Chapter 30: Greenwashing through compliance to renewable portfolio standards
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We advance the literature on decoupling, defined as the symbolic adoption of policies that are never fully implemented, and institutional theory more generally, by reconceptualizing implementation as consisting of three different, albeit interrelated, dimensions. The extant literature conceptualizes policy implementation as compliance (the extent to which a policy's requirement is met). We theorize that when an actor chooses its own policy requirement, compliance offers an incomplete picture of implementation because the actor may strategically choose a negligible requirement in order to ensure artificially high levels of future compliance. The enactment of and full compliance with policies with trivially low requirements can itself be seen as a form of symbolic adoption, yet one for which an actor can claim full implementation, when conceptualized solely as compliance. We introduce two additional dimensions– absolute ambition (how demanding the requirement is in absolute terms) and relative ambition (how demanding the requirement is in relative terms) – that considered in tandem with compliance provide a fuller assessment of implementation. We illustrate the usefulness of our approach by examining the implementation of Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPSs) by individual states in the United States. Consistent with our prediction, the majority of states fully (or nearly fully) comply with their respective RPSs. However, assessing implementation via our three-dimensional conceptualization reveals the symbolic nature of some of these policies. Finally, we call for future research on implementation to move beyond the narrow focus on compliance and examine how the institutional environment simultaneously affects all three dimensions.

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