The Precautionary Principle

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 Last revised: 19 Apr 2012

See all articles by Michael W. Toffel

Michael W. Toffel

Harvard Business School

Nazli Uludere

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: June 28, 2010


This note describes the precautionary principle and its key tenets, highlights challenges associated with its use, and includes many examples of its application, primarily within the realm of regulating activities based on the risk of harm to human health and the environment. Appendices provide detailed examples of how the precautionary principle has been applied to regulations in three key industries: agriculture, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. Describes various forms of the precautionary principle, its widespread adoption in international agreements, its distinction from cost-benefit analysis, its shift of the burden of proving that activities are safe from regulators to industry, and the importance of considering Type I and Type II errors and status quo bias when contemplating whether to evoke the precautionary principle.

Learning Objective: Fosters an understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of the precautionary principle, especially when regulating activities in which affects on human health and the environment are uncertain. Can be used in conjunction with cases involving new products and technologies that might harm human health or the environment or risk posing other societal problems.

Suggested Citation

Toffel, Michael W. and Uludere, Nazli, The Precautionary Principle (June 28, 2010). Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Case No. 610-043 , Available at SSRN:

Michael W. Toffel (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States
617.384.8043 (Phone)

Nazli Uludere

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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