2009 Awards

Creating a conservation ethic: The effect of education, incentives and enforcement on the formation of social norms

Nava Ashraf, Assistant Professor, Negotiations, Organizations, and Markets Unit, Harvard Business School

2009-10 award of $39,760

The environmental effects of a development intervention work through multiple channels, including changes in individual and group behavior. Over the long term, social norms may evolve as a result of the intervention, and mediate its direct impacts. The mediating effect of social norms is particularly important in environmental programs where sustaining behavioral change is crucial for sustainable management. The proposed pilot research will initiate a research collaboration with the Sustainability Science Program and a Bolivian non-profit organization, Fundación Natura, to explore the formation of behavioral norms in the 740 000 ha Rio Grande–Valles Cruceños Biosphere Reserve. Natura’s donors are currently investing ~$1 million to implement education, incentive and enforcement interventions in this new reserve. A rigorous research design will be used to test competing theories of a) the relationship between conservation interventions and behavioral change, b) the mediating effects of social norms in conservation interventions and c) the ultimate effectiveness of different conservation approaches. The pilot research will focus on three areas of investigation: 1) Do improvements in understanding of the risks of deforestation and the potential benefits from watershed management systematically result in more sustainable natural resource use decisions and higher valuations of the resources? 2) Does externally driven valuation and "pricing" of natural resources crowd in or crowd out individual conservation behavior? 3) Do regulatory approaches to managing the use of natural resources result in sustainable behavioral change? If so, what are the mechanisms likely to sustain that behavioral change beyond the lifetime of the regulation?


Jack, B. Kelsey and Maria Recalde. 2014. Local leadership and the voluntary provision of public goods: Field evidence from Bolivia. Journal of Public Economics, doi:10.1016/j.jpubeco.2014.10.00.

Updated 2015.01.14

Population-based environmental health surveillance: a pilot study in The Gambia

Majid Ezzati, Associate Professor of International Health, Department of Global Health and Population and Department of Environmental Health, School of Public Health and Harvard Initiative for Global Health

Marcia Castro, Assistant Professor of Demography; Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard School of Public Health

Dr. Stephen Howie, Medical Research Council Laboratories, The Gambia

2009-10 award of $34,975

Despite major advances in environmental health sciences, household and community environmental risks, coupled with limited access to health services for case management, remain the leading causes of disease burden in low-income countries. Current population level data on environmental health risks are from either administrative reports or periodic cross-sectional household surveys. Administrative reports are subject to intentional bias or random error; household surveys often have relatively small sample sizes and few questions environmental factors and technologies. Both sources provide only cross-sectional data, at best repeated every few years. Therefore, environmental health interventions and policies in resource-poor settings are partly constrained by a lack of data that can be used to empirically determine national, regional, and local needs and priorities, and to evaluate the implemented policies and programs. Neither do the current data allow examining the population-environment relationship at a small scale, e.g. the effects of fuel use on local vegetation or the role of water sources in regional demographic patterns and dynamics. The aim of this project is to design and field-test instruments and methods for collecting longitudinal geo-referenced population-based environmental data in The Gambia. We will use this pilot project to primarily design a population-based longitudinal geo-referenced environmental health surveillance system. A sustained geo-referenced demographic, environmental, and health surveillance system can provide unparalleled data for investigating a range of research questions through observational, and in specific cases experimental, studies including questions related to population studies (the bi-directional population and environment interactions), environmental health and environmental technologies (specific risk factor exposures and interventions; seasonality and climate-dependence of health outcomes, including those mediated through factors such as water availability). Other applications of this pilot study will include to develop empirical research projects, e.g. on environmental health interventions, to help inform national and regional policies, and to provide a mechanism for rigorous graduate and undergraduate student training involving fieldwork.


Dionisio, Kathie L., Stephen R. C. Howie, Francesca Dominici, Kimberly M. Fornace, John D. Spengler, Richard A. Adegbola, and Majid Ezzati. 2012. Household concentrations and exposure of children to particulate matter from biomass fuels in the gambiaEnvironmental Science and Technology. 46(6): 3519-3527, DOI: 10.1021/es203047e.

Dionisio, Kathie L., Stephen R. C. Howie, Francesca Dominici, Kimberly M. Fornace, John D. Spengler, Simon Donkor, Osaretin Chimah, Claire Oluwalana, Readon C. Ideh, Bernard Ebruke, Richard A. Adegbola and Majid Ezzati. 2012. The exposure of infants and children to carbon monoxide from biomass fuels in The Gambia: A measurement and modeling studyJournal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology. 22:173-181, doi:10.1038/jes.2011.47.

