Sustainable Innovation

/səˈsteɪ.nə.bəl ˌɪn.əˈveɪ.ʃən/

Innovation that creates economic benefit within the boundaries of social and environmental capital.

Sustainable innovation is often used as a colloquial term for innovation that creates continuous growth or a long-term competitive advantage. It is debatable whether many of those so-called sustainable innovations also contribute to the development of human well-being while also respecting the world’s natural resources and regenerative capacity. 

Literature on sustainable innovation is hampered by a lack of conceptual consensus . To our understanding, sustainable innovation links innovation to the theory and practice of sustainable development, where sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” as famously pointed out in the UN Brundtland Report in 1987 .

In the context of innovation we define sustainable innovation as a process where sustainability considerations (environmental, social, and financial) are integrated into a company’s innovation system from idea generation to product development, commercialization and end-of-life strategies. This applies to products, services and technologies, as well as to new business and organizational models.


Our Common Future. (1990). Oxford University Press, U.S.A.
Boons, F., & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2013). Business models for sustainable innovation: state-of-the-art and steps towards a research agenda. Journal of Cleaner Production, 45, 9–19.