aerial of trees along shoreline

Examining the strengths and weaknesses of market mechanisms for equitable social and environmental outcomes


Clean air, fresh water, and thriving natural resources are a universal human right, but protections for and access to environmental quality are often inequitably distributed along the lines of race and class. To create lasting, effective solutions, we are collaborating with environmental justice scholars and practitioners to co-develop a research agenda that examines the strengths and weaknesses of environmental markets in their ability to deliver equitable social and environmental outcomes. Some examples of broad questions that we expect to consider include:

  • Under what conditions do environmental markets yield equitable outcomes? Under what conditions do they exacerbate injustice?
  • What environmental problems can be equitably addressed using market solutions, and what problems cannot?
  • Is there a role for markets in the suite of solutions that are intended to address environmental injustices? If not, what are the alternatives that will accomplish this goal?
  • How can markets and other interventions be designed to improve justice outcomes?


We aim to build a deliberate foundation for an inclusive, extensive, and policy-relevant body of work at the crossroads of environmental justice and environmental markets. To work towards this goal, we are: (1) creating a research agenda in this space; (2) identifying specialized expertise to inform investigation into the research questions; (3) allocating research personnel to execute this research agenda to investigate environmental economics and justice issues, and; (4) facilitating coordinated, synergistic collaborations that provide a pilot model for inclusive research. Crucial components of this approach include:

  1. Convening an interdisciplinary workshop of experts across the fields of environmental economics and environmental justice to identify key questions on the role of environmental markets in addressing or exacerbating environmental justice concerns.
  2. Seeking guidance and input from practitioners with expertise in the key issue areas of the research agenda. 
  3. Allocating staff resources to investigate the ideas that come out of the workshop, informed by the aforementioned specialized expertise. 


This effort is supported by the Environmental Defense Fund.