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HBS Prof’s Site Maps Pollution

By Daniel A. Handlin, Contributing Writer

Is that company down the road emitting thousands of pounds of formaldehyde?

A Harvard Business School professor and his colleagues at Duke and Dartmouth have launched a Web site that may give you the answer.

The site, MapEcos.org, compiles data from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and company reports to show the type and quantity of pollution that over 20,000 companies release into the air each year. Users visiting the site can zoom in on a map of the United States to view information about contaminants in their town.

“When [students in Cambridge] see smokestacks or manufacturing facilities, and they wonder what’s in that smoke—and even what industry those factories are associated with and how hazardous the emissions are—they can use the Web site for that,” said Michael W. Toffel, the Business School professor who played a major role in the creation of the site.

Evan Tice, a junior at Dartmouth who helped create the Web site, said that the project aimed to present figures as simply as possible.

“I hope this is something that my mom could use,” Tice said.

The EPA began releasing air pollutant data for certain industries in 1987 through the Toxics Release Inventory Program. The Agency expanded the program over the course of the 1990s and made the data available through spreadsheets and maps on the EPA Web site.

But the creators of MapEcos said their Web site makes it much easier to sift through the existing information.

“It’s making data already available very accessible and much more geographically relevant,” said Andrew A. King, a professor at Dartmouth and a Business School fellow who also played a major role.

Toffel said he hopes visitors to MapEcos will get a sense of how firms treat their environmental impact, including the decisions that managers make to mitigate environmental harm.

However, Toffel emphasized that the site focuses less on pollution than on the business choices that stem from that pollution.

For example, researchers could use data from MapEcos to study how one firm’s decision to release environmental data affects the decisions of competing firms.

“We’d like to see how firms in one particular region or industry affect how their competitors disclose,” Tice said.

The EPA did not return requests for comment.

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