Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2008

Resolving Information Asymmetries in Markets: The Role of Certified Management Programs

by Michael W. Toffel

Abstract

Firms and regulators are increasingly relying on voluntary mechanisms to signal and infer quality of difficult-to-observe management practices. Prior evaluations of voluntary management programs have focused on those that lack verification mechanisms and have found little evidence that they legitimately distinguish adopters as having superior management practices or performance. In this paper, I conduct one of the first evaluations to determine whether a voluntary management program that features an independent verification mechanism is achieving its ultimate objectives. Using a sample of thousands of manufacturing facilities across the United States, I find evidence that the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System Standard has attracted companies with superior environmental performance. After developing quasi-control groups using propensity score matching, I also find that adopters subsequently improve their environmental performance. These results suggest that robust verification mechanisms such as independent certification may be necessary for voluntary management programs to mitigate information asymmetries surrounding management practices. Implications are discussed for the industry-associations, government agencies, and the non-governmental organizations that design these programs, the companies that are investing resources to adopt them, and those that are relying on them to infer the quality of management practices.

Keywords: Management Practices and Processes; Standards; Performance Improvement; Programs; Environmental Sustainability; Manufacturing Industry; United States;

Citation:

Toffel, Michael W. "Resolving Information Asymmetries in Markets: The Role of Certified Management Programs." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 07-023, December 2008. (October 2006.)