Part II: The Implications of Innovation

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Despite the obvious benefits that the cycles of “creative destruction” described by Schumpeter may have on an economy, let us not forget however, that innovation is also tied to important implications. Whilst some may simply view innovations as the course of improvements and simplification of complex processes, or the natural course to human development, the consequences tied to this model are becoming increasingly alarming. If we consider the specific boom of technological innovations that have occurred in the 21st century, it has come at a huge price to our environment, both in terms of waste production, and resource extraction.

As the demand for innovative products is growing, companies seek to produce more because logically, they identify an opportunity for profits. Whilst many of us remain somewhat mesmerized by the new features the iPhones 4, 4s, 5, 5s, 5c, 6… may have and are quick to dispose of our old phone that as become obsolete, few of us actually stop to ask ourselves; How was this product made? Were the resources used to build it extracted in a sustainable matter? Where does my old phone end up? Or even, do I even need this product? Firms and consumer’s constant desire to renew by innovations has had a significant negative impact on our environment and on the most vulnerable individuals, who are either exposed to the toxic waste or were absurdly underpaid, if at all, in building the product.

Evidently the intention here is not to deny that innovations can have great positive impacts on economies and nations, as the importance of innovation was already discussed in Part I, but rather to emphasize that we all possess the responsibility as consumers, emerging entrepreneurs and working citizens to act upon these implications. Firms need to understand that it is possible to be innovative, to prosper and to be socially responsible all simultaneously. Although many firms and consumers may be reluctant to altering their high-profit margin and consumption-disposal-consumption model, little by little, we must shift the investment of our time and resources to more sustainability-oriented innovations, benefitting us all in the long-run. We must be cautious in the transition however, because for some the true motivation behind introducing a minimal “sustainable practices” label on an aspect of their production is precisely to provide a promotional appeal to consumers who have also become more conscious, thus perpetuating the same alarming model in a new way.