Michael W. Toffel

Associate Professor of Business Administration

Faculty Fellow, Harvard Environmental Economics Program
Faculty Affiliate, Harvard University Center for the Environment
Faculty Affiliate, Kennedy School of Government Center for Business and Government Regulatory Policy Program

Mike Toffel's research focuses on operational discipline by examining companies' environmental, occupational safety, and quality programs and performance. His work seeks to identify which types of programs distinguish participating companies as having superior environmental, safety, or quality management or performance, and which of these programs help companies improve their performance in these domains. His work ranges from academic articles based on econometric analyses of large datasets to case studies of individual companies. His work on quality management systems and environmental management systems has been profiled by LRQA Business Assurance and the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board. His research on occupational health and safety has been profiled by the head of U.S. OSHA and featured in the national press including US News & World Report, BusinessWeek, and Scientific American.   His work has been published in scholarly journals including Administrative Science Quarterly, Management Science, Strategic Management Journal, and Organization Science, in practitioners journals including Sloan Management Review and California Management Review, and in mainstream outlets including The Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek/DailyBeast, and Grist.

Prof. Toffel serves on the Editorial Boards of the Strategic Management Journal and Organization Science. He serves as a founding board member of the Alliance for Research on Corporate Sustainability (ARCS), which organizes a leading annual conference to foster high-quality research on corporate sustainability and to build collaboration among scholars engaged in these topics. 

His co-authors include Julia Adler-MilsteinRonnie Chatterji, Magali Delmas, Anil Doshi, Glen Dowell, Kira Fabrizio, Andrea Hugill, Chonnikarn (Fern) Jira, Matthew Johnson, Andrew King, David Levine, Julian Marshall, Chris Marquis, Melissa Ouellet, Lamar Pierce, Erin ReidTim Simcoe, Sara SingerJodi Short, and David Vogel.

He recommends the HBS Business & Environment InitiativeEnvironmental Leader, Grist, Ethical Corporation, and SustainableBusiness.com to keep up on corporate environmental news.

Toffel has organized several conferences related to his research, includig conferences on corporate sustainability at HBS (2010), the role of information disclosure in corporate transparency and accountability at the National Press Club in Washington DC (2009), business and human rights in operations and supply chains at HBS (2008), and industry self-regulation at HBS (2007) .

Professor Toffel received a Ph.D. from the Haas School of Business' Business and Public Policy department at the University of California at Berkeley, an MBA from the Yale School of Management, a Master’s in Environmental Management (Industrial Environmental Management) from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and a BA in Government from Lehigh University.  He has worked as the Director of Environment, Health and Safety at the Jebsen & Jessen (South East Asia) Group of Companies, based in Singapore. He has also worked as an environmental management consultant for Arthur Andersen, Arthur D. Little, and Xerox Corporation. He started his career as an operations management analyst at J.P. Morgan.

Prof. Toffel has served on the Advisory Panel of the Newsweek Green Rankings and on the School Site Council of the Edward Devotion School, a public school in Brookline, MA.


  1. Can Global Brands Create Just Supply Chains?

    In this debate about supplier codes of conduct, Associate Professor Michael Toffel and UC Hastings Law Professor Jodi Short argue that these codes offer potential benefits beyond improving global working conditions in audited factories. By measuring factories' adherence to international labor standards, codes of conduct have brought to light problematic workplace conditions in global supply chains that were long hidden. Codes of conduct also provide tools that can be used to organize politically and advocate for better labor conditions, or to enhance the efficacy of existing governmental labor regulation.

  2. Greening Is Not Enough: 4 Steps to Corporate Leadership on Climate Change

    Environmental sustainability usually means greening operations and products. But these actions don’t meaningfully address climate change, our generation's most pressing environmental challenge. Aspen Skiing Company VP-Sustainability Auden Schendler and Associate Professor Michael Toffel argue that staking a leadership position on climate climage requires companies to lobby for sweeping and aggressive legislation to impose limits on greenhouse gas emissions, ensure their industry associations are not undermining policy efforts, require suppliers to begin reducing their carbon footprint, and market these efforts.

  3. When Business Competition Harms Society

    In highly competitive markets, many firms are likely to bend the rules if doing so will keep their customers from leaving for a rival, according to new research by professor Michael Toffel and colleagues. Case in point: service stations that cheat on auto emissions testing. Key concepts include:

    • Vehicle owners are less likely to return to a service facility that has failed their vehicle in an auto emissions test.
    • Vehicles were much more likely to pass the test if they were tested at a facility that was located near a competitor.
    • Managers should be aware that fostering a culture of intense competition may instead induce unethical behavior.
    Read the paper and the Working Knowledge article about it.
  4. OSHA Inspections: Protecting Employees or Killing Jobs?

    As the federal agency responsible for enforcing workplace safety, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is often at the center of controversy. Associate Professor Michael Toffel and colleague David I. Levine report surprising findings about randomized government inspections. Key concepts include:

    • In a natural field experiment, researchers found that companies subject to random OSHA inspections showed a 9.4 percent decrease in injury rates compared with uninspected firms.
    • The researchers found no evidence of any cost to inspected companies complying with regulations. Rather, the decrease in injuries led to a 26 percent reduction in costs from medical expenses and lost wages—translating to an average of $350,000 per company.
    • The findings strongly indicate that OSHA regulations actually save businesses money.
    Read a related blog entry and articleTo read the Science article visit Michael Toffel's Publications page and click on the article link.