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Innovation For Sustainability (I4S)


What is I4S?


Marie Curie Actions LogoThe Innovation for Sustainability (I4S) is a research initiative that provides training and funding for 8 early-stage researchers and 2 experienced researchers to investigate sustainability-driven innovation in business. The project is grounded in collaboration and partnership between academia and industry. Eight academic institutions (all members of ABIS) and eight associated business partners, are engaged in this collaborative project (2013-2016) which has received a grant of Euros 2.5 million from the European Commission’s Marie Skłodowksa-Curie Initial Training Network (ITN) funding scheme.



Aims Of The I4S Network

To explore and examine why and how sustainability-driven innovation occurs, what managerial skills and organizational competences underscore this innovative practice and experimental performance, and what are the implications for future European policy actions in support of research and innovation in this field.The project examines sustainability-driven innovation as an emergent supra-disciplinary phenomenon using innovative research methods (collaboration with industry) to respond to the pressures for rapid progress in terms of research, practice and training researchers and experts in the field and disseminating their findings.


Members Involved

The network


The I4S cases report

The electronic version of I4S final report is available here:

I4S case report

Policy Briefs

I4S aimed at informing three target groups:

  • Academics who focus on innovation for sustainability and who are willing to explore new methods to deliver doctoral training that embody interdisciplinary and holistic approaches. 
  • Practitioners who are committed to the development of new business models, products, process and services to achieve a more sustainable society.
  • Policy Makers who are committed to the development of policy that enhance sustainable practices and to implement measures that integrate sustainability at all the levels of education.

I4S consortium has developed two Policy Briefs that illustrate in details how the research conducted within the network can valuably inform these three target groups. The documents are available on the I4S here:

Policy brief 1


Policy brief 2

Marie Curie Fellows

The ITN involves 8 Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) based in the Academic members and 2 Experienced Researchers (ER) based in ABIS



“I am also reminded of what we all really know but sometimes forget.  Opportunities are created by people and people respond to those opportunities.  No-one owns that, no one is indispensable all we can really do is try, at best, to make things happen.  So I am with you through the history of the network and in spirit urging you on not to cease looking for and creating  opportunities.  Go for them with my blessing - own a piece and contribute a piece for others.  In this way we have a chance to make our group, our society and our planet better places”

In memory of Prof Nigel Roome - former Scientist in Charge of I4S 


Scientist in Charge - Dr Sally Randles 

Sally Randles

Sally is a Senior Research Fellow at the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research (MIOIR) at the Alliance Manchester Business School UK, where she leads the theme on Emerging Technologies: Dynamics, Governance and Responsible Innovation and is an Associate Fellow at  the Centre for Organisations Research and Design (CORD) at Arizona State University, USA. Her current research lies in understanding how actors understand and embed understandings of ‘responsibility’ in research and innovation situations, contexts, organisations and governance processes.   

Postdoctoral Skłodowska-curie Research Fellow - Mario Pansera

Mario Pansera picMario is the current Experienced Researcher (ER) of the ITN. During his PhD at the University of Exeter Business School, he focused on the discourses of innovation and development with a particular interest for emerging and developing countries. Today his primary research interest is sustainable and ecological transition and the critique of the Development Discourse and Growth. He is particular interested in the dynamic of innovation in emerging economies, appropriate technologies and grassroots and social innovations.



ESRs research projects


Institutionalization of Sustainable Building: Standards governance for innovative, institutional change

By Lara Hale - Copenhagen Business School. Supervisor Prof Andreas Rasche 

Lara Hale This project aims to explore how sustainability-oriented standards and practices are diffused in the building industry, using an institutional theory perspective. The research will address the following research question: How are demonstrations strategically used support the institutionalization of sustainable building standards based on both quantitative and qualitative values? The research will then use the findings to theorize about how standards can be used strategically to shift sustainability toward institutionalization in the building field. With a stronger grasp of the inner working of sustainable building standards, the building field may be able to better formulate these standards as systems that simultaneously adhere to and nudge their relevant institutions.



The Outcomes of Biologically-Inspired Innovation in Multinational Corporations

By Taryn Mead - University of Exeter, School of Management. Supervisor Dr. Sally Jeanrenaud 
Taryn MeadThe aim of this project is to explore the outcomes of biologically-inspired innovation (BII), in multi-national organizations, in the context of sustainability-oriented innovation (SOI). The growing use of BII (a.k.a., biomimicry, biomimetics, bionics, nature-inspired design, etc.) as a corporate innovation tool across numerous industries raises significant questions about its contribution to sustainability overall. But what happens when a manager at a large corporation decides to learn from nature for new approaches to innovation? The purpose of this research is to understand the outcomes of BII in the context of sustainability-oriented innovation (SOI) and how these outcomes contribute to socio-ecological system (SES) resilience, introducing and testing a nested model of SOI categories and classical innovation theory in a context of sustainability.



