Accelerating the Theory and Practice of Sustainability-Oriented Innovation

103 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2015 Last revised: 9 Nov 2015

See all articles by Jason Jay

Jason Jay

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Marine Gerard

MIT Sloan School of Management

Date Written: July 10, 2015


The purpose of this paper is to provide a broad understanding of the concept and process of sustainability-oriented innovation (SOI). It provides a useful starting point for people aiming to invest human, financial, and other resources in innovations that improve the world. While we build on the best available scholarship, our academic contribution is primarily one of synthesis and simplification. Academic and practitioner readers who are savvy either in innovation and entrepreneurship or in sustainability will find it most useful, as a bridge between these two fields.

Our ideal readers might include: • An entrepreneur wanting to understand sustainability as a business opportunity • A financier aiming to invest in an SOI to diversify the portfolio • A corporate R&D group seeking to integrate sustainability into its innovation process • A corporate strategy or venture capital group considering strategic investments in SOI • A corporate sustainability group looking to support top-line growth through innovation • A public agency willing to craft regulations and policies to spur SOI • Graduate students considering entry into any of these roles

Our goal is to provide the basis for a common language and understanding of the intersection between sustainability, technology and innovation, business, and regulation.

The paper is divided in four parts. The first two parts give the reader an overview of the territory and characteristics of SOI, and the process through which it happens. Having identified both the stakes and challenges associated with SOI, the third part makes the case for building Centers of Excellence dedicated to increasing the success rate of SOI. Finally, the fourth part reflects on what dimensions and questions might be considered to evaluate SOIs in their early stages in order to guide improvements or select among different SOI proposals. Ultimately, we propose a high-level decision framework that can be the starting point for further research and refinement.

Keywords: sustainability oriented innovation, center of excellence, innovation, entrepreneurship

JEL Classification: I3, L2, M13, O3, O31, O32, Q2, Q3

Suggested Citation

Jay, Jason and Gerard, Marine, Accelerating the Theory and Practice of Sustainability-Oriented Innovation (July 10, 2015). MIT Sloan Research Paper No. 5148-15, Available at SSRN: or

Jason Jay (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

77 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

Marine Gerard

MIT Sloan School of Management ( email )

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