Theory, Evidence and Policy
Edited by Boelie Elzen, Frank W. Geels and Ken Green
Chapter 1: General Introduction: System Innovation and Transitions to Sustainability
Frank W. Geels, Boelie Elzen, Ken Green Modern societies face structural problems in several sectors. In the energy sector there are problems related to oil dependency, reliability, and CO2 and NOx emissions. The transport system suﬀers from congestion, air pollution (particulates, NOx), energy use and CO2 emissions. Cattle farming suﬀers from manure disposal problems, ammonia emissions and diseases like BSE and foot and mouth disease. These problems are deeply rooted in social production and consumption patterns. Since the 1980s, much eﬀort has been made to solve problems with product and process innovations. Cleaner products and processes have been developed alongside the application of end-of-pipe solutions. Sometimes these innovations have led to substantial improvements in environmental eﬃciency, such as in the case of automobile catalysts which greatly reduced tailpipe-emissions of pollutants. The focus in these cases has been on changing some technological artefact. Substantial improvements in environmental eﬃciency (a ‘Factor 2’ is a general average) may still be possible with innovations of an ‘incremental’ kind. But larger jumps in environmental eﬃciency (possibly by a ‘Factor 10’) may only be possible with system innovations. The promise of transitions to sustainability via system innovations is schematically represented in Figure 1.1. Such transitions to sustainability require changes from, for example, one transport system to another or from one energy system to another. Such system innovations not only involve new technological artefacts, but also new markets, user practices, regulations, infrastructures and cultural meanings. Because of its sustainability potential there...