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The evolving and cumulative nature of sustainable innovation in an energy intensive industry

Author: Diaz Lopez, F.J. · Montalvo Corral, C.
TNO Working Paper series
Identifier: 476291
Keywords: Innovation · Sustainable innovation · Eco-innovation · Chemical industry · Greening technological progress · Evolution and accumulation · Sustainable Chemical Industry · Industrial Innovation · Society · SP1 - Strategy & Policy 1 · BSS - Behavioural and Societal Sciences


Different bodies of literature have attempted to explain what factors and events drive industries and firms towards more advanced levels of environmental performance. This is a gradual, historical process of evolution from lower to higher degrees of development. Based on notions derived from green evolutionary economics literature this article provides an account of the evolution in the chemical industry striving for environmentally sound chemical processes and products via sustainable innovation. We conducted a content analysis on 255 documents addressing different environmental and innovation aspects of the evolution of the chemical industry. Our findings highlight the fact that greening chemical processes is about change in existing products, processes, organisations and systems aiming at higher environmental performance, whereas sustainable innovation is an incremental, continuous and cumulative process focusing on emerging techologies, new markets and a continuous evolution and accumulation of firm-specific resources, capabilities and competences contingent to the strategy adopted by firms. Equally, we found that new forms of innovation are embedded into the larger production and consumption system and archieving sustainability implies breaking up with old, non-environmentally friendly technological paradigms.