Evolutionary Theorising on Technological Change and Sustainable Development
This paper examines the significance of evolutionary theorising on technological change for (technology) policies aiming to move society into a more ecologically sustainable direction. It is argued that fundamental changes in production processes and consumption patterns underpinned by alternative technological trajectories are required for achieving environmental sustainability. Such changes, which go beyond the control of particular pollutants and eco-efficiency improvements, are referred to as technological regime shifts. Technological regime shift changes do not refer so much to the diffusion of environmental technologies but rather to system changes producing environmental benefits because the new regimes or trajectories are inherently more environmentally benign. An example of such a shift is found in the use of gas turbine for (co)generating electricity and heat. An important question is: how do technological regime shifts occur, and how can environmentally beneficial regime shifts be stimulated? Evolutionary theory, which emphasises the non-linear, branched nature of sociotechnical change, offers a useful framework for understanding and managing regime shifts. It draws attention to the lock-in phenomenon and also suggests a way in which it can be escaped: through the development of niches for new technologies. It appears that evolutionary perspectives have something to offer here, but they need to be further developed to be of practical use.