2007 Progress Report: Promoting Sustainable Pollutant Control Policies Through Consideration of Social and Biological Indicators: An Application to Mercury Control in New England

EPA Grant Number: R833401
Title: Promoting Sustainable Pollutant Control Policies Through Consideration of Social and Biological Indicators: An Application to Mercury Control in New England
Investigators: Borsuk, Mark E. , Howarth, Richard B. , King, Andrew A. , Ranco, Darren J.
Current Investigators: Borsuk, Mark E. , Howarth, Richard B. , King, Andrew A. , Ranco, Darren J. , Turaga, Rama
Institution: Dartmouth College
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: May 1, 2007 through April 30, 2010
Project Period Covered by this Report: August 1, 2007 through July 31,2008
Project Amount: $299,969
RFA: Collaborative Science And Technology Network For Sustainability (2006) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Sustainability , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development


  1. To identify meaningful biological and social indicators of sustainability that can be linked with mercury control policies using available knowledge and data.
  2. To determine whether the establishment of an explicit connection between mercury policy and biological and social indicators will increase the motivation for individual and organizational stakeholders to act in ways that promote ecological, economic and social sustainability.
  3. To assess whether the monitoring and reporting of biological and social indicators is likely to improve resilience in the human-environment system by improving stakeholder perception of ecological change, enhancing learning and facilitating the process of adaptive management over time.

Progress Summary:

In Year 02, we accomplished the following results: (1) developed a preliminary list of sustainability indicators based on the criteria we established in Year 01; (2) continued our interviews with EJ groups, focusing on the Penobscot Nation in Maine; (3) gathered, organized and coded in duplicate 1,000 public comments received by the EPA on CAMR; (4) developed and extensively tested the survey portion of our project; and (5) initiated the NSECPMS case study. We will focus here on result (3), the development and testing of our survey, as that is a novel aspect of our project that provides the foundation for much of our work in the coming year.

As described in the Year 01 progress report, we have replaced our plans for experimental games with a survey-based study of the role of indicators to motivate individual pro-environmental behavior. We have carefully investigated the theoretical and empirical basis for this approach and have written a review paper on the topic, which has been accepted for publication after peer review. We also have designed and extensively tested our survey instrument on Dartmouth undergraduates, and after two rounds of modification we are ready to implement it on a wider scale. We feel that this new element will add significant value to our project.

One important result of our survey is the classification of individuals according to their primary objects of concern regarding environmental protection (e.g., self, other humans, the biosphere). This is assessed based on the respondents’ relative agreement with a set of diverse value statements. Factor analysis of our preliminary survey data indicates that three basic value orientations (egoism, social altruism and biospherism) can be clearly distinguished among the student population we studied. If confirmed in the larger survey, these constitute an important precursor to how receptive respondents are to various types of environmental indicators.

The treatment variable used in our survey is the indicator information provided. Half of the surveys contained indicators of mercury contamination intended to strengthen beliefs concerning personal responsibility, and half contained control indicators (e.g., indicators normally used by the EPA) without any explicit link to personal action. Respondents were then asked questions about their willingness to engage in certain mercury reducing behaviors (including correct disposal and recycling of mercury containing products and enrollment in a green energy program). In this small sample, it was encouraging to find that statistical analysis demonstrated a significant effect on intended behavior (in the expected direction) of receiving the enhanced indicator relative to the control indicator after accounting for the person’s value orientation and perceived time, cost and effort of the behavior. This is a preliminary result, but it indicates that stakeholder beliefs and behavior can be positively influenced by targeted, context-specific information. This will be tested in the full survey to be implemented in the coming year.

Future Activities:

In Year 03 of the project, our emphasis will be on conducting our survey and making progress with the integrated environmental model based on the MERGANSER results. Also, we will be analyzing the public comment data. The results of these efforts will be compared and contrasted with the stakeholder interview results and the list of sustainability indicators. The NSECPMS case study will then provide a framework for integrating these findings in a specific context.

Journal Articles on this Report : 3 Displayed | Download in RIS Format

Other project views: All 17 publications 6 publications in selected types All 6 journal articles
Type Citation Project Document Sources
Journal Article Barnett ML, King AA. Good fences make good neighbors: a longitudinal analysis of an industry self-regulatory institution. Academy of Management Journal 2008;51(6):1150-1170. R833401 (2007)
R833401 (Final)
  • Full-text: Academy of Management Journal-Full Text PDF
  • Abstract: Academy of Management Journal-Abstract
  • Journal Article Ranco DJ. The trust responsibility and limited sovereignty:what can environmental justice groups learn from Indian Nations? Society & Natural Resources:An International Journal 2008;21(4):354-362. R833401 (2007)
    R833401 (Final)
  • Abstract: Taylor & Francis-Abstract
  • Journal Article Turaga RMR, Howarth RB, Borsuk ME. Pro-environmental behavior:rational choice meets moral motivation. Annals of The New York Academy of Sciences 2010;1185:211-224. R833401 (2007)
    R833401 (Final)
  • Abstract from PubMed
  • Full-text: Wiley - Full Text HTML
  • Abstract: Wiley - Abstract
  • Other: Wiley - Full Text PDF
  • Supplemental Keywords:

    mercury policy, VBN theory, sustainability science, ecological risk assessment, environmental justice, pollution prevention, decision making, CAMR, public comments, stakeholder participation,

    Relevant Websites:

    Promoting Sustainable Behavior through the Use of Environmental Indicators: An Application to Mercury Control in New England Poster

    Full 2007 Annual Report

    Progress and Final Reports:

    Original Abstract
  • 2008
  • Final Report