Innovation for tackling grand challenges : Cleantech industry dynamics and regional context

Abstract: Grand challenges such as climate change put focus away from innovations and innovation policy as engines of economic growth towards fulfilling societal goals and sighting sustainable development. The literature on the geography of innovation has provided valuable insights on innovation activities of firms and industries and how they are positively influenced by co-location. In particular, short geographical distances have been found to facilitate trust, knowledge exchange and interactive learning processes that favour innovation. Innovation activities that address grand challenges have however gained surprisingly little attention in the discipline. This PhD thesis addresses this shortcoming and studies how and why change processes of industries towards more environmentally friendly modes in regions occur – or not occur. In other words, it engages in the question how such industry dynamics are enabled and/or constrained by regional context conditions. Consequently, it also puts central focus on the role, respectively possibilities and limitations of regional innovation policy to support desirable transformation processes. Its theoretical objective is to make a step towards a more coherent conceptual framework in the literature on economic geography regarding how to tackle grand challenges. The dissertation takes a regional innovation system perspective which is complemented by insights from the literature on socio-technical transitions.The development of a bio-based economy which draws on renewable resources from biomass possesses a key role in addressing grand challenges. Empirically, the dissertation studies industries in three different Swedish regions and their undertaking to increasingly, respectively more efficiently use biomass as raw material. The research design is informed by a critical realist perspective and draws largely on qualitative research methods. This PhD thesis spans four articles that are published in or submitted to peer-reviewed journals. The articles are preceded by an introductory chapter which provides the overall theoretical background and framing, the research design and central findings of the dissertation.