More or less the script I burble. Stuff in square brackets didn’t get said or referenced, because the damn thing was already 5 and a half minutes…
The whole field of “green innovation” is a Rorschach test. We see in the blobs what we want and need to see. Capitalism mutating into something ecologically friendly, capitalism wrecking the planet. The system working, the system shirking… This video throws out questions raised by the idea of “eco-innovation.” It also gives a quick overview of the changing academic perspectives on “the greening of industry”. It is of course, a work in progress, and if you think I am wrong, lemme know email@example.com
So what is eco-innovation, anyhow?
Kemp and Pearson (2007) define it as
“the production, assimilation or exploitation of a product, production process, service or management or business method that is novel to the organisation (developing or adopting it) and which results, throughout its life cycle, in a reduction of environmental risk, pollution and other negative impacts of resources use (including energy use) compared to relevant alternatives”.
So why do companies “go green”?
- Is it simply to greenwash, to get the eco-nuts off their backs, and onto softer targets?
- Is it a bargaining chip against the risk of proposed regulations that would be more stringent?
- Is it an opportunity to attract and retain staff who Care About These Things?
Is it for competitive advantage (the Porter hypothesis). Especially a first mover advantage [“The timing of incorporation of regulatory signals in the corporate structure and strategy is important for determining the relationship between regulation and innovation. Early compliance has been linked to competitive advantage (Porter and Van der Linde, 1995; Rothwell, 1992) as companies develop compliance capabilities, which, in turn result into early mover advantages. (Paraskevopoulou, 2012: 1064) [I should also have said something about simply saving production costs here, but didn’t]
- Is it to have a planet left to sell stuff on?
Of course, “it depends” – It might be any of those, any combination of those. It depends on the particular industry, the market, the governments and states, the times.
There’s no one simple answer. There are lots of complicated questions though!
Who engages in eco-innovation – is it the “little guy” – the niche actor trying to save the world or patent some cool stuff and then get bought out? Do the little guys have the cash and the organizational capacities – smart enough staff, good enough absorptive capacity? [“most literature on eco-innovation is focused on large mature firms, practically neglecting SMEs (Schiederig et al., 2012).” (Diaz-Garcia et al. 2015:16)]
Is it the big beasts, the elephants trying to tap dance in search of new customers, or just to keep the ones they’ve got? Are they too drunk on past successes? Under what circumstances will pressure groups scare them into acting?
How does this “eco-innovation” play out?
Is it incremental, constant small refinements of a dominant design, or is it radical and potentially competence-destroying?
Where does it come from?
Does it come from a “laboratory” or is it user-lead (insert guff about prosumers here).
Does it come from “transition regions” or “industrial districts”?
What kind of innovation are we talking about?
- The same product used differently?
- A different product used in the “same” way?
- A new product used in a different way?
What of the “rebound effect”, can we escape Jevons’ Paradox?
There’s a bunch of other questions too.
What happens at the level of an industry (over and above individual firms jostling for advantage. Are there industries that can’t plausibly re-orientate? (How) will they fight to the death?
Which regulations in a “policy mix” might drive faster innovation in the “right” direction?
What are the trade-offs between “green” and “responsible” and so on?
What about innovations that help sustain an ultimately unsustainable system (man)? Are they ‘green’? Says who?
All good questions – what does the academic literature have to say? How long have you got? For now, this –
according to Penna, 2014 the literatures can be broken down into three periods, with an expansion from a largely firm-based economics/costs model between the 60s and 80s,
As Hoffman’s work shows, corporate environmentalism emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s in direct response to the increasing government regulation following various environmental disasters.
By the 1990s things had evolved into “environmental innovation can create win-wins” – having your cake and eating it too – (ecological modernisation etc)
A third wave takes a more sophisticated approach that brings in organisation theory, innovation studies, evolutionary economics, neo-institutional theory, and looks at an entire field (including governmental and non-governmental players).
In their excellent “Climate Change, Capitalism, and Corporations Processes of Creative Self-Destruction” Chris Wright and Daniel Nyberg argue that corporate environmentalism provides a way for corporations to incorporate critique and respond by justifying their actions (‘we can be trusted to be good corporate citizens and environmental managers through self-regulation, market logics and tech innovation’)
So, it’s complicated and “it depends”.
What would actual greening look like? There’s a whole bunch of terms – circular economy, closed loop, steady state, degrowth etc. All of them anxiety management devices, bargaining in the face of a remorseless Green Reaper.
The battery powered car
Porter hypothesis slide from
Rennings, K. Symposium on The Porter Hypothesis at 20