Purpose – This paper aims at investigating the rather unexplored issue of how green innovators address the knowledge needs emerging when initiating a sustainability path, comparing their knowledge strategies with those of non‐green innovators. Design/methodology/approach – The authors investigate this issue using data from the 2008 Italian Community Innovation Survey (CIS). Focusing on manufacturing firms, they identify the main characteristics and knowledge assets of firms introducing environmental innovations (EIs) as opposed to those of other innovators. Findings – The authors' results suggest that the development of EIs entails a higher recourse to external knowledge, in the form of use of external sources of information, acquiring R&D from external firms and cooperation. Relationships with partners that do not belong to the supply chain – including KIBS, universities, research institutions and competitors – are far more important than for other innovations. On the contrary, differences between the two categories are less marked when it comes to investments in internal knowledge resources. Finally, proactive environmental innovators have very different knowledge strategies than reactive ones, which resemble non‐green innovators. Originality/value – The main contribution of this paper is that it investigates the unexplored issue of how firms assess and develop the knowledge needed to develop EIs. By comparing them with the strategies of non‐green innovators, the analysis performed in the paper allows understanding the peculiarities of such innovations. Furthermore, the authors contribute to the literature by verifying how knowledge management strategies vary according to the differential importance that sustainability has for the firm's innovative strategy.
Journal of Knowledge Management – Emerald Publishing
Published: Jul 11, 2013
Keywords: Environmental innovation; Sustainability; Knowledge strategies; Italy; Cooperation; Research and development; Sustainable development