Regulatory approaches

General information and applications for using this environmental tool.


Regulatory approaches require government agencies to restrict or direct the activities of regulated parties using terms and conditions within statutory and regulatory instruments, operating permits, licences, approvals or codes of practice. These may be specified for a whole sector or for an industrial process that is used across several sectors.

Regulatory approaches range widely. Some are very restrictive tools that provide little flexibility, with government dictating the behaviour for regulated parties to comply with environmental regulations. In contrast, innovative regulatory approaches allow parties more latitude in selecting the best means to comply with rules. Regulatory approaches are highly dependent on deterrents and, as a result, effective enforcement is essential to their success in achieving environmental goals.

Tool list

Fact SheetsDescription
Product or substance bans
and limitations
Bans or restricts the manufacture, distribution, use or disposal of products.
Technology SpecificationsPrescribes the technology or method that must be used.
Design-based StandardsSets emission limits based on what a model technology might achieve.
Describes the required environmental objectives but leaves regulated parties to choose the easiest and most cost effective methods to comply.
Regulatory ApprovalsApprovals are required to ensure proposed projects that could cause an adverse impact on the environment are reviewed by a regulatory authority to ensure specific environmental standards are met.
Integrated PermitsSets emission limits for a whole facility into a single requirement (i.e. a facility cap) rather than having a permit
for each emission source.
Codes of PracticeSets provincewide requirements for a sector.

Tool strengths

  • Dependable and predictable, providing clarity for large single point-source polluters and for the environment. The rules-based approach, coupled with the potential threat of enforcement, provides a high level of certainty that individuals or organizations will do what they are required to under law. It also provides a degree of certainty for business planning, as regulated entities have a regulatory framework outlining the rules guiding their activity.
  • Consistent Environmental Standards - where standards and rules are applied uniformly across sectors, regulatory approaches can ensure that all regulated parties meet and contribute to the defined level of environmental performance and protection.

Tool limitations

  • Inhibit continuous improvement - under most regulatory approaches there few financial incentives and little rational for regulated parties to do more than the minimum required and/or develop new technologies to improve environmental protection above what is required.
  • Limited applications for non-point sources of pollution ? may not provide the best approach to control large numbers of dispersed pollution sources or influencing the habits/behaviours of large numbers of consumers, unless the resources for effective enforcement are put in place.
  • Potentially higher costs to regulated parties - uniform standards do not reflect the differences in abatement costs between parties. This drives the overall cost of meeting an environmental protection goal higher than might be the case with effective market-based instruments.
  • Information intensive - yet most governments lack the needed information about how to best protect the environment and conserve resources, imposing higher costs to government as agencies are required to shoulder a significant information burden in order to establish appropriate standards and remain current on technology advances.
  • Enforcement can be expensive (and easily dismantled during periods of budget cutting and retraction).
  • Can be rigid and often slow to respond to changing knowledge of the issue and political circumstances, compared to other policy tools. Regulatory changes can take many years to put into effect.
  • Can, in some cases, unintentionally encourage environmentally irresponsible behaviour. For example, reporting a species at risk on an individual's private property may not be in their best self-interest .
  • The costs to society of environmental regulations are largely hidden.