Innovation for Sustainability

Large unresolved global problems, such as income inequality, poverty alleviation, and climate change, represent increasing challenges for organizations. The complex, uncertain, and evaluative facets of grand challenges make it difficult for any single organization to address them on their own. Finding solutions to grand challenges will require going beyond the boundaries of a single organization. This implies that there is no one-size-fits all solution, instead organizations will need to cooperatively address grand challenges most relevant to their own industry.


One key way organizations are seeking to tackle grand challenges is through innovation. Previous research has shown that innovation can be critical to organization survival in turbulent and high velocity environments and that innovations can generate benefits from shifts in the business environment. The larger the shift in the external environment, the wider the scale of the innovation needs to be. When applied to the topic grand challenges, the innovation journey appears likely to become even more complex than previously understood. For instance, organizations may be confronted with new problematics that were not otherwise within their awareness. As with sustainability more generally, grand challenges go beyond mere technical and evolutionary adaptation, rather they require addressing relational and temporal complexities as well. To address grand challenges, organizations need to cope with contestation, non-linearity, and ramifications in economic, environmental, and societal developments. Such developments can be either desirable (e.g. better agriculture, new transportation and production structure) or undesirable (e.g. shortage of clean water or energy). The perspectives on what is the problem and what constitutes its resolution can differ across organizations and various societal groups.

Based on this background, I study in my Postdoc work, together with Professor Tima Bansal (Ivey Business School, Western University) and Professor Joel Gehman (Alberta School of Business, University of Alberta), the innovation process at the Canadian oil sands industry and how the industry is addressing environmental and economic grand challenges through technology development and business model innovations. The Canadian oil sands industry is a great case to study, because the industry has significant environmental impacts. Left unaddressed some believe these impacts could threaten the industry’s continued existence. The scale and scope of these environmental impacts is such that they cannot be economically solved with extent technologies. Rather, the industry needs to innovate. That is where we look at in our research project.

Academic papers resulting from this project are still work in progress. Currently we are working on two manuscripts. One is about time and scale in responsible innovations, targeting Journal of Management Studies. The second one is about accelerating innovations for sustainability, targeting Academy of Management Journal


Furthermore the project has received wide media coverage. See below for examples.

Media Coverage of the project

Network for Business Sustainability (2017). How an oil sands collaboration is accelerating sustainability. LINK 

Ivey Business School (2017). Teaming up to accelerate sustainability-focused innovation in Canada's oil sands. LINK

JWN Energy (2017). COSIA joins with government, universities to accelerate sustainability-focused oil sands innovation. LINK