Volume 1 · Number 3 · 2009141
Sustainability in Innovation
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Sustainability in innovation is being increasingly recognized as an importantconsideration in the current efforts focused on balancing the needs for improved goodsand services for the current and future generations with the concomitant impact on thenatural resources. This paper analyzes the issues surrounding sustainability debate basedon a review of rich literature available. It recognizes ecological, economic and socialdimensions of sustainability and other important factors like equity, basic needs, publicparticipation, complexity, uncertainty and irreversibility; and, incorporates them all in asystems based decision making framework. It also outlines an approach utilizing theconcepts of intra- and inter-generational equity that could be utilized to determinesustainability of goods and services generated through innovative efforts. The proposedapproach is expected to facilitate better informed decision making.
Sustainability has been receiving increasingly more attention, particularly after the publication of Brundtland Commission’s report ‘Our Common Future’, and ‘Agenda 21’of the United NationsConference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Sustainable developmentor sustainability has now grown from being a movement focused on environmental concerns to awidely accepted framework that guides the decision making of individuals, corporations, society andgovernments to balance the concerns of ecological, economic, and social needs of the current and futuregenerations. While the role of innovation (e.g., new/improved products, services or technologies) hasbeen recognized in making the society sustainable, few efforts have been made to provide a frameworkto systematically examine innovation’s sustainability in long run.Some efforts have been made to address the environmental concerns at the corporate level, forexample, based on carbon footprint, green house gas emissions or corporate water gauge etc.Considerable efforts have also been made to define and refine the criteria and indicators of sustainability which are useful for monitoring and reporting progress towards sustainability at differentscales. Yet a robust decision making framework integrating all the important factors that evolve fromecological, economic and social considerations is not available. At the same time, numerous efforts topromote sustainability over years have led to various concepts like sustainable communities,sustainable livelihoods, sustainable cities, sustainable enterprise which often leads to confusion andprovides only a limited view of much bigger problem. This paper therefore has following goals:1.To define and analyze important considerations affecting sustainability.2.To develop a decision making framework to systematically examine sustainability in innovations.
2. SUSTAINABILITY: BASIC ELEMENTS2.1 A Definitional Approach
The notion of sustainability was first recognized as an important tenet of the scientific natural resourcemanagement in early eighteenth century. In 1785 A.D., George Ludwig Hartig, a senior Prussianforester, suggested  that woodlands must be used ‘in such a way that later generations will be ableto derive at least as much benefit from them as the present generation claims for itself.’The concept of sustainability in its present form, however, seems to have evolved largely in response to the publicationof Brundtland Commission’s report on sustainable development , and numerous internationalinitiatives that followed it. These events definitively defined the role of natural resources in a broadercontext of environment-development debate, and focused the attention of scientific community onfinding ways to define and operationalize sustainability [3, 4].Though there is a lack of universally acceptable definition of sustainability, it generally follows