Twenty years after the Earth Summit, economics, engineers and companies have to take into account environmental issues in order to contribute to a sustainable sociotechnical regime. A special attention is given to the role played by environmental innovations (van den Bergh et al. 2011). The literature is important about it and their concepts seems to be stabilized for applications. However various works, such as René Kemp in 2008, question their existences because we cannot identify them and evaluate their impacts on the environment.
Our work discusses on the peculiarities of environmental innovations according to the literature since the 1980s. We follow the first Kemp's ideas by proposing more details in order to show the evaluations of the environmental impacts are complex even by designing environmental innovations. So regarding the problems of identification, we want to understand if environmental innovations do exist and if they may contribute to the preservation of the environment.
As economists, we use an original methodology by comparing environmental innovations to standard/classic innovations in order to emphasize their own differences. Furthermore the comparisons of definitions which have been proposed in literature will help us to make it. Then we compare these innovations by choosing successively three points of view. Firstly the theory of industrial ecology will help us to understand how environmental innovations are designed (1). Secondly we will use an evolutionary point of view to understand how the role of uses and of the methods which drive technological trajectories may influence the evolution of environmental innovations (2). Finally we choose a bioeconomic point of view in order to know if the design and the evolution of environmental innovations would be in phase with our environment (1+2).
Our study produce four results and are summarized in a table. Firstly (1) even if environmental innovations are considered as solutions for sustainability, we show that the peculiarities of environmental innovations are unclear. Moreover no definitions propose a definition of what is the "environment. Then we show that it is difficult to categorize them and we show that end-of-pipe technologies, clean technologies and life cycle assessments are complementary but not radical. In spite of the popularity of this concept, we show that these scenarios are applied since the XXthcentury and question the notion of novelty. Secondly (2) the radicality and the incrementality are disputed. Moreover technological trajectories are based on normative suggestions in spite of stochasticity of economy and biosphere. Thirdly (3) the quest of efficiency of assets is an important priority for identifying of environmental innovations. Yet we show that its principles are similar to standard innovations in spite of four dimensions of efficiency. Fourthly (4) our work presents that environmental innovations which are proposed by literature are based on the acceleration of scarcity of assets while contributing to six rebound effects.
Environmental innovations cannot provide sufficient resources to propose a “revolutionary solution” for achieving sustainability. Then they can have worse environmental impacts than standard innovations.