Sustainability and Social Justice

Document Type



The ongoing devolution of climate policy-making to sub-national levels has prompted growing interest in policy entrepreneurship by individuals who are politically and technically creative and institutionally resourceful. This paper investigates the case of the materials-management programme in the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality which has emerged as a national and international leader by focusing on the role of household consumption in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Two noteworthy innovations involve the development of a consumption-based GHG emissions inventory and introduction of policies aimed at facilitating construction of small homes (so-called Accessory Dwelling Units, ADU). The case traces over several decades the higher order learning processes within the group and their entrepreneurship toward affecting broader changes in emission accounting and climate policies in Oregon. The paper identifies the enabling factors for these innovations, and considers: how to create the conditions for learning, experimentation, and policy entrepreneurship; how to reproduce these conditions in different locales; and how to recognize and foster innovations that arise outside the established mainstream ‘climate community’. It also stresses the benefits of breaking down the barriers between science-based analysis and policy. The two questions frequently raised in the climate policy debate – how to bring researchers and practitioners together to develop efficacious policies; and how to replicate successful programmes and policies across different communities, jurisdictions, and locations–should be re-examined. It may be more appropriate to ask instead: How to create conditions for learning, experimentation, and policy entrepreneurship; and how to reproduce these conditions in different locales. Key policy insights Using a consumption-based greenhouse gas emission inventory instead of a sector-based inventory radically changes climate policy priorities, shifting the emphasis from technological fixes to curbing household consumption. Policy innovations thrive in teams that combine technical and scientific competencies with: a commitment to addressing societal problems; interest in inquiry, experimentation, and learning; entrepreneurship; and strategic and political savvy. These qualities require breaking down artificial barriers between science and policy. Transformative policy ideas can originate within institutional nodes that operate outside of an established community of expertise and authority; and these should be identified and fostered.

Publication Title

Climate Policy

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consumption-based GHG emissions inventory, higher-order learning, Oregon GHG emissions, policy entrepreneurs

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Sociology Commons



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