Economics of Environmental Innovation

What we do
We study the economic issues related to the introduction and diffusion of new environmental innovations (technologies, methods, practices: e.g. solar panels, energy-efficient solutions). Environmental innovations are necessary to replace the current polluting energy paradigm based on fossil fuels. How do these clean innovations compete with their corresponding dirty technologies? Do we need a breakthrough clean invention or is the mix of existing solutions already cost-effective in fighting climate change? Do existing solutions bring significant economic advantages in terms of reduced energy costs to companies? If they are profitable, why do they need policy support? How should a policy support be designed and implemented (carbon price combined with technological subsidies)? Are environmental subsidies effective? Is a carbon price (tax, emission trading scheme) harmful for companies, and toward which type of companies?
We analyze such issues through econometric techniques using firm-level data from different statistical sources.
The aim of our research is to formulate policy suggestions for policy makers and to contribute to the debate on the development of a working green economy.

We collaborate with several national and international partners such as the Graduate Institute Geneva, the ETH Zurich, the London School of Economics and members of the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists.

Recent publications:
Marin, Marino, Pellegrin: “The impact of the European Emission Trading Scheme on multiple measures of economic performance”, Environmental and Resource Economics, 2017.




Economics of Knowledge

What we do
Economics of knowledge is a growing field of economics, studying mainly the process of production and diffusion of knowledge among economic agents. As economists we are particularly interested in the role the two phenomena play in major economic sectors and how it has led to a gradual shift towards knowledge-intensive activities. The well recognized role of knowledge production and diffusion also leads us to investigate the right economic incentives to implement from a policy perspective to favor an efficient creation and transmission among the various economic agents. Topics we consider include forms of knowledge production, codification and infusion, incentives and institutions for the efficient production of knowledge (including discussions of private markets and “open” sources), and knowledge management as a new organizational capability. We also address policy concerns suggested by the uneven development of knowledge across different sectors and by the need to find ways of reclaiming the public dimension of knowledge from an essentially privatized knowledge revolution.
Specifically, we ask what are the best incentives for scientists to favor knowledge production? What are the key determinants of knowledge flows? What is the role of people and their migration flows in knowledge creation and diffusion? What is the role of universities? How can an efficient knowledge diffusion and adoption favor a faster energy transition? Can a novel technology like Artificial Intelligence revolutionize knowledge production and the innovative capacity of the healthcare sector? And can knowledge be accumulated and flow efficiently for an unconventional and controversial technology like geoengineering?

We collaborate with both local and international partners. In EPFL, we have collaborations with the EPFL’s Center for Digital Education (CEDE), and the Master of Energy Management and Sustainability with some students performing their Master project with our chair. Outside of EPFL, we collaborate with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the Université Côte d’Azur in France.

Recent works:

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles:

  • Ayoubi, Charles; Pezzoni, Michele and Visentin, Fabiana. 2017. At the Origins of Learning: Absorbing Knowledge Flows from Within the Team. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 134: 374-387


  • Foray, Dominique. L’économie de la connaissance. 3e Ed. La Découverte, 2018.


Empirical Economics of Science

Our work relates mainly to the investigation of knowledge production and diffusion. Focusing on academia, as one of the main loci of knowledge production, we investigate the activity of scientists working alone or in teams. For example, we study the scientists’ publishing activity identifying what affects scientists’ outcomes and what stimulate their learning when collaborating with peers. Part of our research portfolio is dedicated to the exploration of what are the effects of scientists’ fundraising activity and what are the benefits of receiving grants. Once knowledge is produced, it must be transferred to be beneficial for the society. Besides analyzing the production of scientific papers, we analyze careers and individual mobility as important vehicles of knowledge transfer among universities and between university and industry. In all our research, we utilize a strongly quantitative approach, collecting and analyzing large amounts of data at an individual and an aggregate level, with up-to-date econometric techniques.

Part of our activity is devoted to advice governments and international organizations on the effectiveness of public policy interventions. We have designed and carried out analyses that have yielded policy-relevant insights, drawing out evidence-based policy implications of actions and formulating policy recommendations that public actors should follow to pursue their missions. In this context, we have had the opportunity to work closely with the main funding agency of the Swiss national academic system, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). We have provided advice and briefings to the SNSF senior management on the impact of their funding instruments on Swiss academics productivity. Our team has formulated policy recommendations on how the SNSF could more efficiently and efficaciously distribute public funds to promote innovation in Switzerland.

Our international collaborations include top-ranked universities such as Emory University, Université Côte d’Azur, KU Leuven, Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia State University. Our contributions have appeared in the American Sociological Review, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Research Policy, IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, Science and Public Policy and PlosOne.

