How companies can facilitate sustainable transitions

To face today’s major challenges, society needs more sustainable forms of energy and mobility. Increasing the adoption and uptake of sustainable innovations in society means taking the local context, the individuals and companies within it, into account. Lotte Meijer explored how companies of different sizes deal with specific contexts (regional, national, international) in the upscaling of sustainable innovations across four different countries: the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and Australia. She defends her PhD on 16 June.

Firstly, Meijer studied Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the Dutch energy sector. One way for these companies to contribute to the transition to renewable and sustainable energy systems is commercializing new technologies Yet, doing so is highly challenging. Meijer looked at twenty SMEs to identify what made technology commercialization by SMEs easier or more difficult, with the aim to identify factors in the national context that influence the energy transition. A country-specific factor, for instance, is the large consumption of natural gas by Dutch households, which strongly inhibits the successful scale-up of new technologies. According to Meijer these factors arise from interactions between policy makers, industry partners and market actors such as end-users.

International Intermediaries

In the second study, she looked at the role of a company that acted on both the public and private level: an intermediary supporting technology upscaling. This intermediary is active both in countries that are very transition-oriented and those that are less so. Meijer compared the outcome of the intermediary’s efforts to realize the energy transition in two countries, one of each type: Sweden and Spain.

To do so, she interviewed thirty managers and CEOs of the intermediary and its partners. Surprisingly, the intermediary had most difficulty implementing its approach in Sweden, the progressive country, because most of the intended activities were already being done by local actors such as universities or local incubators. Although the intermediary has a central, Europe-wide ambition, it had developed fairly distinct upscaling activities in the two locations. This shows that intermediaries respond differently in different economies and locations.

Car sharing

In the third study, Meijer looked at the dynamic between start-ups and regional contexts when it comes to upscaling. She analyzed two different types of car sharing business models in Sydney, Australia. Meijer found that start-ups can employ three strategies to deal with contextual barriers and opportunities. First, some entrepreneurs had already aligned with local opportunities, by clearly incorporating these factors in their business model design. An example of this are the car sharing companies advertising how they complement the existing cycling and public transport infrastructure.

Second, companies can adapt their current business model to be a better fit with common practices, for instance by extending the customer base to business clients, who prefer to use cars during weekdays instead of weekends. Finally, companies can work together with partners to increase the contextual opportunities for the business and explore the various business model options. An example of this is a car sharing company cooperating with the government to benefit from state-facilitated parking and becoming the state’s preferred car supplier. This sky-rocketed the company’s success. These strategies can lead to new business opportunities for not just a single company, but the entire car sharing business.

Title PhD thesis: Up, Up, and Away! Organizations facilitating the upscaling of niche innovations in different transition contexts.. Promotor: prof. Sjoerd Romme. Other main parties involved: EIT InnoEnergy.

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