Understanding sustainable innovation as a complex adaptive system: A systemic approach to the firm

Edurne A. Iñigo, Laura Albareda

Producció científica: Article en revista indexadaArticle de revisió (sistemàtica)Avaluat per experts

82 Cites (Scopus)


The aim of this paper is to understand how firms engage in new processes, strategies and behaviors for sustainable innovation. It results on a non-linear, recursive and self-organized process that can be studied as a complex adaptive system. Based on an integrative literature review, we find five ontological sustainable innovation components: operational, collaborative, organizational, instrumental, and holistic. Our analysis also yields three complex adaptive system phenomena, which explain three main patterns of how components interact and interconnect: non-linearity, self-organization and emergence. The three phenomena are mutually dependent and specific to each company. Non-linearity explains the connection between the components, including positive and negative feedback loops and the rates of change, disorder, chaos and stability between them. Self-organization increases the order or regularity between the components interaction and even generates a new order and configuration with the different components behaving autonomously. Emergence involves radically new processes and component interactions due to new and radical experimentation, rule-breaking and disruptive sustainable technologies. Each phenomenon is explained in three extended examples, including three interaction mechanisms describing the dynamics of the five components. The outcomes of this research provide a new approach to theory-building in the sustainable innovation field and serve as the basis for further research on the complexity of engaging sustainable innovation in firms. This suggests new research questions regarding the role of firms in sustainable innovation and sustainable system transitions. It also calls for more interdisciplinary work on the issue due to the systemic nature of sustainable innovation at the firm level.

Idioma originalAnglès
Pàgines (de-a)1-20
Nombre de pàgines20
RevistaJournal of Cleaner Production
Estat de la publicacióPublicada - 10 de jul. 2016
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