Special Issue "Sustainable Innovation and Transformation"

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

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 March 2020).

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Wayne Visser
Website
Guest Editor
Sustainable Transformation Lab, Antwerp Management School, Boogkeers 5, Antwerp 2000, Belgium
Interests: sustainable transformation, integrated value, meaningful innovation, purposeful leadership, values dividend

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

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:

  1. The majority of business ignores sustainability, i.e., it is seen as an agenda only for big, branded companies;
  2. Business spins sustainability, i.e., most companies only address sustainability to the extent that there are PR-related reputation benefits;
  3. 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;
  4. 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;
  5. 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
  6. 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.

References:

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
Guest Editor

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 1900 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 innovation
  • Sustainable transformation
  • Sustainable or social entrepreneurship
  • Sustainable or social enterprise

Published Papers (4 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Three Dimensions of Transformative Impact and Capacity: A Conceptual Framework Applied in Social Innovation Practice
Sustainability 2020, 12(11), 4742; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12114742 - 10 Jun 2020
Abstract
This article empirically applies, tests, and refines a conceptual framework that articulates three dimensions of transformative impact and transformative capacity: depth, width, and length. This responds to the need for a more precise conceptual language to describe these terms and operationalize them in [...] Read more.
This article empirically applies, tests, and refines a conceptual framework that articulates three dimensions of transformative impact and transformative capacity: depth, width, and length. This responds to the need for a more precise conceptual language to describe these terms and operationalize them in a way that is useful for practitioners in social innovation networks. By applying this framework in diverse cases of social innovation networks, we demonstrate how the framework can serve to identify and assess transformative impacts and the capacities needed to bring about these impacts. Our findings include 1. empirical substantiations, 2. refinements, and 3. interaction effects among the elements of the framework. We also subjected the framework to an appraisal by practitioners in social innovation networks regarding the recognizability of the framework elements and usefulness for practice. The framework was generally perceived as very meaningful and valuable for social innovation practitioners as a way to understand, assess, strategically design and evaluate their transformation efforts. Drawing on feedback by practitioners, we offer recommendations for further research and development of the framework to improve its usefulness in practice. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Innovation and Transformation)
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Why Sustainable Development Requires Societal Innovation and Cannot Be Achieved without This
Sustainability 2020, 12(3), 1270; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12031270 - 10 Feb 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
This paper discusses the need for societal innovation as a systemic form of innovation for sustainable development. Sustainable development requires collective action from stakeholders in the form of system building activities, which in its turn requires societal innovation. Through societal innovation, based on [...] Read more.
This paper discusses the need for societal innovation as a systemic form of innovation for sustainable development. Sustainable development requires collective action from stakeholders in the form of system building activities, which in its turn requires societal innovation. Through societal innovation, based on multiple value creation, external costs are being prevented or reduced because of innovation-oriented explorations within a wider frame (a societal improvement perspective), ascertained by the actors. This requires design thinking and proper distribution of the costs and benefits, accepted by the participants. With this paper, we hope to advance the research agenda on societal innovation based on multi-actor improvement processes and associated intentional logics, as topics that are weakly theorized in the business literature on sustainable development and the sustainability transition literature. We are critical of triple helix models and models emphasizing shared value creation because these underestimate the importance of disinterest and conflicts of interests to be managed via multiple value creation on the basis of recursive multi-actor intentionality. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Innovation and Transformation)
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Open AccessCommunication
How a Strategic Scoping Canvas Can Facilitate Collaboration between Partners in Sustainability Transitions
Sustainability 2020, 12(1), 168; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12010168 - 24 Dec 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
The loosely applied concepts of transformations and transitions often result in unarticulated different visions and expectations among stakeholders regarding the orientation and ambition of a particular initiative related to system transitions/transformations. In this paper, a strategic scoping canvas and an associated facilitation process [...] Read more.
The loosely applied concepts of transformations and transitions often result in unarticulated different visions and expectations among stakeholders regarding the orientation and ambition of a particular initiative related to system transitions/transformations. In this paper, a strategic scoping canvas and an associated facilitation process are presented as a way of enhancing shared understanding among stakeholders. Illustrations are provided of initial application in three cases related to food system transitions in Peru, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh, exploring the connectivity with approaches commonly used in the context of system transformations, including the Multi-Level Perspective on sustainability transitions, the Leverage Points approach, Capability Approach, and the theory of Large System Change. We conclude that the canvas and associated facilitation approach has proved useful in different contexts, offering opportunities for complementing existing methodologies, and potentially enhancing their efficacy in facilitated multi-stakeholder processes. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Innovation and Transformation)
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Open AccessConcept Paper
Integrated Innovation: Applying Systems Thinking to Sustainable Innovation and Transformation
Sustainability 2020, 12(13), 5247; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12135247 - 28 Jun 2020
Abstract
Despite allusions to systemic elements in the conception of innovation more generally, and sustainable innovation in particular, the literature generally fails to capture many of the insights that systems science can bring to our understanding of these subjects. This concept paper elaborates five [...] Read more.
Despite allusions to systemic elements in the conception of innovation more generally, and sustainable innovation in particular, the literature generally fails to capture many of the insights that systems science can bring to our understanding of these subjects. This concept paper elaborates five principles of integrated innovation—diversity, aspiration, networks, convergence and emergence—and describes five stages of integrated innovation: intention, ideation, invention, synovation and transformation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Innovation and Transformation)
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