Green technology innovation: Anatomy of exploration processes from a learning perspective

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This paper examines how established firms use their core competences to diversify their business by exploring and ultimately developing green technologies. In contrast to start‐ups dedicated to a green mission, diversifying into green markets by developing new products based on existing core competences has proven to be challenging. This is because the exploration processes to find a match between green technology opportunities and internal competences is complex and new to most established firms. This paper gains insights into exploration processes for green technologies and the learning modes and outcomes linked to these processes. We examined exploration processes at the microlevel in an embedded case study of an engineering firm using a combination of the “fireworks” innovation process model and organizational learning theory. First, we found that developing green technologies involves a long‐term exploratory process without guarantee of (quick) success and likely involves many exploration failures. Second, as exploration unfolds along multiple technology trajectories, learning occurs in individual exploration paths (on‐path), when new paths are pursued (path‐initiation), and when knowledge from one path is spilled over to subsequent paths (across‐paths). Third, to increase their chances for success, firms can increase the efficiency of exploration by fostering a failure‐friendly organizational culture, deliberately experimenting, and purposefully learning from failures.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBusiness Strategy and the Environment
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)970-988
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 01.09.2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was made possible through funding by the EU FP7 ?Marie Curie Action: Initial Training Network? on ?Innovation for Sustainability? (I4S), Grant Agreement No 316604. We are grateful to the members of I4S research network for having acted as a ?sounding box? for our ideas. Finally, we thank the entire (top) management team at the case study company for their trust and precious time. Moreover, our gratitude goes to Stefan Schaltegger, who has strongly supported the research, contributed his ideas, and served as a critical friend in the discussion of earlier versions of the research. Since October 2015, the contributions by Erik G. Hansen are funded by the Institute for Integrated Quality Design (IQD) at Johannes Kepler University Linz (JKU), Austria, which is cofunded by Quality Austria?Trainings, Zertifizierungs und Begutachtungs GmbH, the State of Upper Austria, and the JKU.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Authors Business Strategy and The Environment published by ERP Environment and John Wiley & Sons Ltd