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Managing ‘green’ product innovation in small firms

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The growing social and regulatory concern for the environment is leading an increasing number of companies to considering ‘green’ issues as a major source of strategic change. In particular, this trend has major and complex implications on the technological strategy of a company and on its product innovations. Indeed, most authors acknowledge that eco‐efficiency will be one of the major challenges for R&D practice and theory in the next decade. Unfortunately, studies usually focus on large corporations. There is a debate as to whether this factor will affect R&D practices and product innovation in small and medium enterprises (SMEs). A superficial glimpse at the problem could lead one to think that SMEs will not be major green innovators, especially as far as product technologies are concerned, and that they will simply try to comply with environmental regulations (mainly on production processes).

This paper shows that ‘green’ product innovation may occur and may also have strategic implications in SMEs. Starting from the analysis of four selected case studies and using a Precursors Events methodology, this paper illustrates why ‘green’ product innovation cannot be considered a marginal issue for most SMEs, even for those that are not directly affected by environmental regulations. Hence, the paper suggests a contingent framework to support SMEs in the analysis of the drivers of ‘green’ product innovation and in the choice of a proper R&D strategy that explicitly accounts for the eco‐efficiency of product technologies.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Dipartimento di Economia e Produzione, Politecnico di Milano

Publication date: January 1, 1999


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