Special Issue "Sustainable Innovation and Transformation"
A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050).
Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 March 2020).
Interests: sustainable transformation, integrated value, meaningful innovation, purposeful leadership, values dividend
We are at a critical juncture in the sustainability movement. Despite the continued mainstreaming of sustainability, which received a double-boost boost in 2015 with the Paris Climate Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals, we have to confront some awkward questions in 2019: are current efforts taking us far enough, fast enough? Are major negative socio-ecological trends being reversed? Are we treating the causes or just the symptoms? Are underlying business economic models changing? Are initiatives like the SDGs helping or hindering transformation?
Looking ahead, in terms of the role of business, I see the following six possible responses:
- The majority of business ignores sustainability, i.e., it is seen as an agenda only for big, branded companies;
- Business spins sustainability, i.e., most companies only address sustainability to the extent that there are PR-related reputation benefits;
- Business ‘cherry-picks’ sustainability, i.e., companies focus on a few issues where they have a clear impact but still support an overall system that is unsustainable;
- Business adopts sustainability more widely, so we see continuous, incremental improvements, but these are still inadequate compared with the scale and urgency of the problem;
- Business innovates around sustainability, i.e., there is an entrepreneurial, solutions-driven approach that invests in breakthrough products, processes, and business models that are inherently sustainable and scalable; and
- Business pursues sustainability as a transformational agenda, i.e., companies use their power and influence to support positive changes to government policy and market incentives (the ‘rules of the game’) that ensure the achievement of science-based targets for a sustainable society.
This Special Issue will focus on responses 5 and 6 only, i.e., sustainable innovation and transformation. For example, in my work I frame five pathways for systemic sustainable innovation: secure innovation to support the resilience economy, smart innovation to support the exponential (digital) economy, shared innovation to support the access economy, green innovation to support the circular economy, and satisfying innovation to support the wellbeing economy (Visser, 2017). Additionally, in our Sustainable Transformation Lab at Antwerp Management School, we work on four main themes: positive futures, i.e., how we generate compelling narratives for a better world; integrated value, i.e., how we measure value in business and society; meaningful innovation, i.e., how we use innovation to serve the needs of society; and purposeful leadership, i.e., how we can understand and develop more effective transformational leaders.
Papers on similar topics are welcome, but contributors are also encouraged to advance their own perspectives, approaches, and frameworks on sustainable innovation and transformation. Possible research questions include the following:
- What are the barriers, enablers, and best practice cases for sustainable innovation and transformation, especially for achieving scalable solutions?
- To what extent do current (or proposed) government policies or multi-stakeholder initiatives help or hinder sustainable innovation and transformation?
- How effective are the SDGs or other sustainability codes, standards, or guidelines in advancing sustainable innovation and transformation?
- How well does the economic and financial system, including financial markets, banking, insurance, and venture capital, support sustainable innovation and transformation?
- Are current ways of measuring and reporting financial and non-financial (sustainability) performance appropriate for a sustainable innovation and transformation agenda?
- How are new or hybrid business models (like the circular or sharing economy) having an impact on advancing sustainable innovation and transformation?
- What do we know about the characteristics or behaviors of sustainable entrepreneurs and sustainable enterprises?
Until sustainability becomes an innovation and transformation practice, we will continue to fail in our attempts to create a more sustainable world. I look forward to collating the best research insights on the topic, to help us make this aspiration a reality.
Adams, R., Jeanrenaud, S., Bessant, J., Denyer, D. and Overy, P. (2015). Sustainability-oriented innovation: a systematic review. International Journal of Management Reviews, No. 18, pp.1–26.
Behnam, S. and Cagliono, R. (2019). Are innovation resources and capabilities enough to make businesses sustainable? An empirical study of leading sustainable innovative firms. Int. J. Technology Management, Vol. 79, No. 1.
Hall, J. and Vredenburg, H. (2003). The challenges of innovating for sustainable development. Sloan Management Review, Vol. 45, No.1, pp.61–68.
Hansen, E.G., Grosse-Dunker, F. and Reichwald, R. (2009). Sustainability innovation cube – a framework to evaluate sustainability-oriented innovations. International Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp.683–713.
Hart, S.L. and Milstein, M.B. (2003). Creating sustainable value. Academy of Management Executive, Vol 17, No. 2.
Nidumolu, R., Prahalad, C.K. and Rangaswami, M.R. (2009). Why sustainability is now the key driver of innovation. Harvard Business Review, Vol. 87, No. 9, pp.56–64.
Senge, P.M., Carstedt, G. and Porter, P.L. (2001). Innovating our way to the next industrial revolution. MIT Sloan Management Review, Vol. 42, No. 2, p.24.
Visser, W. (2017). Innovation Pathways Towards Creating Integrated Value: A Conceptual Framework. International Humanistic Management Association, Research Paper Series, No. 17-41, September 30.
Prof. Dr. Wayne Visser
Manuscript Submission Information
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- Sustainable innovation
- Sustainable transformation
- Sustainable or social entrepreneurship
- Sustainable or social enterprise