Defining eco-innovation - ten years on

The idea of eco-innovation is fairly recent. The first appearance of the concept of eco-innovation known to me in the literature is in the book by Fussler Claude and Peter James, 1996; Driving Eco-Innovation: A Breakthrough Discipline for Innovation and Sustainability, Pitman Publishing: London, 364 p. In a subsequent article, Peter James defines eco-innovation as 'new products and processes which provide customer and business value but significantly decrease environmental impacts' (James Peter, 1997; The Sustainability Circle: a new tool for product development and design; Journal of Sustainable Product Design (2), 52:57,

A common position held at Eco Innovation is that this definition should be complemented: eco-innovations should also bring greater social and cultural acceptance. This 'social pillar' that we add to James's definition is necessary because it determines learning and thus the effectiveness of eco-innovations and of policies that promote them.

Eco-innovation has a social component. This approach gives eco-innovations a status that is more than a new type of commodity, or a new sector, even though environmental technology and eco-innovation are associated with the emergence of new economic activities or even branches (e.g., waste treatment, recycling, etc). This approach considers eco-innovation in terms of usage rather than merely in terms of product. The social pillar associated with eco- innovation introduces a governance component that makes eco-innovation a more integrated tool for sustainable development.

We are still working on the implications of this extended definition: does it help sorting out what innovations actually qualify as eco-innovation? Comments welcome!

Certifying eco-innovation???

There have been recurrent discussions (on which more to come) at Eco Innovation about the labelling of eco-innovation. A number of labels and norms for environmental technologies are available, such as ISO, EMAS, etc.

However, certifying the social acceptance of environmental technologies appears more challenging. That's what Scientific Certification Systems ( appear to be doing. Seen from the page of the Aprovecho Research Center.

To be followed.


Green-washing is becoming more pervasive than ever.

The ranks of dedicated, long-time environmental advocates are multiplying fast, as we learn that their members have been hiding within the top political and corporate spheres.

Green-washing, like green icons and eco-clichés, reinforce the need for verifiable marks of eco-innovation.

defining eco-innovation

Dear Frederic, I think that there are some streams of literature missing in your definition, especially the work done e.g. by René Kemp, Nick Ashford and me. This comes mainly from environmental and resource economics and from innovation economics. A recent EU project on the subject is EI - Measuring Environmental Innovation. Best regards Klaus Rennings

There is a literature on

There is a literature on eco-innovation, yet published after James' 1996 book (as far as I am aware). I am currently reviewing this literature, among which your 2000 paper in Ecological Economics (Redefining innovation: eco-innovation research and the contribution from ecological economics, Vol 32, p. 319-332) is most inspiring. More to come on this forum about your work. Many thanks for signaling this work.

More on developing eco-innovation

A position paper on Developing eco-innovation: opportunities for education and policy integration, might help feed the debate on defining eco-innovation. Among other things this paper reviews several definitions of eco-innovation.

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