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The Human Side of Sustainable Innovations

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 April 2021) | Viewed by 22788

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management, School for Business and Economy, Technische Universität Berlin, Strasse des 17. Juni 135, Germany
Interests: social networks; start-up teams; user innovation; sustainable technology

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Guest Editor
Technische Universität Berlin, Strasse des 17. Juni 135, 10623 Berlin, Germany
Interests: Corporate and sustainability strategy, business models, strategic change

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Guest Editor
Technische Universität Berlin, Strasse des 17. Juni 135, 10623 Berlin, Germany
Interests: Hightech and lifescience entepreneurship, financing concepts for innovation, technology transfer by start-ups, bio-based economy

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

We all probably agree that most innovations are based on re-combinations of existing knowledge which flows or is manifested in social networks, and that we urgently need to make businesses more sustainable. The implications of this are twofold. First, this indicates that people are very vital for any innovation, as are groups of people connected through social links of any kind. In fact, all people globally are somehow connected. Second, the increasing perceptions of environmental damage caused by humans gradually shift the focus from commercially attractive innovations to sustainably attractive innovations. This shift can be realized among start-ups, established companies, efforts in product development departments, students or even pensioners. What mechanism, factors, and determinants, however, propel the success of sustainable innovations?

One factor having received gradually broader attention in the last two decades is user innovations or lead user innovations. Some people, based on seeking personal benefits and being ahead of time, fashion or taste, seem to create products and processes in a better and more successful manner than others and, most importantly, than classical product development departments. This is probably also true for sustainable innovations, but there is a lack of empirical evidence to confirm this. User or lead user innovators are described as owning certain personal characteristics, and they are positioned mostly between groups in social networks. The issue at hand would be to look at user innovators of sustainable products and processes and their characteristics and network positioning. Answering this question might make it possible to more effectively and efficiently utilize them for starting up new enterprises or intrapreneurship efforts.

Another human-centered question is how employees can be incentivized to engage in sustainable developments. Monetary incentives have been shown to be less effective to propel innovative efforts, but what other incentives, particularly social incentives, can be effective? In other words, how can sustainable intrapreneurship be fostered, and what can organizations do to establish not only a culture of intrapreneurship but one of sustainable intrapreneurship? Closely linked to academic and non-academic efforts of getting sustainable enterprises started are incubation and/or acceleration processes. Right at the start, it is well known that team processes, interaction patterns, the distribution of authorities, and the management of the start-up phase are the most important ingredients. Investors mostly tend to orient themselves at these ingredients rather than preliminary business models, products or processes. Therefore, creating a human-centered approach in incubating and/or accelerating start-up teams is key to creating successful enterprises. In established corporations, switching to such a culture and organization will certainly be challenging; in fact, it is organizational change that is often required to achieve an entrepreneurial orientation as well as a passion for sustainability-related business models.

The Special Issue on “The Human Side of Sustainable Innovations” will focus around these two shortly sketched themes; however, other themes around human impact in creating sustainable innovations are also welcome. The Special Issue is open to all research design approaches, mixed methods, and qualitative and quantitative techniques.

  • User innovation of sustainable product and processes
  • Intrapreneurship and sustainable innovations
  • Incentivizing for sustainable innovations
  • Incubating and accelerating approaches to sustainable innovations
  • Changing attitudes organizational structures/cultures towards sustainability-oriented entre- and intrapreneurship

Prof. Dr. Jan Kratzer
Prof. Dr. Dodo zu Knyphausen-Aufseß
Prof. Dr. Gunter Festel
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • sustainable entrepreneurs
  • user innovation
  • social innovation
  • incubation and acceleration