Updated 2015.07.30

The influence of wellwater arsenic on marriage and child health outcomes in Bangladesh

Erica Field, Assistant Professor, Dept of Economics, Harvard University

2009-10 award of $38,400

Excessive arsenic in drinking water is a vast health problem in Southeast Asia, particularly in Bangladesh where millions of people are believed to be in danger of serious health effects from long-term arsenic poisoning (arsenicosis) from contaminated tube wells. In this study we seek to understand reproductive and child health consequences of exposure to environmental arsenic, as well as to understand community responses to information on local contamination levels and their implications for household demand for well testing. To do this, we link administrative data on household access to clean well water and survey data on household responses to arsenic testing with a large dataset on reproductive, health and marriage outcomes from close to 2100 households in three districts of the Barisal Division of Bangladesh. One of these districts (Barisal District) is heavily contaminated by arsenic in groundwater. Approximately ten years ago, the vast majority of tubewells in the district were tested by the government and roughly 60% were coded (painted green or red) for arsenic contamination, which gave a significant fraction of households the opportunity to switch to cleaner water sources. In this study, we make use of cross-household variation in access to public information on arsenic levels and within household variation in the timing of birth and marriage outcomes relative to the coding campaign in order to examine both the health effects of 20 years of arsenic exposure and social responses to information on arsenic contamination. The latter is particularly important for designing sustainable policy approaches to promoting clean drinking water in light of recent evidence indicating that household demand for well testing is low and social stigma from arsenic exposure is high.

The Kenya Small Scale Cash Crop Longitudinal Study: Understanding the Impact of Environmental Stress on Agricultural Dynamics in Sub-Saharan Africa

Michael Kremer, Gates Professor of Developing Countries and Professor of Economics, Department of Economics

Sendhil Mullainathan, Professor of Economics, Department of Economics

2009-10 award of $19,200

Enhanced productivity in African agriculture and economic growth more generally is widely seen as dependent on movement from household-level subsistence production into production of higher value cash crops. This shift induces deeper embedding of households in broader networks of input suppliers and buyers, and requires systems of sustained cooperation beyond kinship boundaries. The theory of repeated games suggests that it may be possible to sustain cooperation in such settings, but that cooperation may be fragile and may be undermined by shocks that create incentives for some parties to seek short-term gains by defection. This suggests that the human-natural systems that sustain productivity in commercial agriculture are subject to stresses from environmental challenges including population growth, and the attendant changes in land-use patterns, and climate change, with its impact on rainfall patterns. Understanding the dynamic impact of these stresses is a key challenge for Sustainability Science. We plan to enhance our understanding of these phenomena through the construction of a unique longitudinal farmer-level dataset on sugar growers in Western Kenya. The database will contain up to 30 years of annual information on land use, rainfall, agricultural inputs, and production outcomes, for tens of thousands of farmers. We will use the database to examine the dynamic impact of population growth and changes in rainfall on agriculture. The database will be a valuable tool for researchers and we plan to make the final version of the database publicly available on the website of the Sustainability Science Program for other researchers studying these issues.



Casaburi, Lorenzo, Michael Kremer, and Sendhil Mullainathan. 2015. Contract farming and agricultural productivity in Western Kenya. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper. Cambridge, MA: NBER.


Casaburi, Lorenzo, Michael Kremer, and Sendhil Mullainathan. 2012. Contract farming and agricultural productivity in Western Kenya. In African Economic Successes: Sustainable Growth. Sebastian Edwards, Simon Johnson, and David N. Weil (Eds.) Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Updated 2015.07.31

Improving Gujarat's industrial pollution inspection standards

Rohini Pande, Mohammed Kamal Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

Esther Duflo, Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics Dept, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Director, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, MIT

Michael Greenstone, 3M Professor of Environmental Economics, Dept of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

2009-10 award of $20,000

India's rapid industrial growth has improved the living standards of the average Indian but also incurred environmental costs. While India has a stringent formal regulatory framework that sets acceptable levels of industrial air and water emissions, many believe these standards are weakly enforced. Sustainable development in India will require a way of reliably monitoring and curbing industrial pollution, and finding ways to enforce these standards better is therefore a key policy challenge. This project aims to evaluate different ways to monitor and reduce industrial pollution in the Indian state of Gujarat, one of the two leading industrial states of India. It is a collaboration between J-PAL South Asia at IFMR, the authors of the proposal, and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB). State Pollution Control Boards such as the GPCB are the main government authority responsible for monitoring industrial pollution and enforcing pollution standards across India. To our knowledge this is the first research project to rigorously evaluate the pollution control laws in an Indian state. The goal of the research is ultimately to measure the causal effect of increased GPCB pollution inspections and two other interventions, third-party pollution audits and greater community involvement, on the quality of water and air emissions at the plant level. The Sustainability Science faculty seed grant will support a pilot to refine the intervention design and ensure the full cooperation of local partner organizations. On successful completion of the small pilot, a full-scale randomized experiment would be conducted with adequate sample size to measure the interventions' impact on emissions. With these measures, we will be able to quantify the reduction in industrial pollution achievable at a given cost through several different channels and identify feasible improvements to the current regulatory regime.

See Publications