Sustainable Innovation in the Dutch Construction Industry: Entrepreneurs as Agents of Change
16 Pages Posted: 25 Nov 2012
Date Written: November 25, 2012
Since Al Gore’s film “An inconvenient truth” sustainability has stood high on the national agenda of most countries. As a result research for sustainability has become an important driver for innovation. According to Rennings (2000) while innovation processes toward sustainable development have received increasing attention during the past years, theoretical and methodological approaches to analyze these processes are poorly developed. This paper describes a theoretical approach developed by the authors, which combines education and research. It is an inductive approach which departs from real-life problems encountered by companies in the construction industry in The Netherlands and is aimed at developing a model that supports companies in integrating sustainability in their business and innovation processes.
In general, innovation and entrepreneurship are important in the realm of national economies because they hold the key to the continuity and growth of companies (e.g. Hage, 1999; Cooper, 1987; Van de Ven, 2007) and economic growth within a country. It is therefore obvious that national governments are spending a lot of money to enable and improve innovation management and entrepreneurial behaviour within organizations. This is also the case in The Netherlands whose government voiced the ambition to become one of Europe’s frontrunners in innovation and entrepreneurship. The Ministries of Economic Affairs and Education in The Netherlands have joined forces on this issue and given top priority to the development of so-called innovation programs centred on partnership and co-operation between educational institutes and the practical world of entrepreneurs. These partnerships should involve universities (education), companies (preferably SME’s) and industrial associations (business) and representatives from governmental organizations (community) and should be geared towards: the development of sustainable networks, a contribution to regional economic growth within sectors, the development of learning communities in which best practices are shared, knowledge circulates and knowledge is created through applied research and last but not least sustainable relations are developed between universities and the business community.
Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) play a specific role in responding to and addressing these changes. In comparison to traditional universities the education offered at UAS is more multidisciplinary and oriented to the solution of practical problems. The development of problem-solving capabilities has subsequently become a central dimension of professional education according to Weert & Soo (2009). Against this background professional education at the highest level, further training of professionals in the workforce and greater enterprise-academic collaboration are seen as prerequisites to meet the demands of the future. The function of research and development must be aligned with these demands, reason why in the knowledge landscape UAS have to gradually transform into teaching and research institutes.
Being affiliated to institutions for higher education in The Netherlands, we have taken the initiative to develop an innovation program for the construction industry to help them integrate sustainability in their business processes, while simultaneously professionalizing students and teachers. As already mentioned, sustainability stands high on the national agenda of priorities. Concern for the environment is one of the main reasons in combination with opportunities to innovate. Policy measures are aimed at reduction of CO2 emission, waste management and alternative use of energy sources and materials. In line with these measures companies are urged to integrate sustainability in their business processes and search for innovative sustainable solutions.
This paper describes the experiences with a number of companies in the construction industry, which participate in the innovation program described in this paper and the barriers they encounter. The program is centred on 4 themes: cradle-to-cradle, corporate social responsibility, climate-neutral construction and sustainability in customer orientation in the building process. This paper deals with the underlying factors related to the dilemma between sustainability and growth/profit and is part of on-going research in a region in The Netherlands around The Hague. The companies are mostly SME’s varying from very small (6 employees) to middle-sized (more than 100).
Keywords: sustainability, innovation, entrepreneurship, construction industry, education
JEL Classification: L21, L74, M13
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