Announcement of Webinar Series

We are pleased to announce an autumn series of international webinars to showcase the emerging headlines from our EU-InnovatE project focussing on: Understanding Sustainable Lifestyles in Europe to 2050 and the Future Role of Users, Innovators & Entrepreneurs.

Starting SEPTEMBER 20, the consortium’s Work Package leaders will deliver 6 weekly interactive webinars on the following topics:

  • September 20th– History of Sustainable Lifestyles in Europe & Systemic Transitions
  • September 27th– The emerging Phenomenon of Sustainable Entrepreneurship & User Innovation
  • October 4th – Company-Driven Sustainability Innovation Integrating Users & Entrepreneurs
  • October 11th– Modelling and Measuring Sustainable Lifestyle Transitions to 2050
  • October 19th– Policy Making and Innovation to Support Sustainable Lifestyles & Entrepreneurship
  • October 25th– Scenarios for Sustainable Lifestyles in 2050: Assessing Short- and Long-Term Opportunities and Obstacles

You can find the the full overview of the themes, presenters, and times, here. To register for any of these online debates, please email marco.matrisciano@abis-global.org.


The webinar series is a precursor to the project’s Final Conference, which takes place in Brussels on NOVEMBER 22. Interested participants can register for any of the online sessions by sending an email to marco.matrisciano@abis-global.org

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Stakeholder and End User Innovation

How can we innovate to provide more sustainable products and services?

This is a question asked by many companies, large and small, in a world where sustainability challenges are ever more compelling. While not yet being an extensive practice, EU-InnovatE has provided an opportunity to shed light on how firms across Europe are working with their customers  – the users of their products and services – to innovate towards more sustainable lifestyles.

From the 18 case studies we explored during our research including companies such as BMW, Unilever, and IKEA, we have generated a wide range of findings on how firms innovate involving their end users. One of the more striking findings is that such innovation tends to always occur in collaboration with a number of other stakeholders.

Collaborating with unusual stakeholders

Surprisingly, these stakeholders may not necessarily be the ones that might be expected in typical innovation processes. Stakeholders such as public authorities, universities, foundations, and other non-profit or civil society organizations can proactively facilitate the innovation process. This begins with public authorities stimulating many of the projects such as the Mayor of Paris’ call for proposals for a zero carbon cycle-share system, or the offer of funding from the Austrian government to develop an electric powered mobility solution. Later on, providing valuable licensing and regulatory support to create a context that enables the innovation to develop and be implemented.

Facilitating end user integration

In all of our cases, end users were involved in the development of the sustainability-oriented products or services. Stakeholders such as civil society organizations (CSOs) and academic institutions played a valuable role in facilitating the integration of end users and a variety of other relevant groups into the innovation process through workshops and participative forums. In addition, private firms specializing in gathering and processing customer feedback were often used by innovating firms to gain valuable input from end users.

To tap into new opportunities, ROCKWOOL, a company famous for its insulation products, started developing refugee shelters with walls made of fireproof insulation. Accessing refugee camps, even for testing products that might improve refugee living conditions in the future was challenging due to strict protection of people’s privacy in such difficult life situations. In order to help the shelter development move forward, a Danish CSO called Orange Innovation helped the company to reach out to refugee aid organizations to get their initial feedback, and facilitated the testing of shelters among guests of the Roskilde music festival (an event that typically hosts so many people that density and temporary overnight arrangements resemble that of the refugee camps).

Extending impact and changing lifestyles

The nature of many innovations for sustainability reflects broader lifestyle changes for end users. Stakeholders, such as universities, CSOs, and public authorities, often play a key role in sensitizing and informing the public of broader sustainable behavior changes (for an example see Frosta) and help to build credibility and trust around the emerging innovative solutions.

Stakeholders specialized in different aspects of sustainability, either related to social or environmental issues, can help to promote the product or service and can also extend the sustainability impact in different areas to provide a more holistic sustainability lifestyle solution. One such example is that of the company EcoVeritas with its project Cuina Veritas. Not only have customers been invaluable to the development of a new range of products which use ingredients, which would otherwise be wasted due to their appearance or seasonal excess, but collaboration with a CSO has supported the company in extending its social impact by getting physically disabled people back to work.

