This article seeks to understand to a greater extent why and how governments are involved in voluntary environmental programmes (VEPs). A better understanding of the role(s) of government in VEPs is of relevance because the current VEP literature considers such involvement one of the key conditions that may explain VEP performance. Building on the existing VEP literature, the article maps, describes and contrasts the roles of governments in 40 VEPs in the building sector in Australia, the Netherlands, Singapore and the United States. It finds that governments are involved in almost all of these VEPs (95 per cent) and that governments predominantly take up traditional roles (i.e. initiating and leading VEPs and monitoring and enforcing VEPs), sometimes combined with innovative roles (i.e. supporting VEPs or assembling VEPs). This, the article argues, leaves opportunities for other modes of involvement unexplored, particularly those in which governments take up only innovative roles in VEPs.