Keywords: adaptive flexibility, economic efficiency, evolution, innovations, sustainable development, Red Queen
Sustainable development and innovations: lessons from the Red Queen
As sustainable development has to support an adaptive and flexible process towards inevitable changes in environmental as well as in socioeconomic systems, the notion of innovations must be a key issue of sustainability. While there is an increasing awareness that sustainable change is essentially based on the innovative process, the theoretical approaches to analyse innovations are limited and, for the most part, embedded in the static framework of neoclassical economics. It is argued that this framework is sealed off from the complexity and constraints of real-life phenomena and is consequently insufficient to understand innovations in the integrative context of sustainable development. As an alternative perspective, this paper examines the importance of evolutionary theorising about innovative activities, and argues that the essential task of dealing with innovations as multi-dimensional phenomena is best addressed through an interdisciplinary approach. Thus, attention is devoted to evolutionary insights that come from different disciplines, such as biology, economics, and history. Highlighting evolutionary features of innovations, such as path-dependence, uncertainty, cumulativeness, irreversibility and adaptive variations, it is shown that, in contrast to the standard economic understanding, innovations are driven by non-optimal changes and a dynamics far away from any stable equilibrium. Considering the dominance of the standard economic approach to innovations, the inevitable trade-off between economic efficiency and adaptive flexibility is stressed. The consequences of this trade-off are compared with the long-term issues of sustainability.