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, http://www.cfsd.org.uk/journal).
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!