Daniel C. Esty

Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy, jointly with Yale Law School; Director of the Center for Environmental Law and Policy

Research Overview

My research focuses on environmental policy reform and the business-environment interface.  Within these contexts, my current research interests include data-driven environmental decision making and environmental performance measurement, corporate environmental strategy and the business-environment nexus, global environmental governance, and environmental attitudes and behavior. My recent research and writing also cover regulatory reform, environmental protection in the Information Age, globalization and the trade-environment relationship, competitiveness and environmental protection, and environmental security. 

Data-Driven Environmental Decisionmaking

One of the greatest problems plaguing environmental decision-making is the lack of sound empirical data on which to base pollution control and natural resource management policy.  For the past 7 years, I have been working in collaboration with the Center for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University and the World Economic Forum to develop a data-driven approach to environmental decision-making, using environmental metrics and indicators to provide a basis for comparative performance measurement.  This effort has produced an Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI), a composite index tracking a diverse set of socioeconomic, environmental, and institutional indicators that characterize and influence environmental sustainability at the national scale. It has also produced a complementary Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which provides benchmarks for current national pollution control and natural resource management results.

Corporate Environmental Strategy and the Business-Environment Nexus

My research in this realm has three main foci: the critical role of the business sector in addressing environmental issues; the improved integration of business principles into management of environmental organizations; and the exploration of “green” businesses.  To date, most of my work in this area has been focused on a new approach to environmental protection that calls on the private sector’s creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, and commitment to execution in support of better pollution control and natural resource management.  A key output of my work in this area is a recently-released mainstream publication entitled Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage, which explains why companies need to fold environmental thinking into their core business plans and how leading-edge companies have found eco-advantages that allow them to cut costs, lower risks, create new markets, and build customer loyalty.

Global Environmental Governance

I devote a good bit of research attention to the question of how the international environmental regime can be strengthened and revitalized.  My research in this area aims at facilitating thinking on how to strengthen environmental policymaking at the global scale, including the role, structure, functioning, financing, and activities of the global environmental regime. The underlying theory derives from the notion that there exist serious problems of failed collective action, fragmentation, deficient authority, and insufficient legitimacy that riddle the current institutional architecture.

Environmental Attitudes and Behavior

In this area, my research is aimed at enhancing environmental decisionmaking by analyzing attitudes and behavior choices concerning the environment, with a particular focus on electoral politics and social marketing. This research is focused on public opinion formation and development of environmental beliefs, as well as how these beliefs evolve over time. A key output of my work in this area is the annual Yale Environmental Poll, a national survey which seeks to gauge if, how, and why the environment is prioritized as an issue in the United States.