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Stanford Environmental Law Journal

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environmental compliance, standard deterrence model, law enforcement, conceptual framework


Energy and Utilities Law | Environmental Law | Law


Social norms scholarship faces the challenge of becoming a mature discipline. Norms theorists have proposed several elegant, widely applicable theories of the origin, evolution and function of norms. For the most part, these theories have suggested that social norms can be viewed as a refinement to the behavioral assumptions of rational choice theory. Although this approach at least implicitly suggests that accounting for norms will improve the predictive capacity of rational choice models, the work must overcome substantial hurdles if it is to do so. The wide range of norms and mechanisms of norm influence on behavior complicate the 'formal modeling process, and the divergent terms and theoretical constructs used by the academic disciplines that seek to understand norms present additional challenges. For norms scholarship to flourish, norms theories must be applied to real-world problems in ways that do notjust complicate the analysis but advance our ability to predict the effects of laws on behavior and, ultimately, to assist policymakers.

This article takes the next step in the evolution of norms scholarship. The article does not purport to offer an elegant or universal theory of norms, but rather to improve the predictive capacity of rational choice theory in a specific setting: the environmental compliance decision-making of corporate managers. In particular, the article draws on existing empirical literature to propose a conceptual framework that accounts for the influence of norms on environmental decision-making. The proposed framework not only serves as a research agenda for scholars applying norms theory to corporate environmental compliance, but it also has implications for research on compliance with a number of other regulatory regimes, including tax, worker health and safety, securities and health care.



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