Special Issue "Social Innovation and Sustainability"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Human Geography and Social Sustainability".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 March 2021.

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Pedro Verga Matos
Guest Editor
Lisbon School of Economics & Management (ISEG), Universidade de Lisboa, 1649-004 Lisboa, Portugal
Interests: corporate governance; investment appraisal; social innovation
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals
Dr. Tania Pereira Christopoulos

Guest Editor
Escola de Artes, Ciências e Humanidades (EACH), Universidade de Sao Paulo, São Paulo – SP, 05508-220, Brazil
Interests: microfinance; financial inclusion; social innovation; social entreprises

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The concept of social innovation has been gaining visibility in the media, in the formulation of national and global public policies, in the management of third-sector organizations, and in academia (Weber, 2012; Dainienė & Dagilienė, 2016), but it is still a theme for which there is a profound need for research, covering both the concept and associated practices, as well as their results. According to Jessop, Bob, Moulaert et al. (2013), social innovation is a hot topic, appears regularly in the news, and is part of the core of the essential programs of several international organizations; for example, it is present in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (Eichler & Schwarz, 2019), the European Union’s innovation-related incentive programs, and the OECD’s social entrepreneurship programs.

Although the concept of innovation is as old as humanity (Cajaiba-Santana, 2014), the realization of its importance for economic growth, for improving the quality of life, and for so-called "progress" is much more recent (Jessop, Bob, Moulaert et al., 2013). As stated by Cajaiba-Santana (2014) (p. 43), "The capacity to innovate and create new things is one of the hallmarks of civilization.” Innovation is present throughout human history as a manifestation of its creative capacity and as the outcome of humanity's efforts to develop responses to its needs and to improve its quality of life; in Simms' words: “Civilizations are the result of human innovations.” However, above all, in this century, social innovation has become prominent as a result of the recognition of its importance by the OECD and the European Union (European Commission, 2013), and it is a concept that differs from traditional innovation by its aim of promoting social change (Repo & Matschoss, 2020)

The debate on the concept of social innovation is still ongoing and, therefore, is a source of research in several domains of the social sciences (Cajaiba-Santana, 2014; Ionescu, 2015; Pol & Ville, 2009; van der Have & Rubalcaba, 2016,). In 1995, in a document of great importance, the European Commission (1995) (p. 11) considered that "Innovation is not just an economic mechanism or a technical process. It is, above all, a social phenomenon. Through it, individuals and societies express their creativity, needs and desires. (…) In the final analysis, the history, culture, education, political and institutional organization and the economic structure of each society determine that society's capacity to generate and accept novelty." Also, for the European Commission (2013), this concept refers to the development and implementation of new ideas (e.g., products, services, and models) to meet social needs and to create new social relationships or collaborations. These activities, services, and programs always encompass four fundamental elements that characterize social innovation (Dawson & Daniel, 2010), namely, people, the challenge (i.e., the problem that can be solved or the opportunity to explore), the process (i.e., dealing with the challenge), and the objective (e.g., solving the challenge to achieve greater well-being).

It is challenging to define sustainability in a way that is generally accepted, given the abundance of definitions. In effect, the word "sustainable" has become a buzzword that people interpret in their own way, and the difficulty in stabilizing a definition is aggravated when we associate it with companies or organizations (Hockerts, 2001).

The use of the term "sustainability," prevalent in the literature and encompassing several meanings, gained global notoriety, as did the expression "sustainable development," as a result of the United Nations Conference “Environment and Development” held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (RIO-92). Sustainable development has been defined since 1987 by the Brundtland Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) as "the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (WCED, 1987). However, over time, robust answers to questions regarding the nature of sustainability, of a sustainable organization, or of a sustainable society have proven to be illusory (Marshall & Toffel, 2005).

More specifically, corporate sustainability is an important concept that covers several dimensions (i.e., ethical, social, environmental, cultural, and economic) (Lankoski, 2016), and today, its importance is growing. The three central non-financial factors in measuring the sustainability and societal impact of an organization are the environmental, social, and governance dimensions, known by the abbreviation ESG. This approach follows the so-called triple bottom line (TBL or 3BL), which is a sustainability model that analyzes the social, environmental, and economic impact of a project, organization, or company. It was originally developed in the 1990s by John Elkington and formally referenced for the first time in 1994, by himself, and complemented in 1995 by the introduction of the concept "3Ps: People, Planet, Profit." However, the triple bottom line approach is also very controversial because empirically, Adam (2006) verified that the economic dimension is typically more prevalent than the social and environmental dimensions. Regarding the aims of sustainability, it is easy to contest the scope and direction of the change it promotes, as well as the need of social business innovation (Bock, 2012). Would social innovation provide better ways for achieving a balance between the economic, environmental, and social dimensions?

