The established nature and enforcement of environmental standards will have a far reaching impact on future socio-economic-environmental characteristics of geographical areas, availability and cost of energy, revitalization of urban areas and overall quality of life. The purpose of the paper is to provide a frame of reference for discussion of fixed vs. variable standards and to generally explore some potential social and economic consequences of allowing variable standards. It is shown that effluent or emission standards particularly, exhibit both fixed as well as variable properties based on parameters such as time, geographical area and source category. Present variability in standards generally results from independent analyses of individual pollutants and individual source categories. The implications of variable standards are discussed within the context of the air pollution problem as a specific illustration.