Handbook of Sustainable Development
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Handbook of Sustainable Development

Second Edition

Edited by Giles Atkinson, Simon Dietz, Eric Neumayer and Matthew Agarwala

This timely and important Handbook takes stock of progress made in our understanding of what sustainable development actually is and how it can be measured and achieved.
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Chapter 20: Technological lock-in and the role of innovation

Timothy J. Foxon


As the chapters in this Handbook illustrate, despite increases in our understanding of the issues raised by the challenge of environmental, social and economic sustainability, movement has been frustratingly slow towards achieving levels of resource use and waste production that are within appropriate environmental limits and provide socially acceptable levels of economic prosperity and social justice. As first described by Ehrlich and Holdren (1971), environmental impact (I) of a nation or region may be usefully decomposed into three factors: population (P), average consumption per capita, which depends on affluence (A), and environmental impact per unit of consumption, which depends on technology (T), in the equation (identity) I = P _ A _ T. Limiting growth in environmental impact and eventually reducing it to a level within the Earth’s biocapacity (Chapter 24) will require progress on all three of these factors. Chapter 19 discussed issues relating to stabilizing population levels, and Chapter 18 addresses social and economic issues relating to moving towards sustainable patterns of consumption. This chapter discusses the challenge of technological innovation required to dramatically reduce average environmental impact per unit of consumption.

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