Regulatory Uncertainty and Corporate Responses to Environmental Protection in China

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We develop a framework to analyze the closing gap between regulation and enforcement of environmental protection in China and present a number of resulting implications for doing business there. We identify three major dimensions that characterize change in regulatory systems generally: priorities and incentives, bureaucratic alignment, and transparency and monitoring. Using these dimensions, we first unpack the mechanisms that characterized China's prior period, during which enforcement of environmental protection was decoupled from regulation. These mechanisms include (a) the intense emphasis on economic growth leading to misaligned incentives and regulatory competition across regions, (b) fragmented bureaucratic organization, and (c) lack of transparency and monitoring, all of which undermined enforcement. Then we show how, in each of these dimensions, regulation and enforcement are becoming realigned or recoupled over time. We show how this results from (a) a change in national development strategy to focus more on sustainable development and a harmonious society, (b) reorganization of the bureaucracy, and (c) an increase in monitoring by both the government and the general public. Correspondingly, we advance managerial implications that stem from these recent changes, illustrated by recent MNC and Chinese domestic firm successes. To address changes in policies and incentives, firms should align with governmental signals and embrace environmental innovation. Regarding bureaucratic alignment, firms should avoid regulatory shopping and integrate local and global standards. Finally, to address transparency and monitoring issues, firms should be transparent and compete on reputation. We conclude with a more general discussion of the contributions of our framework to understanding managerial practice in emerging-market regulatory contexts.
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California Management Review
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California Management Review 54, no. 1 (Fall 2011): 39-63
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