Document Type



Published in vol. 83, no. 7 (June 2005) of Texas Law Review.


This Article utilizes recent controversy over Coca-Cola's alleged depletion of groundwater resources in India as a vehicle for exploring competing conceptions of global environmental governance and the role of private actors within them. Initially, it uses the Coca-Cola groundwater situation to identify core substantive and procedural meanings that lurk within the otherwise ingeniously ambiguous concept of sustainable development. Through this exercise, it is shown that - when properly understood - the sustainable development paradigm stands in considerable tension with the premises of market liberalism that drive such political and economic trends as global market integration; privatization and commodification of water and other natural resources; and cost-benefit review of environmental, health, and safety regulations. By clarifying this and other points of normative and empirical disagreement between sustainable development and market liberalism, this Article aims to provide an impetus and an outline for more searching inspection of both frameworks.

In addition, this Article also seeks to describe, and to a lesser extent defend, a growing effort among proponents of sustainable development to adapt their sustainability goals to the framework of market liberalism itself. Specifically, by promoting various methods of downstreaming information regarding social and environmental impacts of production to individuals acting in market capacities, these proponents hope to inspire governance mechanisms that better resonate with the market-liberal grundnormen of consumer sovereignty and shareholder supremacy. Again using the Coca-Cola groundwater situation as an example, this Article speculates that promotion of conscientious consumption and socially responsible investment in this manner ultimately may prove more significant than any number of attempts to refine the conceptual meaning of sustainability. Although handicapped in obvious ways by their dependence on altruistic economic gestures to overcome dramatic collective action problems, these campaigns to encourage publicly-oriented market behavior do have the great virtue of avoiding head-on confrontation between the competing theoretical conceptions of sustainable development and market liberalism - a confrontation that observers increasingly seem to suspect would favor market liberalism.

Date of Authorship for this Version



Sustainable development, Market liberalism