Voluntary stewardship and corporate environmental responsibility

General information and applications for using this environmental tool.


Voluntary stewardship and corporate environmental responsibility relies on the self-motivated and self-directed actions of private parties. The tools that fall within this category are typically not government-sponsored, although some do allow for government participation. As such, they are not a form of public policy, though the decision of a government not to intervene within a successful private initiative is itself a policy decision.

Drivers that are pushing the trend toward voluntary initiatives include:

  • Reduced government resources and a trend in environmental governance that incorporates partnerships and shared responsibilities;
  • Green market incentives directly from employees, consumers, investors, insurers, and indirectly from bankers and citizen organizations;
  • Growing pressure by investors whose decisions include consideration of ethical conduct;
  • Opportunities to save money directly by reducing energy use or waste;
  • Many leading companies are demanding partners also conduct themselves in a socially-conscious manner; and,
  • Potential government intervention of more costly and less flexible regulation if business does not self-regulate.

Stewardship initiatives emphasize sustainable development, corporate responsibility and the building of strong social and environmental ethics. While these initiatives are purely voluntary in nature, and are frequently adopted by parties independent of government policy, it is important for governments to understand and actively promote voluntary stewardship by private firms. When governments have a strong understanding of these tools, they will be better suited to recognize and integrate these practices into the design of regulatory and cooperative management tools.

Tool list

Fact SheetsDescription
Environmental Management SystemsA means for companies to quantify their environmental and social performance, identify areas for improvement, track this and account for progress.
Environmental ChartersAdoption and commitment to environmental and sustainability charters and guiding principles.
Corporate Social ResponsibilityThe commitment and action undertaken by a corporation, over and above compliance to existing legal requirements, to behave in an ethical manner to address both its own competitive interests and the greater interests of society.
Green ProcurementGreen procurement is the selection and purchase of products and services that comparatively have a reduced effect on human health and the environment. Both private and public institutions can use this tool to enhance environmental performance.
Voluntary Corporate ReportingStandards, methods, principles and best practices for reporting on sustainability performance indicators.
Eco-LabellingProduct warnings informing consumers about the health and environmental risks and benefits associated with products and the activities undertaken to produce products

Tool strengths

  • Tangible and intangible benefits for industry include maintaining an ongoing competitive edge, increasing market share, boosting shareholder value and improving public image.
  • Environmental and conservation benefits include providing greater assurance for regulatory compliance and, in many cases, advancing performance beyond regulatory requirements.
  • Potential savings for government if a successful privately sponsored program reduces the need for government intervention.

Tool limitations

  • Public acceptance of voluntary actions as a credible alternative can be a challenge.
  • Environmental performance is only enhanced by those willing to participate and abide by voluntary programs and initiatives, while those who choose not to participate continue along business as usual.
  • The outcomes can be uncertain as the targets set and performance achieved is at the discretion of the organization.
  • Green market incentives, while absolutely worth encouraging, may be limited as a driver for many private firms.
  • Voluntary stewardship and corporate environmental responsibility tools do not provide a substitute for public environmental policies, only a complement.