Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Natural Resources

First Advisor

Clare Ginger

Second Advisor

Saleem H. Ali


We are witnessing a time of unprecedented human impact on the natural environment. Coral reefs, one of the most biologically diverse and productive ecosystems, are at the forefront of enduring these human impacts. Despite widespread recognition of coral reef degradation, counter measures have not reached a scale to offset the threat. The magnitude of this and other environmental issues call for a deeper understanding of the role the private sector can play in sustainable development.

In response to environmental pressures and the shortcomings of global-scale governance, private sustainability governance initiatives have developed. In the last decade, these initiatives have flourished, resulting in a diversity of formats including third-party certification, consumer product transparency systems, and industry roundtables. In many industries, these programs compete to define the transformation and evolution of sustainability governance in an industry.

This dissertation draws on a case study of the marine cultured-pearl industry to highlight the early adoption dynamics of private sustainability governance initiatives. The marine cultured-pearl industry provides an illuminating case study for the adoption of private governance, based on the potential strength of the positive environmental impact and farm presence in ecologically vulnerable coral reef areas. Yet despite these strengths, no formal sustainability initiatives have developed.

This research project explores the early adoption of private governance initiatives through a mixed-methodological, case-study approach. The first study, a quantitative survey of US jewelry consumers, examines the impacts of environmental messages on perceptions of luxury value. The second study assesses the effect of networked legitimacy on producer perceptions in private governance initiatives. The final study investigates the impact of value chain structure on competing private governance initiatives.

The research results provide evidence of a strong business case for the development of industry-wide sustainability initiatives and highlights distinctions between the rival private governance initiatives. The US jewelry consumer research shows that consumer messages featuring sustainability standards to protect coral reefs outperform third-party certification on luxury attributes. The marine cultured-pearl producer research highlights the legitimacy advantages of consumer product transparency when compared to third-party certifications. The value chain research indicates that, when compared to third-party certifications, consumer product transparency systems have characteristics that provide an advantage in addressing producer upgrading opportunities. Results from each of the three studies highlight the potential advantages of consumer product transparency systems over third-party certification initiatives in this and other settings. These results helped inform participatory action research to assess alternative pathways for private sustainability governance.



Number of Pages

172 p.