Towards Normative Business Model (NBM) Innovation: Performativity, Persistence, Periodization,

By Oliver Laasch - Manchester Business School. Supervisor Dr. Sally Randles 
Oliver LaaschThe key question for this research is:“How do new business models in sustainability and corporate responsibility emerge and become operationalised and institutionalised systemically across consumption-production systems?” Whilst the focus on institutionalisation processes has remained, the ESR project has become the inspiration for a wider intellectual endeavour, incorporating the theorisation of a new business model ontology, namely the Normative Business Model (NMB). The NBM argues that a spectrum of societal cares and concerns (normative orientations, including but not exclusively sustainability) become deeply embedded into organisational practice (deep institutionalisation) through processes of i) (de)institutionalisation; ii) institutional entrepreneurialism and iii) the design and deployment of governance instruments (artefacts) including but not exclusively or even primarily, economic incentives.


Objective Driven Enterprises in Ecosystems as drivers for Sustainable System Change

By Monique de Ritter - Nyenrode Business Universiteit. Supervisor Prof. Annemieke Roobeek 
Monique de RitterThe focus of the current research is on the question of what kind of ecosystems can elevate Objective Driven Entrepreneurs that foster innovation for sustainability. To elaborate this research question we will focus on a) ecosystems and the requirements for the creation of stimulating ecosystems, on b) the role and capabilities of the entrepreneur on innovation for sustainability that acts as change maker at different levels, and c) new business models focused on collaboration in objective driven enterprises.




Systems Transformation for Sustainability

By Amanda Williams - Erasmus University, Rotterdam School of Management. Supervisors Dr. Steve Kennedy &  Prof Gail Whiteman

Amanda WilliamsThe purpose of this research is to understand systems change for sustainability in the context of sustainability-oriented innovation. The research question we seek to understand is: How are organizations collaborating across scales with the intention of transforming social-ecological systems, and scaling up innovative solutions for sustainability? This research focuses on the role of the private sector while taking into consideration the role of other state and non-state actors. We are concerned with the link between organizations and the social-ecological systems that they are embedded in. We seek to understand innovative organizational practices, governance mechanisms and technologies that can be scaled-up to drive sustainable change in social-ecological systems.


Understanding sustainability-driven innovation processes in collaborative multi-stakeholder platforms 

By Katre Leino - Vlerick Business School. Supervisors  Prof Gail Whiteman & Prof Xavier Baeten

Katre's research aims to provide an in-depth understanding of the facilitation of sustainable development in collaborative contexts. It is based on an ethnography that is carried out at an international NGO, which facilitates multi-stakeholder platforms (MSPs) to foster sustainable development. The research is studying a number of projects that are being facilitated by this NGO. These MSPs include participants from a range of social and economic sectors, including representatives from companies of different sizes, other NGOs, government agencies, research institutions, and consumer organisations. The research aims to develop contributions to theory, practice as well as policy making in the field of facilitating sustainable development.  



Shared Values in Organizations: Investigating the leaders’ roles in the emergence of shared values for a sustainable performance

By Felix Phillip - University of Cape Town, Graduate Business School. Supervisor prof Kosheek Sewchurran
Felix PhillipsTo create shared values in companies, a shared understanding about the role of business in society, what is desirable and how one ought to strive for it, represents a formidable leadership task. Being associated with positive outcomes on multiple levels, the role of shared values, and the leaders’ influence in their emergence is a relevant and persistent gap in literature. Felix's project combines three theoretical lenses by conceptualizing organizations as complex systems (1) that are driven by values (2) and leadership (3) transforming organizational systems towards a holistic values proposition. This project also contributes to management theory and practice by elucidating the potentials of values based organizations, adding to existing leadership concepts in a systemic paradigm and making recommendations for leadership education to manage successfully in complex environments.



Innovation Processes for Sustainability: An SME Perspective

By Samuel Wicki - Leuphana University of Lüneburg. Supervisors Prof Erik G. Hansen & Prof Stefan Schaltegger 

Samuel WickySamuel's project looks at innovation for renewable and other environmental energy technologies contributing to the German energy transition. While innovations seems trivial on paper, their commercialization (without subventions) is often difficult.The research focuses on the case of established small and medium-sized technology enterprises operating in business-to-business markets. These firms have an important innovation potential that can enrich and fertilize major social, economic and technological shifts, such as the energy transition.The research at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg (DE) aims at understanding how firms can create and commercialize sustainability-oriented innovations, by analysing the underlying processes of innovation.


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