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Sustainability in Innovation by Vivek Varma

Sustainability in Innovation by Vivek Varma

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Sustainability in innovation is being increasingly recognized as an important
consideration in the current efforts focused on balancing the needs for improved goods
and services for the current and future generations with the concomitant impact on the
natural resources. This paper analyzes the issues surrounding sustainability debate based
on a review of rich literature available. It recognizes ecological, economic and social
dimensions of sustainability and other important factors like equity, basic needs, public
participation, complexity, uncertainty and irreversibility; and, incorporates them all in a
systems based decision making framework. It also outlines an approach utilizing the
concepts of intra- and inter-generational equity that could be utilized to determine
sustainability of goods and services generated through innovative efforts. The proposed
approach is expected to facilitate better informed decision making.
1. INTRODUCTION
Sustainability has been receiving increasingly more attention, particularly after the publication of
Brundtland Commission’s report ‘Our Common Future’ [1], and ‘Agenda 21’ of the United Nations
Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Sustainable development
or sustainability has now grown from being a movement focused on environmental concerns to a
widely accepted framework that guides the decision making of individuals, corporations, society and
governments to balance the concerns of ecological, economic, and social needs of the current and future
generations. While the role of innovation (e.g., new/improved products, services or technologies) has
been recognized in making the society sustainable, few efforts have been made to provide a framework
to systematically examine innovation’s sustainability in long run.
Some efforts have been made to address the environmental concerns at the corporate level, for
example, 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 different
scales. Yet a robust decision making framework integrating all the important factors that evolve from
ecological, economic and social considerations is not available. At the same time, numerous efforts to
promote sustainability over years have led to various concepts like sustainable communities,
sustainable livelihoods, sustainable cities, sustainable enterprise which often leads to confusion and
provides only a limited view of much bigger problem. This paper therefore has following goals:
Sustainability in innovation is being increasingly recognized as an important
consideration in the current efforts focused on balancing the needs for improved goods
and services for the current and future generations with the concomitant impact on the
natural resources. This paper analyzes the issues surrounding sustainability debate based
on a review of rich literature available. It recognizes ecological, economic and social
dimensions of sustainability and other important factors like equity, basic needs, public
participation, complexity, uncertainty and irreversibility; and, incorporates them all in a
systems based decision making framework. It also outlines an approach utilizing the
concepts of intra- and inter-generational equity that could be utilized to determine
sustainability of goods and services generated through innovative efforts. The proposed
approach is expected to facilitate better informed decision making.
1. INTRODUCTION
Sustainability has been receiving increasingly more attention, particularly after the publication of
Brundtland Commission’s report ‘Our Common Future’ [1], and ‘Agenda 21’ of the United Nations
Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Sustainable development
or sustainability has now grown from being a movement focused on environmental concerns to a
widely accepted framework that guides the decision making of individuals, corporations, society and
governments to balance the concerns of ecological, economic, and social needs of the current and future
generations. While the role of innovation (e.g., new/improved products, services or technologies) has
been recognized in making the society sustainable, few efforts have been made to provide a framework
to systematically examine innovation’s sustainability in long run.
Some efforts have been made to address the environmental concerns at the corporate level, for
example, 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 different
scales. Yet a robust decision making framework integrating all the important factors that evolve from
ecological, economic and social considerations is not available. At the same time, numerous efforts to
promote sustainability over years have led to various concepts like sustainable communities,
sustainable livelihoods, sustainable cities, sustainable enterprise which often leads to confusion and
provides only a limited view of much bigger problem. This paper therefore has following goals:

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Published by: International Journal of Innovation Science on Jan 23, 2011
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Volume 1 · Number 3 · 2009141
Sustainability in Innovation
 Vivek Varma
UltimoSoft, 2860 Zanker Rd Suite 203, San Jose, CA 95134vivek@ultimosoft.com
 Abstract
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.
1. INTRODUCTION
Sustainability has been receiving increasingly more attention, particularly after the publication of Brundtland Commission’s report ‘Our Common Future’[1], 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 [2] 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 [1], 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

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