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. Overview

    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. Most of my research papers have addressed two related questions: (1) Why do some companies adopt a more proactive environmental strategy than others?, and (2) Which environmental management approaches are particularly effective in improving environmental performance, and why?

    Keywords: environmental performance; environmental regulation; environmental strategy; labor management; safety; transparency; institutional theory; economic analysis; quality improvement; operations management; supply chain; supply chain management; regulation; Environmental Sustainability; Safety; Quality; Manufacturing Industry; Construction Industry; United States; California;

  2. Managing sustainability in supply chains

    I am examining codes of conduct, management process standards, and government voluntary programs that address environmental and labor issues, seeking to understand what enables some of these programs to actually deliver on their promise of distinguishing organizations as possessing superior management practices and operational performance.Current research projects in this domain include investigations of the following questions:
    • Under what circumstances do social audits of factories lead to sustained improvements in working conditions? How do social audit team characteristics affect operational improvements?
    • Why are some suppliers more willing than others to disclose to their buyers their carbon footprint and vulnerability to climate change? (working paper)
    • To what extent can private-sector governance mechanisms mitigate corruption, and thus excess pollution, in vehicle emissions testing? (working paper)
    • To what extent does adopting the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System Standard affect an organization’s environmental performance? (working paper)
    • To what extent are government policies that mandate green building practices in public construction projects stimulating the private sector green building market? (related: Genzyme Center case on LEED and green building practices)

    Keywords: environment; environmental performance; environmental regulation; environmental strategy; regulation; supply chain; supply chain management; Manufacturing Industry; Auto Industry; Service Industry; Construction Industry; United States; California;

  3. Corporate transparency and information disclosure strategies

    This research focuses on transparency and information disclosure strategies, a topic of growing importance in environmental sustainability, corporate strategy, stakeholder relations, and public policy.  My prior research in this area explored why some facilities were voluntarily disclosing compliance violations to the US EPA that their internal environmental compliance auditing programs had uncovered. Another article examined why some companies were voluntarily disclosing greenhouse gas emissions and the opportunities and risks they perceived global climate change was posing to their businesses. I have also looked at how managers respond to environmental ratings. My current research projects in this domain address the following questions:
    • What factors lead particular quality problems documented within organizations to garner follow-up problem solving activities? (working paper)
    • Why are some corporations much more transparent in disclosing their environmental performance than others? (working paper)
    • Why are some suppliers more willing than others to disclose to their buyers their carbon footprint and vulnerability to climate change? (working paper)

    Keywords: transparency; disclosure strategy; disclosure; environment; environmental performance; regulation; supply chain; Environmental Sustainability; United States;

  4. Conceptualizing and measuring environmental sustainability

    This research involves developing clarity around the murky construct of environmental sustainability, and improving techniques to measure corporate environmental performance. My prior research in this domain includes clarifying environmental sustainability as a construct, and a case about one company’s sustainability initiative and its approach to greenhouse gas emissions management, and a case about green building that analyzes performance implications of the LEED green building process standard. Other prior work has tested the predictive validity of environmental ratings, and developing better ways to measure environmental performance using Toxic Release Inventory data and to deploy hybrid life cycle assessment techniques