Multiple stakeholder collaboration with end users

To respond to the question posed by many companies of how to better innovate to provide more sustainable products and services, our research suggests that end users play a valuable role in the development of such products and services. An international construction company Skanska together with IKEA wanted to make home ownership a reality even for lower income households. They developed BoKlok housing, which is affordable due to the highly efficient layouts and interior planning. This was only possible through early integration of direct end user feedback (focus groups) about apartment layouts. Integration of other relevant stakeholders, such as city planners and construction material developers, ensured access to public transportation and wood-based modular building materials for high quality environmentally friendly construction.

The involvement of end users goes hand in hand with collaboration with a range of different stakeholders, playing a variety of different roles in the innovation process. Not only do these stakeholders fulfill companies’ needs but they are also proactive in stimulating, initiating, and extending the impact of sustainability-oriented innovation processes.


by Jennifer Goodman, Angelina Korsunova, and Minna Halme

Rise of Europe’s Citizen Innovator

How can individuals accelerate the EU’s transition to sustainability, asks Gemma Adams

What roles can individuals – as citizens, consumers, users and communities of interest – play in accelerating the fundamental transitions we need for a sustainable Europe? EU-InnovatE is a project exploring how the ‘users’ of products and services can help drive innovation to make sustainable lifestyles normal in Europe. It teams Forum for the Future, the Academy of Business in Society and 11 universities, including Copenhagen Business School, Cranfield and the Technische Universität München, to investigate the opportunities, looking to the past, present and future. Working alongside the researchers is a network of ‘future shapers’ who have experience of innovation, entrepreneurship and sustainable lifestyles, and who live right across Europe.

Why think about innovators beyond entrepreneurs, businesses and government funded programmes? Digital data, platforms and services mean everyone now has the tools to communicate their ideas, forge collaborations, build prototypes and develop them – and we are already using them to create whole new ways of organising, living, producing and consuming. Able to operate across traditional boundaries, future citizens and ‘users’ will have both the motivation and means to tackle the sustainability challenges that are outstripping business and governments.

An EU-InnovatE survey of 10 European countries found that that 3 in 1,000 people are ‘user’ innovators, motivated to tackle environmental and social issues, and creating bespoke items through personal passion rather than for work or profit. Citizen and user-driven innovation isn’t new. What has changed is the accessibility of both vast amounts of information and software capabilities to store, manage and interpret it: this transforms the scale and pace at which ideas can spread and collaboration can happen, for all sorts of purposes, across the world. We’ve made, baked, grown and crafted at home for centuries. Henry Ford’s earliest customers hacked their vehicles to turn them into farm machinery, mobile grocery shops and ambulances, and it was passionate, inventive user groups that came up with the skateboard, snowboard, surfboard and mountain bike. Today, enthusiasts are doing it all: from launching mini-satellites to biohacking glow-in-the-dark plants.

What makes citizen and user-driven innovation interesting for sustainability is the potential to cultivate the aspirations, beliefs and goals needed for social change. While markets concentrate on intellectual property and technological innovation, citizens and ‘users’ are free to innovate in the gaps above and between. From the New Citizenship Project’s quest to change the story of the individual in society from consumer to citizen to the unMonastery – a place to rethink ‘economic fictions’ as a route to social innovation that hosts projects addressing the disconnect between space, employment and social services. As citizens and enthusiasts, we have the ability to dream and imagine the institutionally impossible – and that’s the opportunity for big change.

Big businesses can play a role in working with ‘user’ innovators to cultivate social change too: some already involve citizens and other stakeholders as part of innovation processes to generate more-sustainable products and services. However, EU-InnovatE’s research found that they are often hampered from taking these to market by organisational incentives and decision-making frameworks, and that the citizens themselves experienced most change through the process. Collectively is blazing a trail: this non-profit, co-funded platform for inspiring change connects with millennials to innovate on sustainability issues that matter to them. Participating brands are getting to know their future consumer and encouraging demand for sustainability, making it easier to shift their portfolios.

Beyond the traditional structure of companies, people are finding new ways to organise themselves and act on their visions. Citizens, entrepreneurs, groups and organisations are coming together in new constellations. These emerging social models and forms of exchange distribute power and make new behaviours possible at scale, creating the conditions for whole systems to change.

Italian start-up CiBio is using relationships built at the local farmers’ market in Milan to solve problems like how to re-create the ‘lost’ bread supply chain and how to get local produce to restaurants at scale. Set up by Slow Food Italia, it is a model for forging alternative value networks and food economies.

