Our Approach

A persistent barrier to the sustainability of natural resources stems from the assumption that there is an inherent tradeoff between conservation and socio-economic goals. We believe the opposite – that conservation does not have to come at a high price. emLab develops data-driven insights to better align environmental objectives and economic incentives in support of sustainable livelihoods and a resilient planet. Our “think-and-do” approach is founded on four core principles that are at the heart of every emLab research project:

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Innovative insights

Pioneering new research approaches and generating original and academically rigorous scientific findings

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Market-based approaches

Informing solutions that embrace the full range of incentives that shape human behavior to produce enduring and equitable environmental and social outcomes 

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Real-world impact

Developing timely and implementable solutions through partnership with local stakeholders, governments, NGOs, inter-governmental organizations, and foundations

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Collaborative research

Achieving broader impact by employing expertise across multiple disciplines and integrating valuable insights from partners and stakeholders

Why a market-based approach?

At emLab, we recognize that individuals, households, communities, and companies all face and respond to different economic and social incentives. We believe that understanding how potential interventions influence and are affected by these incentives is key to the design of effective environmental policy. Market-based approaches -- such as putting a price on pollution, dedicating secure rights for water or fishery resources, or harnessing consumer demand for green goods -- leverage economic principles and incentives to solve environmental problems. Careful design of market-based solutions can help reduce pollution, lower the costs of improving environmental quality, and result in more equitable outcomes.

Embracing the full range of incentives that shape behavior allows us to take a holistic view of the socio-ecological system to determine how to optimize objectives that inform lasting environmental and social welfare. Our approach is not dogmatic – we examine the power and limitations of market mechanisms, study their impacts, and investigate how they compare with alternative interventions. 

How we work

emLab is a tightly-knit team of faculty, researchers, project managers, post-docs, and students based at the University of California Santa Barbara. emLab fosters a collaborative work environment to unite interdisciplinary expertise with the collective goal of solving critical environmental problems. We are a team of intellectual go-getters: eager to tackle new challenges and think outside the box to support a healthy environment that can sustain generations to come. We bring academic rigor and subject matter expertise to our work, along with skill sets in project management, data science, and communications. The emLab approach includes:

  • Responsiveness & Flexibility: emLab’s world class research team is supported by a nimble and responsive project management, communications, and operations team, resulting in a unique adaptive capacity that allows us to tackle tough research questions while empowering us to dynamically address the needs of our implementation partners.
  • Data Science & Transparency: Our highly skilled data scientists leverage large data repositories from public and, when possible, private sources to draw conclusions about the relationship between human behavior and the natural world. We believe that the scientific process should be transparent and open to examination, and we uphold that value by striving to make our code, data, and tools publicly accessible.
  • Technical Expertise: We make the most out of our resources by identifying the right tool for each job and selecting the analytical approach that best fits the question we want to answer. Our team has expertise in impact evaluation, spatial planning, econometrics, bioeconomic modeling, management strategy evaluation, population dynamics modeling, environmental market design, and policy scenario analysis - to name a few skill sets.

Leveraging our diverse expertise, we generate timely insights into effective and equitable solutions for our four programs: Climate & Energy, Land & Freshwater, Ocean & Fisheries, and People & Poverty