The diversity of approaches, objectives, and methodologies applied in the study of social innovation and sustainability leads to the need for more research on these themes, requiring a multidisciplinary approach, with different perspectives, studying different sectors, and bringing together academics and other professionals. This is the aim of this Special Issue: To approach sustainable development and social innovation, both at the macro- and micro-levels, using trans- and interdisciplinary approaches.

Authors from management, economics, finance, sociology, and other related disciplines are invited to submit their papers. Multidisciplinary research that embraces the diversity of the sustainability and social innovation perspectives is particularly appreciated. Submissions for publication in this Special Issue include, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Social Innovation and sustainable development;
  • Corporate practices of sustainable development in emerging versus developed markets;
  • Social enterprises and sustainability;
  • Social innovation as a way of achieving strong sustainability;
  • Ethical issues in social Innovation;
  • The future of sustainability in social innovation: A holistic approach;
  • Cases studies in different industries and/or countries;
  • Sustainable and innovative approaches on environmental and social issues.
Prof. Dr. Pedro Verga Matos
Dr. Tania Pereira Christopoulos
Guest Editors


  1. Adams, W. M. (2006). The Future of Sustainability: Re-Thinking Environment and Development in the Twenty-First Century, Report of the IUCN Renowned Thinkers Meeting, 29-31 January 2006.
  2. Bock B.B. (2012). Social innovation and sustainability: how to disentangle the buzzword and its application in the field of agriculture and rural development. Studies in Agricultural Economics,114(2) pp.57–63
  3. Cajaiba-Santana, G. (2014). Social Innovation: Moving the field forward. A conceptual framework. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 82(1), 42–51.
  4. Dainienė, R., & Dagilienė, L. (2016). Measurement of Social Innovation at Organisation's Level: Theoretical Issues. Economics and Business, 29(1), 96–103.
  5. Dawson, P., & Daniel, L. (2010). Understanding social Innovation: A provisional framework. International Journal of Technology Management, 51(1), 9–21.
  6. Eichler, G. M., & Schwarz, E. J. (2019). What sustainable development goals do social innovations address? A systematic review and content analysis of social innovation literature. Sustainability (Switzerland), 11(2).
  7. European Comission,  1995. Green paper on innovation.
  8. European Comission (2013). Social Innovation Research in the European Union: Approaches, Findings and Future Directions: Policy Review. EUR-OP.
  9. Hockerts, K. (2001). Corporate sustainability management, towards controlling corporate ecological and social sustainability. Proceedings of Greening of Industry Network Conference, 21-24.
  10. Ionescu, C. (2015). About the conceptualization of social Innovation. Theoretical and Applied Economics, 22(3), 53–62.
  11. Jessop, Bob, Moulaert, F., MacCallum, D., Mehmood, A., Hamdouch, A., Moulaert, F., Hulgård, L., & Hamdouch, A. (2013). Social innovation research: a new stage in innovation analysis? The International Handbook on Social Innovation, 110–130.
  12. Lankoski, L. (2016). Alternative conceptions of sustainability in a business context. Journal of Cleaner Production, 139, 847-857.
  13. Marshall, J. D., & Toffel, M. W. (2005). Framing the elusive concept of sustainability: A sustainability hierarchy. ACS Publication, 673-682
  14. Phillips, F., 2011. The state of technological and social change: Impressions. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 78 (6), pp.1072-
  15. Pol, E., & Ville, S. (2009). Social Innovation: Buzz word or enduring term? Journal of Socio-Economics, 38(6), 878–885.
  16. Repo, P., & Matschoss, K. (2020). Social Innovation for Sustainability Challenges. Sustainability, 12(1), 1-12
  17. van der Have, R. P., & Rubalcaba, L. (2016). Social innovation research: An emerging area of innovation studies? Research Policy, 45(9), 1923–1935. 010
  18. Weber, J.M., 2012. Social innovation and social enterprise in the classroom: Frances Westley on bringing clarity and rigor to program design. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 11 (3), pp.409-418.
  19. WCED - World Commission on Environment and Development (1987). Our Common Future, Oxford University Press.

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 papers will be 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 1800 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.

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission.
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