Sustainability innovations: a proposal for an analytical framework and its empirical application in the Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve

Publikation: Beiträge in ZeitschriftenZeitschriftenaufsätzeForschungbegutachtet


  • Caroline Hélène Dabard
  • Carsten Mann

Sustainability innovations influence societal transformations through the development of new products, processes, organizations, behaviors or values. Although various research approaches have tackled technological innovations in the last few decades, the specificities and enabling conditions of individual sustainability innovations remain rather unknown. We therefore propose an analytical framework, built on learning from the social–ecological systems and transitions literature. The sustainability innovation framework features four dimensions: context, actors, process and outcomes, which are detailed in 31 variables. We use the sustainability innovation framework to analyze two case studies selected in the Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve, Germany. The first refers to technological and organizational innovation in mobility, while the second relates to social and organizational innovation in agriculture. As a result, we highlight commonalities and differences in enabling conditions and variables between the two cases, which underpin the influence of trust, commitment, resource availability, experimenting, learning, advocating, and cooperating for innovation development. The cases further demonstrate that sustainability innovations develop as bundles of interdependent, entangled novelties, due to their disruptive character. Their specificity thereby resides in positive outcomes in terms of social–ecological integrity and equity. This study therefore contributes to transitions studies via a detailed characterization of sustainability innovations and of their outcomes, as well as through a generic synthesis of variables into an analytical framework that is applicable to a large and diverse range of individual sustainability innovations. Further empirical studies should test these findings in other contexts, to pinpoint generic innovation development patterns and to develop a typology of sustainability innovation archetypes.

ZeitschriftSustainability Science
Anzahl der Seiten14
PublikationsstatusAngenommen/Im Druck - 17.11.2022
Extern publiziertJa

Bibliographische Notiz

Funding Information:
Throughout the whole process, a crucial activity involved advocating for the project to find support for funding at the local and national levels, to inform schools about the program and to search for potential partners for the development of new projects (P7). Additionally, actors focused on implementation (i.e., boat construction and maintenance, educational program) (P2). Nevertheless, the continuous search for funding required a great deal of energy and therefore strongly limited monitoring (P3) and the development of new ideas (P1). The Solar Explorer was thereby ever more focused on education for sustainability rather than on ecological research, and the research equipment has been less used than envisioned.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).