Collaboration for sustainability: means or ends?

In this blog I would like to give some further thoughts and readings on how to make more progress on corporate sustainability through more collaboration between business and science.

More collaboration does not imply automatically more progress
An interesting direction for meaningful collaboration can be found in the theory and practice on “Open Inovation”.
A decade ago this phenomenon was described by Henry Chesbrough in his book “Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology”. This year the journal Research Policy published the special issue (number 5, June 2014) “Open Innovation: New Insights and Evidence”, where the contribution and evolution of open innovation is reviewed and likely directions going forward are suggested.

One of the important findings in the context of the collaboration between business and science can be successful. However not every open innovation is the same and should be managed the same way.

  • Open business innovation projects with science-based partners are successful when they are managed loosely.
  • Open science innovation projects with market-based partners are successful when they are managed formally.

Difficulties in collaboration

There are of course difficulties in collaboration. One of the main difficulies that are debated at the moment is the problem of appropriability. This is rights for inventors to appropriate the returns to their inventions.

Another difficulty that can arise, is the possibiltity of negative impact of transparency. It is possible that negative information about sustainability conditions in businesses or industries could have an undermining impact. A good example is given how to deal with such an issue is presented in the article “Trade-offs in supply chain transparency: the case of Nudie Jeans Co” published in the Journal of Cleaner Production (abstract).

Collaboration for sustainability: means or ends?

Is collaboration for sustainability a means to an end or an end in itself? Collaboration between business and science can be seen as a means to improve the sustainability conditions in business and science. However the collaboration can also be seen as an end if business and science are in a continuous process of innovation for improving the sustainability of products, services and processes. In both cases I think it is important to focus on the measurable results.

Norbert Bol

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