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Organisations, environmental management and innovation
Organisations, environmental management and innovation

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1.11 Eco-innovation

Eco-innovation is a term used to cover all forms of innovation relating to the environment, including technology, processes and organisational forms.

Reading 3 EIO, 2011

Approximate reading time: 10 minutes

Read the short ‘Eco-Innovation Brief [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ’ paper produced by the Eco-Innovation Observatory (EIO, 2011).

Activity 11 Eco-innovation

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Having read the briefing paper:

  • a.Provide a definition of eco-innovation.
  • b.Comment on whether eco-innovation covers all three types or categories of innovation explored earlier – incremental, disruptive and radical.

Provide your answer...

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  • a.Eco-innovation is any innovation in a product, service or process ‘that reduces the use of natural resources and decreases the release of harmful substances across the whole lifecycle’ (EIO, 2011, p. 1). Characteristically, eco-innovation is claimed to result in both economic and environmental benefits.

  • b.The briefing paper suggests that eco-innovation covers all three categories of innovation, but itself only mentions incremental and disruptive – the latter understood as bringing about system level changes. The difference in language is noteworthy.

As you might expect, eco-innovation refers to innovations that have some environmental and/or environmental management element, and are claimed to improve environmental performance. Another report by the EIO defines eco-innovation as:

The introduction of any new or significantly improved product (good or service), process, organisational change or marketing solution that reduces the use of natural resources (including materials, energy, water and land) and decreases the release of harmful substances across the whole life-cycle.

(EIO, 2010, p. 7)

In parallel with ideas about incremental, disruptive and radical innovation, Vasiľová and Drábik (2013) suggest there are three kinds of eco-innovation with different impacts on products and processes:

  • Component addition – development of additional components to improve environmental quality without necessarily changing the process
  • Sub-system change – implementation of eco-efficient solutions and optimization of sub-systems that aims to use fewer resources and generate less waste and pollution
  • System change – redesign of system towards eco-effective solutions with focus on the industrial systems and shift from linear systems to closed loop systems in which waste becomes an input into new products.
(Vasiľová and Drábik, 2013, p. 148)

The emphasis on systems is notable in the eco-innovation literature. The reference to a closed loop system describes a system where a feedback loop exists. In the quote, the waste from a process or activity becomes an input (the feedback) into a new product or process. In this way, eco-innovation aims to develop a more systemic approach to innovation and developing, among other things, new business models.