The Hunziker Project in Switzerland is experimenting with new forms of living that are way ahead of the market. It’s the next generation of Cadbury’s Bourneville – a village in the UK that the chocolate-maker redesigned in the 19th century to improve the health and fitness of its workforce. The difference is that the Hunziker Project was set up by 30 non-profit co-operatives to act as their ‘innovation lab’. Citizen and ‘user’ innovators look set to shape Europe’s future and to throw up a whole host of new opportunities to reach for, and also to resist, transformation and sustainability. Are we ready?


Gemma Adams is Head of Innovation at Forum for the Future
This article was first published in The Long View 2016 chapter Citizen Innovation

Welcome to the new EU-InnovatE blog!

In the months to come, we will be using this platform to share insights into the importance of users in sustainability-oriented innovation and entrepreneurship, and the various roles they can take on in the transition towards more sustainable lifestyles. We hope very much that you will share this link with colleagues and friends with similar interests in learning more about this dynamic, emerging field.

What is EU-InnovatE?

EU-InnovatE (http://www.euinnovate.com) stands for End User Integration, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In brief, it is an interdisciplinary, pan-European research project involving over 40 researchers from 14 leading research institutes, think tanks, and network partners under the scientific leadership of TUM School of Management (http://www.wi.tum.de/en/home/).

Since its launch in 2014, our consortium has conducted a wide range of advanced research activities, including, among others: case studies in many European countries; workshops with users, companies, and policy makers; scenarios for sustainable lifestyles in Europe by 2050; an agent-based model to measure the impacts of innovation in mobility, food, energy and urban living; and an online social media conference involving 350+ experts and pioneers in the field. All those efforts were taken to investigate the active roles that end users play in shaping sustainable lifestyles, new business models, and the transition to a greener economy in Europe.

From passive consumers to active users

To be able to create more sustainable lifestyles, sustainability innovations such as novel products, services, and systems that provide economic, social, and ecological value need to be developed. While previously consumers were viewed as passive receivers and adopters, there is an increasing understanding that consumers have great potential as active users to inspire, shape, and participate in the creation of novel, sustainable solutions.

For example, companies open up their innovation process, involving external actors such as scientists, suppliers, and end users into new product development (“open innovation”). Some end users take on creative and innovative roles by inventing products themselves (“user innovations”). Moreover, a number of empirical studies show that such user innovations, as opposed to producer innovations, play a significant role across different areas and industries. Some of those end users even take one step further and start to build their own business around their sustainable product or service (“user entrepreneurship”).

In our project, we focus on such active, innovative, and entrepreneurial roles of end users in developing products, services, and systems for more sustainable lifestyles in Europe.

What are the research topics of EU-InnovatE?

The two central themes of EU-InnovatE are user innovation and user entrepreneurship.

User Innovation

The integration of users in innovation projects directed toward sustainable development is important but complex. For example, previous studies focusing on green innovation have shown that companies can gain competitive advantage by collaborating with multiple stakeholders in the innovation process. To unravel the intricacy of this topic, we have further researched how organizational forms, culture, structure, and management styles influence the integration of end users. To do so, multiple case studies, surveys, and lab experiments have been conducted.

User Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurs are increasingly focusing on sustainable ideas that integrate a triple bottom line approach of financial, ecological, and social goals. These new ventures create impact in different domains and have the potential to eventually radically change the social, business, and political landscape. Therefore, making use of a large number of in-depth case studies, we have endeavored to answer various relevant questions in this field: What does the sustainable entrepreneurial process look like? What are the key enabling or hindering factors for sustainable entrepreneurs to succeed and above all sustain their new business?

Besides focusing on the innovative and entrepreneurial roles of end users, in EU-InnovatE we also seek to bring an understanding to the past and present of (un-)sustainable lifestyles in Europe, and to identify the opportunities and obstacles associated with the transition to sustainable lifestyles using scenario analysis. Since policy constitutes a critical agent in such transitions, we also explore existing and new policy tools for ameliorating sustainable user innovation and entrepreneurship.

What’s to come on this blog?

We will provide posts on a regular basis throughout the upcoming weeks and look forward to discussing those with you. Please feel free to comment and share your own experiences. Together, we hope that we can enrich our research results and further enhance their practical relevance for end users, businesses, and policy to achieve our common goal of more sustainable lifestyles in Europe.

Best,

Your EU-InnovatE Team