Environmental sustainability, social impact and innovation

The sustainability agenda is driving new opportunities for companies but also creating growing pressures, making the interplay between environmental sustainability, social impact and innovation particularly interesting for both researchers and practitioners.

This strand in the R&D Management Conference will be discussing questions such as:

  • What factors stimulate innovation in response to environmental sustainability and social impact?
  • What are the emerging models and strategies in this field? How innovation can be achieved in this field? What roles do different modes of innovation have?
  • To what extent do sustainability management processes and innovation management processes integrate?
  • What role do CSR activities and sustainability management tools and instruments (such as stakeholder analysis, sustainability planning, measurement and reporting instruments) have in connection with innovation management?

We asked track co-chair Marika Arena, Associate professor, Dipartimento di Ingegneria Gestional, Politecnico di Milano about the strand.

Prof Marika Arena

Prof Marika Arena

1. What do you think are the most disruptive influences impacting developments in your track?

Today, more than ever, we are seeing a process of polarisation of economic and human activities in certain areas and, in parallel, the marginalisation of other areas with consequences for the environment and for the society.

Polarisation creates different ecosystems that can be more (or less) attractive for companies in order to develop their business activities. Innovation, is therefore crucial to respond to environmental and social challenges that are related to business creation, growth and decline.

2. Can you describe some recent findings in this area that are of interest to you personally?

One aspect that I find particularly interesting is the shift of paradigm that has occurred from the idea of “externality” or “unintentional environmental and social impact”  to that of “intentional impacts”.

I observe that companies are increasingly investing in innovation with the intention to generate a social or environmental impact. To achieve this requires trade-offs and balance between different shareholders’ and stakeholders’ objectives.

This shift in emphasis also requires companies to move from ‘ex-post’ or “after the fact” measurement of actual environmental impact to one of ‘ex-ante’ or “before the event.”

The use of historical returns has been the best known approach to forecast the probability of incurring a loss on an investment on any given day. A move towards ex-ante planning of the expected impacts, calls for the revision of accounting, measurement and management instruments.

3. If someone was new to this topic what would you suggest they read to get a quick overview of the issues?

I would suggest two main readings:

Proponent: Marika Arena; Paolo Landoni; Giuseppe Scellato