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Research

22 pages, 1498 KiB  
Article
The Selection Process and Criteria of Impact Accelerators. An Exploratory Study
by Heiko Butz and Matthias Jan Mrożewski
Sustainability 2021, 13(12), 6617; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13126617 - 10 Jun 2021
Cited by 12 | Viewed by 5104
Abstract
Start-up accelerators, a relatively new and competitive type of business incubators, are nowadays considered to be a highly effective way of providing venture support. Start-ups who have been supported through accelerators have an approximately 23% higher survival rate than other new businesses. This [...] Read more.
Start-up accelerators, a relatively new and competitive type of business incubators, are nowadays considered to be a highly effective way of providing venture support. Start-ups who have been supported through accelerators have an approximately 23% higher survival rate than other new businesses. This positive effect can be explained by the highly selective process accelerators apply when deciding on which venture projects to support. It comes as no surprise that understanding this process and the respective selection criteria is at the core of accelerator/incubator literature within entrepreneurship research. Existing research is however limited to the investigation of commercial accelerators which provide support to start-ups having an economic purpose only. Hence those academic findings cannot be simply extrapolated to accelerators supporting ventures combining economic goals with social and ecological purpose. Given the growing meaning of sustainability entrepreneurship and hence the increasing number of sustainability-oriented accelerators, the above limitation seems to be an important research gap. This paper addresses the above gap by investigating the selection processes and criteria of so-called impact accelerators focusing on the support of start-ups expected to create not only economic outcomes but also positive social and/or environmental impact. Building on existing accelerator literature, we qualitatively investigate the selection processes and criteria of nine European impact accelerators. By comparing our findings with existing research, we identify important differences between the selection approach of commercial and impact accelerators thus contributing to sustainability entrepreneurship research and practice. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Human Side of Sustainable Innovations)
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11 pages, 785 KiB  
Article
Glancing through Two Decades of Research on the Human Side of Sustainable Innovation: The Past, the Present, and Directions for Future Research
by Jan Kratzer, Dodo zu Knyphausen-Aufseß and Gunter Festel
Sustainability 2021, 13(11), 6355; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13116355 - 3 Jun 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2159
Abstract
The increasingly negative effects of climate change are caused by humans and can be solved only by humans. In the past two decades, researchers have conducted considerable studies devoted to the human side of sustainable innovation. The present work aimed to provide a [...] Read more.
The increasingly negative effects of climate change are caused by humans and can be solved only by humans. In the past two decades, researchers have conducted considerable studies devoted to the human side of sustainable innovation. The present work aimed to provide a structured overview of these studies in the frame of the Special Issue: The Human Side of Sustainable Innovations. In contrast to the concepts capturing the human side, the definitions and operationalizations of sustainability and sustainable innovations are considerably ambiguous. We identified six journals that exemplify three factors on the human side of sustainable innovation and elucidate the concept. For their findings to be conclusive, researchers need to engage in significant efforts in investigating the differences in the interpretation and recognition of sustainability, in establishing consensus on the sustainable behavior of actors, and in executing comparable studies and experiments. Moreover, future research needs to establish generally accepted evaluations and measurements of sustainability. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Human Side of Sustainable Innovations)
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19 pages, 822 KiB  
Article
Road to Sustainability: University–Start-Up Collaboration
by Korapin Jirapong, Karina Cagarman and Laura von Arnim
Sustainability 2021, 13(11), 6131; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13116131 - 29 May 2021
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 3872
Abstract
Considerations on sustainability have growing attention not only for scholars and businesses, but also for almost everyone. However, accomplishing sustainable progress is complicated and cannot be completely reached by single individuals or organizations. Consequently, entrepreneurs striving for sustainable change might search for collaborations [...] Read more.
Considerations on sustainability have growing attention not only for scholars and businesses, but also for almost everyone. However, accomplishing sustainable progress is complicated and cannot be completely reached by single individuals or organizations. Consequently, entrepreneurs striving for sustainable change might search for collaborations with universities to overcome their resource and technology constraints. A quantitative research method was employed to explore the value of such collaborations. Data were gathered via questionnaires, between February and March 2020, from entrepreneurs/start-ups that are spin-offs of the ten leading higher education institutions in Berlin and Brandenburg (Germany). Correlation and logistic regression disclosed that start-ups with different sustainability goals employed dissimilar formats of collaboration with universities. Ecological-oriented entrepreneurs tend to utilize all three forms of university–start-up collaboration. On the contrary, social-driven start-ups are not likely to adopt any kind of collaboration with universities. While ventures with economical SDGs are prone to employ product and prototype development along with support from professors. The study extends the knowledge about the search for collaborations of start-ups when pursuing different SDGs. In the practical domain, this research can encourage entrepreneurs to cooperate with universities in order to achieve their sustainable goals beyond incubation and acceleration. Additionally, it can also trigger universities to supply resources for supporting start-ups, especially social-driven ventures, to facilitate them to accomplish sustainability as well as to reach the third mission of universities in terms of supporting society. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Human Side of Sustainable Innovations)
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12 pages, 629 KiB  
Article
Perceptions of Green User Entrepreneurs’ Performance—Is Sustainability an Asset or a Liability for Innovators?
by Jana Möller and Steffen Herm
Sustainability 2021, 13(6), 3580; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13063580 - 23 Mar 2021
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 2706
Abstract
User entrepreneurs rely on regular consumers when starting their business, for example, when raising creative and financial support. This research examines regular consumers’ opinions with regard to the future business performance of green vs. non-green user entrepreneurs. We build on previous consumer behavior [...] Read more.
