Environmental Status Goods and Market-Based Conservation: An Arm of Ostrom’s Polycentric Approach?

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Ostrom suggests that collective action problems may present an obstacle to the reduction in (external costs from) global greenhouse gas emissions and that a polycentric approach is necessary to find a solution. A market-based prong of such a polycentric solution—alongside, e.g., governance-based prongs such as transferable pollution permits—may lie in the nature of certain salient “environmentally friendly” goods (e.g., Toyota Prius, Tesla cars, home solar panels). The present study analyzes the social welfare consequences of positional conservation (i.e., consumption of salient environmentally friendly goods for the purpose of status signaling) within a choice theoretic model. For example, the Toyota Prius and Tesla have been shown to be such a type of good. In a two-good model of strategic consumer choice, in which consumers choose between a positional, “conservation good” and an externally costly, “non-conservation good”, we find that positional conservation improves social welfare if the unit external cost of the non-conservation good consumption is sufficiently large. In such a case, positionality serves to (partly or fully) correct an under-consumption of the positional good. Fershtman and Weiss find, within a one-good (action) model, that positionality can be corrective of distortions from positive externalities but not of distortions from negative externalities (e.g., pollution). Within a two-good model of consumer choice, we find that “social rewards” can help to correct distortions generated by negative externalities and improve social welfare. The results of the present study suggest that the Paretian objective may not be to curb positional spending but to shift positional spending toward conspicuous goods that are otherwise under-consumed (e.g., conservation goods or education).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4167
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • positional conservation
  • positional spending
  • relative income hypothesis
  • status race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Building and Construction
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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