Video: The Greening of Industry/Eco-innovation

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

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?

It depends.

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?

It depends.

Where does it come from?

Does it come from a “laboratory” or is it user-lead (insert guff about prosumers here).

It depends

Does it come from “transition regions” or “industrial districts”?

It depends.

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-DestructionChris 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.

Oh well.

Those images

The battery powered car

Painting chimneys

Porter hypothesis slide from
Rennings, K. Symposium on The Porter Hypothesis at 20


Jevons Paradox

2 thoughts on “Video: The Greening of Industry/Eco-innovation

Add yours

  1. I am not up to speed with the literature and models in this space or those you have mentioned in the film – reading to do! However, I do think there are distinct parallels here with finance and banking. I would like to offer a different approach and look through a different lens which I use in my own teaching and research that is theory lite and empirically heavy (not into grand narratives) – maybe this or parts of it would work in this space also?

    I think its useful to observe the beast in its lair and to observe elites who operate within the spheres or object of your enquiry – CEO’s, Tech Innovators, Regulators, Politicians, Policy Advisors etc. as what they ‘say’ matters (through sociological analysis of narrative, speech and language), and how they attempt, often successfully in post crisis neoliberal interventionism, to perform the economy from inside of it – Science and Technology Studies (Callon, Mackenzie, Holm, Mirowski – all have different takes – Mirowski being the stand out critical position of performativity).

    Picking apart what elites say through use of different lenses – holography and infelicity – (concepts found within Cultural Economy literature), assists us to observe what these people are trying to do and for what purpose – “it depends”!?

    My own take on these matters is usually driven through observing one of three themes in ‘financialisation literature’ (has its roots in political economy literature and globalisation theory), which is fast becoming orthodoxy in critical finance – (i) accumulation, (ii) shareholder value, primacy and or maximisation of the firm or (iii) how finance has permeated everyday life (Van der Zwan). This framework allows us to use the power of finance, institutions, return, markets, cashflow, wages, income inequality etc. to become the primary driver of why business behaves in a certain manner, which also fits with the neoliberal frame of free markets and deregulation (Friedman, Fama).

    It may prove interesting to observe how actors, practices and devices involved in the green environmental / innovation space can be placed into the power frame that Gramsci warns us of in Cultural Hegemony and then drive it through financial reasons for observing speech, language and written narrative as being the primary reason for strategy and support it with descriptive statistics.

    I am not suggesting for one moment that this is the one and only frame or point of critique, however it does work as born out by numerous high quality papers generated from CRESC scholars at UoM across a range of industries and cultures.

    Anyway, a few thoughts I had whilst listening to your fabulous video (cracking effort at using an alternative medium), and developing some very sensible questions through the taxonomy mentioned (Geels esq.)

    For me, and due to how financialised economy has become, (i.e. nearly every nook and cranny of the globe, even in the lower echelons of emerging markets), its is difficult to omit this frame from any critical position taken, including that of green industry and innovation.

    Happy to chat should you wish.

    1. Typical glib and superficial comments from you, Ian… 😉

      pints at 5pm, Sandbar. You get to meet the wife, if you haven’t already…

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