Exploring a case of the eco-innovation journey in the UK food processing sector

Langendahl, Per-Anders; Cook, Matthew and Potter, Stephen (2010). Exploring a case of the eco-innovation journey in the UK food processing sector. In: EASST Conference 2010, 02-04 Sep 2010, Trento, Italy.


The eco-innovation journey can be defined as deliberate shifts undertaken by firms to move away from unsustainable practice (Ehrenfeld, 2008). Such shifts might include changes in technologies, and ways of thinking about these to improve environmental performance e.g. resource productivity. The Literature on innovation provides rich accounts of the factors which might stimulate the development of eco-innovations and the consequences of implementing new technologies. However, there is relatively little literature which considers the process of how eco-innovations might unfold over time.
This paper reports results from a study on the eco-innovation journey in the context of food and sustainability. Although literature on this particular topic has largely concentrated on farming and the behaviour of consumers, little is known about the intermediate actors e.g. food processors and manufacturers who provide a critical link in the food supply chain. This paper presents research from a firm in the UK food processing sector to help address these two gaps in knowledge.
The paper draws on innovation and organization literatures to frame a concept of 'eco-innovation journey' as a socio-technical and messy process, which include power struggles and interplay of many actors. The method identified to explore the construction of eco-innovation process within a UK food processing firm was a longitudinal case study undertaken through action research (AR). Ethnographic methods were adopted involving participant observation and qualitative data were collected via reflective diary and semi-structured interviews. Findings were analysed using clustering methods. The provisional findings shows that practice provide a useful element to explore the microprocesses of the eco-innovation journey. Building upon the work of Giddens (1984), practice is more than what people do, and include structures of rules and resources to explain behaviour within a community. An additional element is information in terms of trigger signals from both the selection environment, and from sources inside the firm. The final element is measures, which are identified and adopted by the firm in response to environmental impacts. The eco-innovation journey was found to be a messy process of interplay among many actors. The dynamic processes of power struggles and negotiations are critical factors that influence on the nature and direction of eco-innovations.
Overall, the study shows that emergence of new environmental practice is likely to be adopted in the Firm if they are congruent with the regime.

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