A1 Journal article (refereed), original research

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

LUT Authors / Editors

Publication Details
Authors: Iñigo Edurne A., Albareda Laura
Publisher: Elsevier
Publication year: 2016
Language: English
Related Journal or Series Information: Journal of Cleaner Production
Journal acronym: JCP
Volume number: 126
Issue number: 10
Start page: 1
End page: 20
Number of pages: 20
ISSN: 0959-6526
eISSN: 1879-1786
JUFO-Level of this publication: 2
Open Access: Not an Open Access publication


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.

Last updated on 2019-14-03 at 10:13