My research is situated at the interface of natural and social sciences and policy. It is interdisciplinary and theoretically integrative. I seek to understand the processes of co-evolution of scientific knowledge, technologic innovations, societal institutions and cultural norms, and their role in fostering a transition toward a more sustainable society.
My research has undergone a radical evolution over the years, in both the theoretical and empirical domains. During the years following the receipt of a doctorate in chemistry I deployed the methods of natural sciences to understand the impacts of toxic chemicals on human health. I worked as a laboratory scientist in the field of chemical carcinogenesis; conducted epidemiological studies; developed dynamic pharmacokinetic models for skin absorption of environmental toxicants; and developed new methods for health risk assessment and risk management.
My most recent body of work concerns itself with sustainable consumption. It builds on the fundamental thesis that in the foreseeable future technology alone – through efficiency gains and adoption of renewable energy sources – will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental pressures to sustainable levels. The demand for materials and energy in the wealthy countries of the Global North also must significantly decrease. I seek to understand the key factors in the workings of consumer society, and to identify leverage points in fostering a transition beyond this currently dominant economic/political/cultural system.
Another body of my research focuses on socio-technical system transitions. I studied small-scale experiments with new sustainable technologies – in personal mobility and buildings – and examined the higher order learning processes that occur therein. I have also been studying the socio-technical system transition toward a high energy performing housing sector.
My fourth research area has concerned itself with regulatory systems for controlling the environmental and occupational health hazards associate with industrial facilities. During the 1990’s we conducted case studies of siting of industrial facilities in developing countries by US-based multinational companies; and conducted a critical analysis of institutions and legal structures for to environmental and occupational protection in the US, Thailand, India, and Poland (the latter during the transition to market economy and democracy).
Closely related to the above has been my research on Global Reporting Initiative, GRI. Here, I probed the effectiveness of using information disclosure as a tool for regulating sustainability performance of companies: by way of mobilizing civil society, regulatory system and competitive market forces. The analysis focused on the process of institutionalization of GRI and its effectiveness as a multistakeholder institution.