Innovation and the Triple Bottom Line: Investigating Funding Mechanisms and Social Equity Issues of Living Labs for Sustainability
Abstract: Cities face a host of challenges including urbanisation and climate change and must quickly adapt and integrate sustainability solutions to deal with these challenges. One platform seen as a mechanism to support innovation for sustainability in cities is the concept of the living lab. A living lab is a user-centred, open innovation ecosystem that seeks to engage academia, industry and municipalities along with the community in the processes of co-creation and co-generation of products, processes or services in a real-world context. On-going research seeks to measure the potential of living labs to support innovation for sustainability as they are often regarded as a mechanism to support rapid social and technological transformations. The triple bottom line perspective guides this investigation to examine the environmental, financial and social aspects of living labs. Several methods are used in this study to analyse and triangulate data as it relates to the triple bottom line, namely, literature analysis of 118 living labs, thirteen respondents to a survey of living labs, five semi-structured interviews of funding partners and relevant stakeholders, and geographic information systems (GIS) analysis of living labs in the Netherlands, England and Wales. Living labs for sustainability offer the promise of sustainability transformations in cities; yet, issues plague the viability of living labs as a platform to usher such transitions. The results show that living labs most often engage in projects in the fields of energy efficiency and smart city solutions; yet, they do not communicate the decarbonisation and environmental impacts of their actions. In examining the extent to which the funding regime supports living labs, it is clear that the current funding strategy focuses on the financing of short-term projects as opposed to platforms or processes such as living labs. Consequently, the current funding regime needs to develop mechanisms that support platforms and ecosystems for sustainable innovation that would allow for long-term commitment and trust to be built between living labs and the community. Lastly, while living labs are often embedded in disadvantaged communities, it appears that living labs tend to only engage those willing participants who represent a non-diverse and privileged section of society. This analysis suggests that living labs for sustainability shall seek to engage all people impacted and included in their sustainability purview in the development of sustainability solutions.
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