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Lock-in of mature innovation systems, The transformation toward clean concrete in the Netherlands

Article | 12-05-2016

Energy-intensive processing industries like the concrete industry form the base of the economy and account for a large part of greenhouse gas emissions. Sectoral transformation to cleaner basic materials is therefore crucial, and institutional pressure to do so is increasing. These sectors have nevertheless been largely omitted by socio-technical studies. This paper therefore sets out to analyze the systemic problems that inhibit the transformation of the mature innovation system of the concrete sector toward the development, diffusion and adoption of clean concrete innovations, for the case of the Netherlands.

A coupled structural-functional approach has been frequently applied to identify such systemic problems, but has been limited to emerging technological innovation systems. Consequently, the approach tends to overlook the systemic lock-in that arises from interdependent systemic problems and vested interests that characterize mature innovation systems. This paper analyzes these characteristics to extend the application of the structural-functional approach to the transformation of mature innovation systems.

Interviews with 28 stakeholders were conducted and triangulated with reports, websites and other documents. A list of systemic problems was identified that originate within actors, institutions, networks, technology and infrastructure and that impaired the performance of all system functions except knowledge development.

Systemic problems are indeed found to be strongly interdependent, leading to systemic lock-in. Through strategic, often collective action, established firms with vested interests were able to reinforce these systemic problems to inhibit clean concrete innovation. The study concludes that systemic lock-in inhibits the sustainability transformation of the mature innovation system of concrete in the Netherlands and confirms that the application of the structural-functional approach can be extended from emerging to mature innovation systems.

Author(s)Joeri H. Wesseling; Alexander van der Vooren
Publication date13-05-2016