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What are environmental innovations?
Romain Debref, Franck-Dominique Vivien, Martino Nieddu

Last modified: 2012-05-14


Environmental issues are influencing economics in questioning the nature of innovations in order to achieve a sustainable sociotechnical regime. A peculiar attention has been given to environmental innovations (van den Bergh et al. 2011), but, 20 years after the Earth Summit, their existence is always disputed from a theoretical point of view (Kemp 2008). As a matter of fact, what are environmental innovations? What are the conditions for an innovation to be considered as an environmental innovation? Are these conditions reachable for a sustainable transition? Instead of answering from a normative point of view, we propose rather to compare environmental innovations to innovations. For this, an original methodology is developed to emphasize the peculiarities of each one and their differences. We adopt a systemic point of view in focusing on the three fields of analysis - micro, meso and macroeconomics - . Then they will be studied both from a static and a dynamic point of view. As a results, we discover similarities and paradoxes in terms of preservation of environment. The latter questions the originalities of environmental innovations. We criticize traditional beliefs in showing some drawbacks of their categorizations and their characteristics (Kemp & Arundel 1998; Oltra & Saint Jean 2005); for instance, end-of-pipe/clean technologies (Rennings 2000), radicality/incrementality, technological trajectories vs anticipations and finally the quest for eco-efficiency/efficiency. Notably this quest can contribute to six rebounds effects and acceleration of scarcity (Blake et al. 2008). Finally, we argue that environmental innovations are not radical and that they could have worse ecological impacts than classical innovations. Thus, we confirm the Kemp's thesis (2008) who say "sustainable innovation do not exist".


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