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Labs that Close the Gap

Climate and Sustainability Impact Lab

Thousands of organizations are looking to measure, analyze, drive, and communicate performance on a variety of climate and sustainability issues, including efforts to decarbonize supply chains, operations, and product usage. A lab that advances our ability to drive operational and business model sustainability transformation can have a profound effect on the world.

The Paris Agreement on climate change set a worldwide goal to achieve net zero emissions around mid-century, and many companies have set their own targets to meet this–even in the absence of regulatory requirements. Achieving this goal represents a monumental challenge as it requires the transformation of energy, transportation, agriculture, real estate, industrial processes, and infrastructure.

At the same time, every day startups are being created that seek to provide entrepreneurial climate solutions. The amount of capital flowing in this space is also fast increasing. Many students at Harvard and beyond are starting new companies in this space and we hope the lab will provide an opportunity for sustainability focused startups to be incubated. The proposed body of research has the potential to deeply impact management and governance practices inside both legacy organizations that need to transition and startups that seek to disrupt.


The Climate and Sustainability Impact Lab is led by:

  • George Serafeim is Charles M. Williams Professor of Business Administration. He holds a PhD from Harvard University.
  • Michael W. Toffel is Senator John Heinz Professor of Environmental Management. He holds a PhD from the University of California Berkeley.
  • Peter Tufano is Baker Foundation Professor. He holds a PhD in Economics from Harvard University.

Activities/Research Focus

Lab activities include the production of research using archival and field data and of teaching materials and educational programs that could have a deep impact on practice. Learning, research, and engagement themes are as follows:

  1. Foundational work:  To support scholars in the lab and beyond, we seek to establish and share an inventory of:
    • Usable climate-related data to support new scholarly work
    • Use cases for data and digital capabilities, such as AI, for organizations decarbonizing their operations, supply chains and products
  2. Research:  Following principles of academic freedom, the projects of the lab will be determined by the principal investigators, but we would expect that they would involve the use of data and digital capabilities, such as AI, that would ultimately aim to:
    • Transform operations, such as lower carbon transportation, production, product formulation, or packaging, and business models for lower carbon products and services
    • Forecast costs and adoption of lower carbon products, such as EVs or plant-based foods, and climate-related corporate impacts, such as Scope 3 emissions, or actions, such as meeting climate targets or climate shareholder activism
    • Better understand the willingness to pay for lower carbon products and other behaviors of employees, customers, or investors, related to sustainability issues
    • Develop new risk management frameworks and processes and risk bearing mechanisms for climate physical and transition risks
    • Generate new data for carbon offsets and the design of carbon offset business solutions and markets
  3. Engagement for education and action:  We hope to use our research to catalyze action and educate.  In this spirit, we seek to:
    • Build expert digital platforms for open innovation to accelerate and scale the diffusion of climate solutions
    • Support AI-driven climate start-up ideas by the HBS community (students, alumni, faculty)
    • Create and disseminate digital education and learning programs on climate change, such as through HBS Online, podcasts, etc.

Project Highlights

Creating a Sustainable Future: Unlock the Potential of a Circular Economy

In Creating a Sustainable Future: Unlock the Potential of a Circular Economy, the Climate & Sustainability Impact Lab at the Digital, Data, and Design (D^3) Institute and Freelancer have partnered to host a crowdsourcing competition to learn new ways to adopt the circular economy for impact across business and sustainability. To learn more about the challenge, please view this press release.

Working Conditions in Supply Chains

“This site, developed by Professor Mike Toffel and Baker Library at Harvard Business School, provides researchers and business practitioners with a curated set of resources on how to assess and improve working conditions in supply chains.”

Past Events

The Circular Revolution: This D^3 Catalyst on April 14th and 15th presented the impact and opportunity of circular economy from experts and industry professionals.

D^3 Assembly Climate and Sustainability Series: ALI Decarbonization Panel

D^3 Assembly Climate and Sustainability Series: Building and Scaling Climate Solutions with Reynir Indahl

D^3 Assembly Climate and Sustainability Series: Building and Scaling Climate Solutions with Julia Brady and Erik Osmundsen

The DI is now part of the Digital, Data, and Design (D^3) Institute at Harvard. Read more about this change..