainability performance

Timothy M. Smith, Miriam Fischlein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Private governance of environmental and social performance of organizations, processes and products is gaining prominence in market and policy arenas, and thus, increasingly influencing sustainability outcomes. This study presents a concept of rival private governance where multiple initiatives compete for rule-setting authority. Specifically, we argue that heterogeneous actors organize in network form to establish legitimacy of new sustainability governance fields. In an effort to preempt threats from these new fields of governance, nonparticipating actors create rival private governance networks and compete based on each network's ability to access unique relational assets from participants. Based on the cases of carbon off-set standards, green building rating systems and sustainable forestry certifications, we suggest that this competitive market vetting results in pressures toward the convergence of governance rules over time, but not a single winning set of rules. Our findings illustrate that multiple and competing networks can provide innovative, legitimate and dynamically evolving governance of sustainability, while presenting new challenges for public and private sector actors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)511-522
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2010


  • Carbon credits
  • Environmental certification
  • Environmental governance
  • Environmental standards
  • Green building
  • Private governance
  • Sustainable forestry

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