Follow the smoke: The pollution haven effect on global sourcing

Heather Berry, Aseem Kaul, Narae Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Research abstract: We examine whether and how foreign environmental standards influence global sourcing decisions. Taking a question-driven approach, we find a negative association between the stringency of a country's environmental standards and its share in US imports for 82 manufacturing industries across 77 countries between 2006 and 2016. This pollution haven effect holds not only for sourcing from owned foreign operations (offshore integration), but also for sourcing from unrelated third parties abroad (offshore outsourcing), and is stronger in industries with high toxic emissions and low technological intensity. These results are robust across alternative measures of environmental stringency and to using the Kyoto Agreement as an instrumental variable. These findings shed new light on how firms use global sourcing, and especially offshore outsourcing, to arbitrage across institutional environments. Managerial summary: Prior work has shown that multinational firms prefer to locate their plants in countries with weak environmental standards: the so-called Pollution Haven Effect. We extend this research to show that firms not only source from countries with weak environmental standards from their own plants, but also from third-party foreign suppliers. Using Census data on US manufacturing imports from 77 countries between 2006 and 2016 we show that when the stringency of environmental standards in a country decreased, sourcing from that country increased, and that this effect was just as strong for sourcing from third parties as from owned operations. Our study thus suggests that previous work may have substantially underestimated the pollution haven effect, by focusing on owned global sourcing rather than all global sourcing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2420-2450
Number of pages31
JournalStrategic Management Journal
Issue number13
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Editor Connie Helfat and two anonymous reviewers for their feedback and suggestions. The authors appreciate helpful comments on previous versions of this article from audience members at the University of Minnesota and Baruch University, and PDW participants at the 2018 Academy of Management Annual Meeting in Chicago, as well as anonymous reviewers for the 2020 Academy of Management Annual Meeting, the 2020 Academy of International Business Annual Meeting, the 2020 Alliance for Research on Corporate Sustainability Conference, and the 2020 Strategic Management Society Conference.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • environmental standards
  • offshore integration
  • offshore outsourcing
  • pollution havens
  • question-driven research


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