User entrepreneurs rely on regular consumers when starting their business, for example, when raising creative and financial support. This research examines regular consumers’ opinions with regard to the future business performance of green vs. non-green user entrepreneurs. We build on previous consumer behavior research on consumers’ performance perceptions. Specifically, consumers perceive products that use green, environmentally friendly technologies as having inferior performance compared to products that use traditional technologies. We investigate whether this so called “sustainability liability” effect can also be found in consumers’ perceptions of green user entrepreneurs’ performance. We ran an online scenario experiment with regular consumers who assessed the business performance of several (green vs. non-green) user entrepreneurs. Results reveal a “sustainability asset” effect for perceptions of green user entrepreneurs, such that consumers with strong environmental values perceived the business performance of green user entrepreneurs as superior compared to non-green user entrepreneurs. Consumers with weak environmental values perceived green and non-green entrepreneurs as equally performant. We discuss possible explanations of our findings. Furthermore, we propose potential consequences of our results both for consumers’ intentions to support user entrepreneurs as well as for user entrepreneurs’ motivation to engage in green innovations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Human Side of Sustainable Innovations)
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16 pages, 288 KiB  
Article
Entrepreneurial Sustainability Engagement of Insiders Initiating Energy System Transition
by Niklas Fernqvist and Mats Lundqvist
Sustainability 2021, 13(2), 734; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13020734 - 14 Jan 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1624
Abstract
The central point in this article is that energy system transition can be initiated by a team of individuals interacting entrepreneurially beyond their different home-grounds in business, research, or regional development. Such entrepreneurial engagement of insiders with belongings to an established socio-technical system [...] Read more.
The central point in this article is that energy system transition can be initiated by a team of individuals interacting entrepreneurially beyond their different home-grounds in business, research, or regional development. Such entrepreneurial engagement of insiders with belongings to an established socio-technical system has not been captured in prevalent sustainability transitions or entrepreneurship perspectives. Insiders have mostly been expected to act within (and not outside) of their role expectations. This study investigates who individuals initiating energy transition are, what motives they have, and how they accomplish institutional change. The purpose is to qualify a perspective that can help us better appreciate how transitions, such as in energy systems, can be initiated. The new perspective recognizes the importance of insiders, their personal sustainability beliefs, their choice to teamwork entrepreneurially, and their narratives about the initiative affecting institutional change. It explains how transition in a heavily regulated Swedish energy system can occur. Implications are drawn for research, policy and entrepreneurial teamwork. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Human Side of Sustainable Innovations)
17 pages, 676 KiB  
Article
Designing Rural Policies for Sustainable Innovations through a Participatory Approach
by Federica Cisilino and Alessandro Monteleone
Sustainability 2020, 12(21), 9100; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12219100 - 1 Nov 2020
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 3140
Abstract
The added value coming from involvement of stakeholders in changing attitudes and cultures towards a more sustainable-oriented society has been repeatedly emphasized in documents of the European Union. Those documents emphasize the advisability of creating a more inclusive system from the early planning [...] Read more.
The added value coming from involvement of stakeholders in changing attitudes and cultures towards a more sustainable-oriented society has been repeatedly emphasized in documents of the European Union. Those documents emphasize the advisability of creating a more inclusive system from the early planning stages and for the whole process with regard to the development of EU policies, involving the stakeholder as a referring partnership both at the national and regional levels. This paper focuses on a case study related to an Italian region where the local partnership has been involved during the setting up of the Rural Development Program 2014–2020 and where a participatory approach has been applied. In order to create an effective output coming from these open consultations, a participatory approach has been carried out using a dynamized Strengths and Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis (SWOT Analysis). The results presented here come from a specific thematic table where experts and stakeholders discussed a specific priority focused on innovation, training and advisory in rural areas. As expected, sustainable innovations and services as well as training courses need to be improved, while financial resources addressing those issues need to be increased. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Human Side of Sustainable Innovations)
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25 pages, 1402 KiB  
Article
Considering the Human-Dimension to Make Sustainable Transitions Actionable
by María Elena López Reyes, Willem A. Zwagers and Ingrid J. Mulder
Sustainability 2020, 12(21), 8813; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12218813 - 23 Oct 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2965
Abstract
Sustainable innovation and transitions are increasingly gaining traction within academia, industries, and policymakers. Despite the research efforts, sustaining innovation and operationalizing transitions still remains a barely explored field. The pragmatic step from understanding towards doing is often not made explicit in the literature. [...] Read more.
Sustainable innovation and transitions are increasingly gaining traction within academia, industries, and policymakers. Despite the research efforts, sustaining innovation and operationalizing transitions still remains a barely explored field. The pragmatic step from understanding towards doing is often not made explicit in the literature. In fact, it results in an unclear and vague grip on how to operationalize these understandings, or differently put on how to make this understanding pragmatic. In the current article, we conducted an integrative literature review using human-centeredness lenses that informs the so-called ‘Human-Dimension’ framework. We argue that adding the Human-Dimension to the existing models for analysis, such as the Multi-Level Perspective framework, might clarify the different meanings that emerge within the network of actors in a transition, and knowing how to translate those individual meanings towards a collective construction of meaning might be enabled. To illustrate the framework’s contribution, we applied it to the context of a local sustainable development project. The results show how human-centeredness could serve as a domain to make the Human-Dimension of sustainable transitions actionable. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Human Side of Sustainable Innovations)
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