System innovation for sustainability at product development level: a conceptual framework
It is now commonly accepted that, in order to achieve sustainability, the socio-technical systems which fulfil social functions such as housing, food, mobility need to be transformed. This transformation is known as system innovation and requires multi-scale and systemic approaches to innovation. The literature on system innovation has provided explanations regarding how companies and product development activities fit into the big and long-term picture of system innovation only to a certain extent and this area remains largely neglected in the literature. In order to address this gap, this paper presents a conceptual framework explaining how innovation efforts at the micro-level (i.e. product/service development) can systemically be aligned with those efforts at the macro-level (i.e. socio-technical systems). The framework is prescriptive and states that companies are part of society and thus, their strategic goals should not be contradictory to visions of society and these goals should be aligned with the goals of the society envisioned to achieve sustainability. This requires companies to acknowledge the long-term visions of the society during their strategy development to guide their decisions on product development.