Accelerating sustainable innovation in products, services and systems

System innovation for sustainability transitions

Consumption is, self-evidently, intimately related to production – especially in terms of the supply of goods and services and how new goods and services can transform everyday lives. Technological and social innovations, both incremental and radical in form, will be crucial to achieve sustainability transitions. While short-term incremental innovations (e.g. more efficient cars or car sharing practices) have a part to play, the scale of the challenge requires major system transitions (and disruptions) over longer 30-50 year time horizons. System innovations will require new technologies, markets, and consumer practices, not to mention accompanying new business models, regulations, and infrastructures. Such innovations involve high levels of risk and uncertainty, but also offer the greatest promise for sustainability transitions.

Our focus is on the processes, scales and speeds through which technological and social innovations spread, with an explicit focus on understanding and advancing the prospects for accelerating innovation for sustainability. Such acceleration will need to avert and overcome forms of system lock-in, making a critical question for this theme to identify the necessary mechanisms and conditions for shifting innovation systems in directions that will render consumption sustainable.


Foster, C., McMeekin, A. & Mylan, J. (2012) 'The entanglement of consumer expectations and eco-innovation pathways: the case of orange juice', Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, 24 (4), pp. 391-405.

This paper uses the history of orange juice to examine the dynamics of innovation sequences that have emerged to solve a series of problems associated with the production and consumption of orange juice, the latest being carbon.

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Research projects within this area

Read moreInnovation for Sustainable Meat

Read moreHouseholds, Retailers and Food Waste Transitions

Read moreResearch Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED)

Read moreLead firms and the governance of supply chain eco-innovation

Read moreExploring transition pathways to sustainable, low carbon societies

Read more‘Environmental Leapfrogging’: Water Use in Developing and Emerging Markets

Read moreGovernance of Responsible Research & Innovation

Read morePublic procurement of sustainable innovations

Read moreGovernance of the discontinuation of socio-technical systems

Read moreEco-innovation and consumer behavior