Susanna Berkouwer’s Research is the Intersection of Economics and the Environment

Susanna Berkouwer is an assistant professor in Wharton's Business Economics and Public Policy department.
Susanna Berkouwer is an assistant professor in Wharton's Business Economics and Public Policy department.

Susanna Berkouwer is an assistant professor in Wharton’s Business Economics and Public Policy department who teaches managerial economics in the Wharton MBA program. They specialize in energy, environment, and development economics. In this Q&A story, they provide a glimpse into their work in energy and environmental economics.

Q: Can you share what you’re working on right now?

A: I am launching a new project about electric cookstoves in Tanzania. The World Bank reports, four billion people across the world still use some type of dirty fuel for their daily cooking. Allowing them to switch directly to electric cookstoves could save people a lot of money on energy costs, lower their pollution exposure, while also reducing CO2 emissions at the same time. This means there is a lot of funding available to subsidize improved stoves and make them cheaper for households to adopt.

Q: Has anything about your research surprised you lately?

A: How similar people’s challenges across the globe are! The shift from gas cooking to electric cooking is at the forefront of debates both here in the U.S. and in towns in Kenya and Tanzania. Debates about how firms should achieve their “Net Zero” climate emissions targets show that the world is fundamentally intertwined. Finding ways to maximally reduce emissions will require global cooperation.

Q: Air pollution has gained more media attention during recent years. Can you list a few things we should know about it?

Air pollution is a silent killer: you can rarely see or touch it, but it nonetheless can shave years off your life expectancy. Thankfully, there are easy ways to avoid the worst damages from air pollution. For example, we can track air quality on our phones and stay indoors on the 10 worst polluted days of the year. Enjoying the outside 355 days of the year is plenty!

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in researching energy and environmental economics?

A: Many people hear the words “economics” and “environment” and think they’re very separate from each other. That’s completely not the case! Fundamentally, economics is all about the allocation of scarce resources, and global environmental quality improvements are all about sustaining a high quality of life while using much fewer resources than we historically have. At a larger policy scale, developing better economic policies can help reduce poverty while also improving environmental quality.

Q: Out of all the work you’ve done so far at Wharton, what are you most proud of?

A: I am proud that my work centers on both poverty and climate challenges. While in some contexts there are certainly trade-offs, in many instances, policies and practices that address poverty can also have tremendous climate benefits. Identifying those opportunities and scaling them by enabling funding to flow towards those opportunities, has been an incredibly rewarding part of my work.

To read more about Berkouwer’s work, you’ll find their latest research and more on the Business Economics and Public Policy Department website.