Constructing grassroots innovations for sustainability

Adrian Smith, Gill Seyfang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Citations (Scopus)
20 Downloads (Pure)


One of the cleavages within sustainable development is division between grassroots environmental action, often deemed good on participation terms, and green innovation, usually centred on technologies in firms and deemed good for ecological modernisation. This special section is dedicated to an obvious and missing connection: grassroots innovation for sustainability.

Grassroots innovations typically involve networks of activists and organisations generating novel bottom-up solutions for sustainable development; solutions that respond to the local situation and the interests and values of the communities involved (Seyfang and Smith, 2007). What they share is commitment on the part of those involved towards openness and inclusion in the processes of innovation and the outputs of innovation.

Research is still needed that considers whether and how grassroots innovators network with one another; the extent to which movements for grassroots innovation approaches exist and how they operate; whether and how innovations diffuse through processes of replication, scaling-up, and translation into institutions; and whether or not these developments constitute alternative pathways for sustainability. The empirical contributions in this special section consider the dilemmas of going to scale, the challenges of moving from innovation to institutionalisation, and the risks of capture and instrumentality when grassroots innovations encounter more powerful political economies of conventional innovation systems (see also Smith et al., 2013). A recurring theme is diversity in innovation for sustainability; which might be served best by resisting pressures to mainstream, yet simultaneously generates accusations of marginality.

In highlighting these themes and introducing the special section, we use a particular example, the Brighton Earthship, and which all contributing authors visited as part of a research workshop on grassroots innovation held at Sussex University in May 2012 and that led to the papers here.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)827-829
Number of pages3
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Issue number5
Early online date31 Jul 2013
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013

Cite this