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Sustainable development and innovations: lessons from the Red Queen

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  • Christian Rammel

Abstract

As sustainable development has to support an adaptive and flexible process towards inevitable changes in environmental as well as in socioeconomic systems, the notion of innovations must be a key issue of sustainability. While there is an increasing awareness that sustainable change is essentially based on the innovative process, the theoretical approaches to analyse innovations are limited and, for the most part, embedded in the static framework of neoclassical economics. It is argued that this framework is sealed off from the complexity and constraints of real-life phenomena and is consequently insufficient to understand innovations in the integrative context of sustainable development. As an alternative perspective, this paper examines the importance of evolutionary theorising about innovative activities, and argues that the essential task of dealing with innovations as multi-dimensional phenomena is best addressed through an interdisciplinary approach. Thus, attention is devoted to evolutionary insights that come from different disciplines, such as biology, economics, and history. Highlighting evolutionary features of innovations, such as path-dependence, uncertainty, cumulativeness, irreversibility and adaptive variations, it is shown that, in contrast to the standard economic understanding, innovations are driven by non-optimal changes and a dynamics far away from any stable equilibrium. Considering the dominance of the standard economic approach to innovations, the inevitable trade-off between economic efficiency and adaptive flexibility is stressed. The consequences of this trade-off are compared with the long-term issues of sustainability.

Suggested Citation

  • Christian Rammel, 2003. "Sustainable development and innovations: lessons from the Red Queen," International Journal of Sustainable Development, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 6(4), pages 395-416.
  • Handle: RePEc:ids:ijsusd:v:6:y:2003:i:4:p:395-416
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Scrieciu, S. Serban, 2007. "The inherent dangers of using computable general equilibrium models as a single integrated modelling framework for sustainability impact assessment. A critical note on Bohringer and Loschel (2006)," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(4), pages 678-684, February.
    2. Claudia Som & Lorenz Hilty & Andreas Köhler, 2009. "The Precautionary Principle as a Framework for a Sustainable Information Society," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, pages 493-505.
    3. Sartorius, Christian, 2006. "Second-order sustainability--conditions for the development of sustainable innovations in a dynamic environment," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 58(2), pages 268-286, June.
    4. John Foster, 2005. "From simplistic to complex systems in economics," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, pages 873-892.
    5. Ali Bagheri & Peder Hjorth, 2007. "Planning for sustainable development: a paradigm shift towards a process-based approach," Sustainable Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 15(2), pages 83-96.
    6. Rammel, Christian & van den Bergh, Jeroen C. J. M., 2003. "Evolutionary policies for sustainable development: adaptive flexibility and risk minimising," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(2-3), pages 121-133, December.
    7. Potts, Jason & Foster, John & Straton, Anna, 2010. "An entrepreneurial model of economic and environmental co-evolution," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(2), pages 375-383, December.

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