Breakthroughs in the System of Sustainable Technologies
Principal Investigators
MIT: L.Susskind, D.Laws
ETH: R.Scholz, O.Weber
UT: H.Shiroyama, T.Suzuki, M.Yarime, R.Yamamoto, N.Haratu, S.Kraines
Chalmers: J.Woexensus
EPFL: D.Favrat, F.Marechal

It is generally accepted that the development of new technologies is necessary for a sustainable future. However, as we search for ideal economically and environmentally friendly technologies, we often lack the knowledge of what makes specific solutions marketable. This project looks at factors such as price, disclosed information on a technique, consumer habits, and policies and their effect on an idea’s acceptance and actual application.

The primary objective of the project is to understand the dynamics of the complex inter-organizational networks that drive sustainable technology development. These networks are constituted, and themselves sustained, through problem-centered interactions among the developers and consumers of technologies, financial institutions, governmental agencies and increasingly non-governmental and other civic organizations. The translation of these findings into practice relevant terms for these different organizations and the management of transdisciplinary dialogues among these organizations is a second objective that is a continuous part of the research process.

  • Empirical study about the process by which sustainable technologies break through from development to commercialization happen, focusing on the interplay of policies, prices and choices of firms and other various stakeholders play out on the complex organizational networks.
  • Practical experiment, that is, the specification of relevant consensus building techniques likely to ensure the effectiveness and credibility of social experimentation on the development and diffusion of sustainable technologies.

Researchers have undertaken two case studies:

  • To examine in detail how different forms of environmental policy have induced the diverse trajectories of technological change in the chlor-alkali industry in Japan and Europe since the 1970’s.
  • To examine in detail how different forms of environmental perception and policy have induced the diverse trajectories of technological change in the automobile industry in Japan, US and Europe since the 1970’s.

The case studies have show that when regulations are relatively lax, firms would have little incentive to make innovations, rather responding through the use of end-of-pipe technologies. Under stringent regulation, companies are encouraged to look for new, radical solutions, but if these solutions are applied in an inflexible way, it may lead to the adoption of inappropriate technology and technological lock-in.

Researchers have also identified seven roles that are significant for public entrepreneurship. This determination is critical to initiate action that motivates participants and shapes the action environment that characterizes the successful cases of technology development. The roles are: pioneer, venture capitalist, organizer, superintendent, mediator, educator, and steward of common good.


  • The primary driver of green innovation is rarely an individual entrepreneur or a single company playing a leadership role. The key to successful innovation is, more often than not, the creation of a network of public and private actors who have a stake and participate in the development effort.
  • Green innovation usually demands correlative changes in a multi-layered web of infrastructure. This often requires coordination between actions at different levels.
  • Innovation contributes to the development of its opposition.
  • Innovation should be seen as an open-ended learning process.