Joint event with the Environmental Law Discussion Group

Multiple ecological crises face contemporary and future generations ranging from mass extinction and climate change to nitrogen depletion and plastic pollution. This seminar examines what regulation premised on ecological sustainability might offer as a way forward. For this to happen, regulatory scholarship needs to build on existing approaches, yet extend our knowledge in significant ways to recognise planetary boundaries. This means going beyond instrumental problem-based approaches which prioritise preserving business dynamism. As responsive regulation points out, this approach can both overlook harms afflicting the most vulnerable and generate defiance in those with significant resources and political leverage whose wealth may be affected. Responsive regulation tackles these challenges by examining regulation as a social practice that should draw on basic human relational wisdom rather than seeing it as a tool to control narrow and strategic business malfeasance. Critical debates on responsive regulation draw on important psychological, social and political dimensions of regulation. Yet, regulatory scholarship now must comprehend our embeddedness within ecological systems. The way forward suggested here is empirical: to examine livelihoods and economic initiatives that respect ecological limits and social wellbeing in order to understand how regulation helps or hinders their endeavour. Regulatory analysis can provide insights into how ‘hopeful’ businesses tackle more than one challenge at a time and to tease apart the regulatory support and/or hurdles they face in doing so. This search cannot be limited to small scale boutique solutions but must search for hope in both the small and the large. Finally, the connection between ecological sustainability cannot come at the expense of deepening inequalities and exacerbating environmental injustice. Through this analysis the contours of ecologically responsive regulation, based on the experiences of those already moving in an ecologically sustainable direction, may appear.

Fiona Haines is Professor of Criminology in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Adjunct Professor at RegNet and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. Her research, which encompasses work on industrial disasters, grievances and multinational enterprises, centres on white collar and corporate crime, globalisation and regulation.