‘Cleaner innovation’? A political process approach to environmental aspects of process technology innovations
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This thesis seeks to improve our understanding of the integration of explicit environmental motives into innovation processes. This will be done by applying insights from the social shaping of technology field as well as organisation studies to the area of environmental innovation, which is dominated by environmental management literature. The environmental innovation literature typically conflates the motives behind environmental innovations and the resulting technological outcomes, thus reifying environmental motives and causing confusion regarding the concepts of ‘environmental innovation’ and ‘cleaner technology’. We will here disentangle motives and outcomes and contextualise innovations in terms of other motives as well as other practices than those labelled environmental. An underlying assumption in the literature is also that firms are monolithic, rational actors where management decisions are implemented by straightforward translations into technological solutions, neglecting any influence from other actors in the firm. We will here instead investigate the processual and political aspects of innovations and their environmental aspects. Special attention will be given to the roles and expertise of engineers, environmental staff and managers. Moreover, a lot of the environmental innovation literature is determinist in its attempts to promote ‘best practice’ and the greening of firms. To avoid this we will, through a focus on the processual and structural dimensions of firm organisation, seek to distinguish between one-off contingencies and longer lasting changes. We will also be sensitive to the possibility that organisational change may lead to worse as well as better environmental performance. This thesis looks at chemicals industry firms since they have a long history of exposure to environmental regulation, and are likely to have well-developed routines and expertise for environmental innovations. As a comparison dairy industry firms are also studied. To avoid decontextualisation and environmental management determinism, we chose cases irrespective of whether the environmental motive was central to the innovation or not. The cases include both core technology and end-of-pipe innovations. The data was collected mainly through semi-structured interviews with actors in the firms. The analysis is based on comparison of cases in the two industrial sectors, and in Sweden and Scotland. A central result of the thesis is that we can and should distinguish between ‘unintentional’, ‘intentional’ and ‘ambitious’ cleaner technology innovations, depending on the role of environmental motives in the innovation process. We also saw that the environmental label could be doing purely rhetorical work independently of the design choices made. In fact, we saw no example of ambitious cleaner technology, and few cases of intentional cleaner technology, which is surprising given the choice of chemicals industry cases. In terms of firm organisation, we have developed the concept of the Company Social Constitution to capture the structured context of environmental work in innovation processes. This helped us explain the roles of environmental staff as buffers and boundary spanners, in competition with engineers regarding technological work, and depending on current and past regulatory pressure. Finally, we were able to put forth a new theorisation of environmental championing that captures both structural and action aspects of organisational life to explain this behaviour.