Associate Professor Michael Toffel has been interested in how companies can reduce their environmental impacts since the early 1990s. This led him to Yale University seeking to learn about business management, industrial environmental management, and environmental policy. Soon after graduating Yale with an MBA and a Master’s degree from its environmental school, Toffel became the director of environment, health, and safety at a conglomerate in Southeast Asia.

“We made tons of progress reducing environmental risks and improving occupational safety, and I loved working internationally,” he says, “but I kept wondering: how do we know if the programs we’re adopting are the most effective ways to improve our environmental performance and factory conditions?” Through his research, he’s been searching for the answer to that question ever since.

“My research examines how companies strive to increase operational discipline, primarily in terms of environmental management and performance, but also with respect to occupational safety and process quality.”

Toffel’s cases examine how companies, from manufacturers to ski resorts, are reducing the environmental impacts of their operations and supply chains. Many of his cases illustrate the complexity of environmental management, including the myriad stakeholders—the regulators, non-governmental organizations, activist investors, buyers, and employees—pressuring companies to improve their environmental performance, and also the challenges companies face in measuring environmental performance given the wide range of resources and pollutants.

His research also examines how companies are responding to novel approaches to environmental regulations, including information disclosure programs, voluntary programs, and government procurement policies. For example, he’s found that companies that opted to participate in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s voluntary Audit Policy, which encourages companies to conduct internal environmental compliance audits, improved their environmental performance and were rewarded with less regulatory scrutiny (link).  He’s also found that government policies that require government agencies to purchase green products can stimulate private sector demand and supply for complementary products (link).  He’s currently working on research to help companies better understand the factors that lead some global supply chain factories to better adhere to international labor standards (link), and to understand how social auditors are making these determinations (link).