International conferences:    

  • Paper presentation at the NBER workshop “Advancing the Science of Science Funding Worshop”, Cambridge, Massachusetts, July 2018
  • Paper presentation at The 78th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management Chicago, Illinois, August 2018

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles:

  • Ayoubi, Charles; Pezzoni, Michele and Visentin, Fabiana. 2017. At the Origins of Learning: Absorbing Knowledge Flows from Within the Team. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 134: 374-387
  • Baruffaldi, Stefano; Marino Marianna and Visentin, Fabiana. 2017. International Mobility and Research Careers: Evidence from a Mobility Grant Program. In Guclu Atinc (Ed.), Proceedings of the Seventy-seventh Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management
  • Baruffaldi, Stefano; Visentin, Fabiana and Conti, Annamaria. 2016. The Productivity of Science & Engineering PhD Students Hired from Supervisors’ Networks. Research Policy, 45(4): 785-796. *Paper awarded by the Research Incentive Program of Collegio Carlo Alberto, September 2016.

Policy Briefs:


Innovation and Migration

International migration represents one of globalization’s major aspects and highly skilled individuals have become one of its primary components, especially within fields related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The potential economic repercussions of these talent flows are sizeable for both receiving and sending countries. Talented individuals contribute in remarkable ways to the systems in which they are embedded, advancing the knowledge and technological frontier, prompting innovation and ultimately economic growth.

Our current research is focused the role of migrant scientists and engineers (S&Es) in knowledge diffusion and their relationship with host countries’ inventive activity, looking at position of foreign S&Es within international knowledge networks and at the mechanisms by which they enter and affect receiving economies’ invention production functions. Our research efforts are also concerned with international graduate students: what’s their impact on domestic scientific systems? How do international graduate students’ migration decisions and selection patterns react to immigration legislation changes?

Grounded on migration and innovation economics theoretical frameworks, our research approach involves the construction of micro-level datasets on the studied phenomena to be analysed with econometric techniques.  


Ongoing projects

Campus Analytics Project

Talent flows and selectivity: the case of foreign-born STEM students in Switzerland. Data-Based Analysis of Graduate Students’ Migration

Partners: EPFL’s Center for Digital Education (CEDE), CEMI

Description: A thorough empirically-based economic analysis can go beyond an overview of foreign Swiss-educated graduate students’ retention rates and gauge the selection process behind their outmigration. Are there differences between who stays and who leaves in terms of observable quality? Which outmigration determinants can be identified? Focusing on STEM taught- and research-oriented graduates from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, the proposed research aims at measuring Swiss international students’ outmigration selectivity. Through a reduced-form econometric approach, we will be able to characterise outmigration selection as proxied by observable characteristics such as coursework performance (e.g., GPA for Master’s students), and publication records (e.g., citations received, journals’ impact factor for PhD students).

Innovation Policy

For several years, CEMI has developed a research agenda to address the shift from moderate innovation policy interventions to more radical ones, aimed at radical transformations of existing industrial structures, such as accelerating innovation to address grand societal challenges or to modernize a traditional sector. In various papers, we propose an analytical framework based on the identification of various constitutive rationales of policy intervention in the domain of innovation. This approach introduces the distinction between moderate and stronger modes of intervention. Stronger modes are characterised by a higher degree of intentionality, centralization and focus. A large part of these works is devoted to certain principles of policy design under which the risks of such a shift can be minimised and positive effects can be maximised.

In another strand of research, we consider innovation policy as a process of creation and selection of institutions – effective institutions that can help private agents to exploit opportunities for collective actions. In this perspective we analyze empirically the role of  “Coasean” institutions in fixing market failures and enhancing innovation capacities of small firms.   Early theoretical works emphasize the advantages of such an institutional setting. However, broader empirical evidence about their effectiveness is lacking. We apply different empirical approaches to assess the relationship between “Coasean” institutions and the innovation performance of SMEs. Our empirical findings – based on Swiss data and situations – provide a strong case for policies aimed at encouraging the formation and operation of this type of institution. 

Future works on innovation policy will integrate Claudia and Charles focus on green technologies in order to address in an empirical way the issue of diffusion and adoption as a central component of any innovation policy.      


  • Smart specialisation strategies as a case of mission oriented policy – a case study on the emergence of new policy practices, Industry and Corporate Change , 2018, in press.
  • On sector-non-neutral innovation policy: Towards new design principles, Journal of Evolutionary Economics, 2018, in press.
  • Smart specialisation strategies and industrial modernisation in European regions – theory and practice, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 2018, in press.
  • The Formation of Coasean Institutions to Provide Complementary Capabilities for Innovation – a Case Study and Statistical Analysis of Current Trends in Switzerland, with M.Woerter, 2018, submitted to  Industry and Corporate Change.