Innovation for Sustainability
Full course description
For meeting the target of limiting global warming to 1.5oC and reducing air pollution, we need innovations and transitions in energy and mobility, whereas for reducing (unsustainable) resource use and waste volumes, we need to close material loops (e.g. transition to a circular economy). Achieving those systemic transitions is difficult because of sunk costs advantages of existing technologies, infrastructure needs of new technologies, emerging innovations, institutional rigidities, resistance from incumbents and entrenched practices. In this context, this course looks at the role of innovation for achieving a sustainable economy, with special attention to barriers, elements and drivers of transformation and the role of public policy from a multi-level perspective.
During Week 1, the course examines the notion of innovation for sustainability, the circular economy as a transformative challenge for society, government and business, and two successful transitions: hygienic sanitation and the shift to recycling and waste incineration (through policies to divert waste from landfilling). Week 2 consists of lectures and readings on technology innovation system coordination,, green industrial policy and the challenge of creating sustainable solutions in developing countries. In Week 3 the course looks at different perspectives on climate policy and the topic of an alternative economy, through a critical investigation of the global market economy and two alternatives for it: Kate Raworth’s Doughnut model and Christian Felber’s Economy for the Common Good.
The course will involve a group assignment in the form of a paper about an eco-innovation for which students should describe the producers and prospective users; the history of system building activities; the social and environmentally sustainability advantages (compared to relevant alternatives); the role of policy (with special attention to the interaction effects of policy mixes, whether they work in tandem or against each other, evidence of bad policies which are unnecessary or highly inefficient); the degree of supply chain change, organisational change, and social innovation; and the relevant institutional change needed for wider diffusion. This task will be done in groups of three to four people. There will be two outputs: a paper (of around 3000 words) and a 15 minute PowerPoint presentation which is presented by one or two of the students.
A hands-on skills development component is part of the course. This will take the form of a workshop on set theoretical comparative analysis and Q-methodology analysis in the field of innovation for sustainability and a training in causal analysis. Students can also participate in a one-hour workshop to determine the value network for a circular case.
- Explain why innovation is important for the economy and the SDGs.
- Describe the sources of the carbon lock-in and the lock-in to the take, make and waste paradigm.
- Assist policymakers to design better policies to support eco-innovation and a circular economy.
- Study the dynamics of specific eco-innovations and the need for new business models and alignment of multiple activities and strategies.