Call for papers Special Issue: “Social Innovation and Sustainability”

The guest editors Pedro Verga Matos (CSG-ISEG) and Tania Pereira Christopoulos (EACH, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil) are inviting to submit to the Special Issue “Social Innovation and Sustainability,  to the peer-review journal Sustainability, with deadline until March 31st, 2021. 

Sustainability is an international, interdisciplinary, academic, peer-reviewed and open access journal on environmental, cultural, economic and social sustainability, with an impact factor of 2.576, indexed on the Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Sciences Citation Index (Web of Science platforms) and Scopus.


Issue presentation:

The concept of social innovation has been gaining visibility in the media, in the formulation of national and global public policies, in the management of third-sector organizations, and in academia (Weber, 2012; Dainienė & Dagilienė, 2016), but it is still a theme for which there is a profound need for research, covering both the concept and associated practices, as well as their results. According to Jessop, Bob, Moulaert et al. (2013), social innovation is a hot topic, appears regularly in the news, and is part of the core of the essential programs of several international organizations; for example, it is present in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (Eichler & Schwarz, 2019), the European Union’s innovation-related incentive programs, and the OECD’s social entrepreneurship programs.

Although the concept of innovation is as old as humanity (Cajaiba-Santana, 2014), the realization of its importance for economic growth, for improving the quality of life, and for so-called “progress” is much more recent (Jessop, Bob, Moulaert et al., 2013). As stated by Cajaiba-Santana (2014) (p. 43), “The capacity to innovate and create new things is one of the hallmarks of civilization.” Innovation is present throughout human history as a manifestation of its creative capacity and as the outcome of humanity’s efforts to develop responses to its needs and to improve its quality of life; in Simms’ words: “Civilizations are the result of human innovations.” However, above all, in this century, social innovation has become prominent as a result of the recognition of its importance by the OECD and the European Union (European Commission, 2013), and it is a concept that differs from traditional innovation by its aim of promoting social change (Repo & Matschoss, 2020)

The debate on the concept of social innovation is still ongoing and, therefore, is a source of research in several domains of the social sciences (Cajaiba-Santana, 2014; Ionescu, 2015; Pol & Ville, 2009; van der Have & Rubalcaba, 2016,). In 1995, in a document of great importance, the European Commission (1995) (p. 11) considered that “Innovation is not just an economic mechanism or a technical process. It is, above all, a social phenomenon. Through it, individuals and societies express their creativity, needs and desires. (…) In the final analysis, the history, culture, education, political and institutional organization and the economic structure of each society determine that society’s capacity to generate and accept novelty.” Also, for the European Commission (2013), this concept refers to the development and implementation of new ideas (e.g., products, services, and models) to meet social needs and to create new social relationships or collaborations. These activities, services, and programs always encompass four fundamental elements that characterize social innovation (Dawson & Daniel, 2010), namely, people, the challenge (i.e., the problem that can be solved or the opportunity to explore), the process (i.e., dealing with the challenge), and the objective (e.g., solving the challenge to achieve greater well-being).

It is challenging to define sustainability in a way that is generally accepted, given the abundance of definitions. In effect, the word “sustainable” has become a buzzword that people interpret in their own way, and the difficulty in stabilizing a definition is aggravated when we associate it with companies or organizations (Hockerts, 2001).

The use of the term “sustainability,” prevalent in the literature and encompassing several meanings, gained global notoriety, as did the expression “sustainable development,” as a result of the United Nations Conference “Environment and Development” held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (RIO-92). Sustainable development has been defined since 1987 by the Brundtland Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) as “the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987). However, over time, robust answers to questions regarding the nature of sustainability, of a sustainable organization, or of a sustainable society have proven to be illusory (Marshall & Toffel, 2005).

More specifically, corporate sustainability is an important concept that covers several dimensions (i.e., ethical, social, environmental, cultural, and economic) (Lankoski, 2016), and today, its importance is growing. The three central non-financial factors in measuring the sustainability and societal impact of an organization are the environmental, social, and governance dimensions, known by the abbreviation ESG. This approach follows the so-called triple bottom line (TBL or 3BL), which is a sustainability model that analyzes the social, environmental, and economic impact of a project, organization, or company. It was originally developed in the 1990s by John Elkington and formally referenced for the first time in 1994, by himself, and complemented in 1995 by the introduction of the concept “3Ps: People, Planet, Profit.” However, the triple bottom line approach is also very controversial because empirically, Adam (2006) verified that the economic dimension is typically more prevalent than the social and environmental dimensions. Regarding the aims of sustainability, it is easy to contest the scope and direction of the change it promotes, as well as the need of social business innovation (Bock, 2012). Would social innovation provide better ways for achieving a balance between the economic, environmental, and social dimensions?

The diversity of approaches, objectives, and methodologies applied in the study of social innovation and sustainability leads to the need for more research on these themes, requiring a multidisciplinary approach, with different perspectives, studying different sectors, and bringing together academics and other professionals. This is the aim of this Special Issue: To approach sustainable development and social innovation, both at the macro- and micro-levels, using trans- and interdisciplinary approaches.

Authors from management, economics, finance, sociology, and other related disciplines are invited to submit their papers. Multidisciplinary research that embraces the diversity of the sustainability and social innovation perspectives is particularly appreciated. Submissions for publication in this Special Issue include, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Social Innovation and sustainable development;
  • Corporate practices of sustainable development in emerging versus developed markets;
  • Social enterprises and sustainability;
  • Social innovation as a way of achieving strong sustainability;
  • Ethical issues in social Innovation;
  • The future of sustainability in social innovation: A holistic approach;
  • Cases studies in different industries and/or countries;
  • Sustainable and innovative approaches on environmental and social issues.
Guest Editors
Pedro Verga Matos (CSG/ISEG) &  Tania Pereira Christopoulos  (EACH, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil)

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