Eco-innovation at the “bottom of the pyramid”

Mario Pansera*, Richard Owen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book

10 Citations (Scopus)


The projected exponential rise in the 80 % of humanity living on less than $10 a day (largely in the developing world) - the so-called “bottom of pyramid (BoP)"’ - suggests that their behavior, lifestyle and consumption patterns will increasingly affect the global economy and society as a whole. While sustainability is a well-established concept in the developed world, understanding of perceptions and approaches to sustainability at the BoP (and associated behavior) is limited. In particular there is little understanding of whether this vast pool of people across the globe “eco-innovate”, and if so how and why. This chapter provides an overview of the main theoretical discussions about innovation and development, with particular attention to eco-innovation creation, transfer and diffusion at the BoP. We challenge the assumption that the “poor are too poor to eco-innovate”, hypothesizing that eco-innovation in the so-called South could play an important role in contributing to global sustainability. The fascinating point in such a debate is whether or not those at the BoP will be able to trigger a change of paradigm on a global basis, pioneering alternative development models that could “blowback” to the developed world. Through an analysis of empirical cases in Asia and Latin America, we demonstrate that eco-innovation does occur at different levels at the BoP, exploiting local potential, traditional knowledge and international connections. We discuss its potential to facilitate social inclusion and support environmental sustainability. These case studies allow us to propose some characteristics of the BOP eco-innovation process, including technological transfer, diffusion and adaptation. We consider their social dimension and the role of international cooperation, leading to development of a conceptual model as a starting point to describe the landscape, purposes and the drivers of eco-innovation at the BoP. These cases suggest that new business models and new policies that foster grassroots eco-innovation might not only be relevant for developing countries, but offer transfer potential from the “south” to the “north” (innovation “blowback”), notably in the context of the extended current period of financial austerity faced by developed countries and the global sustainability crisis faced by us all.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCollaboration for Sustainability and Innovation
Subtitle of host publicationA Role for Sustainability Driven by the Global South?: A Cross-Border, Multi-Stakeholder Perspective
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9789400776333
ISBN (Print)9789400776326
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Blowback
  • Bottom of Pyramid (BOP)
  • Eco-innovation
  • Grassroots innovation
  • South


Dive into the research topics of 'Eco-innovation at the “bottom of the pyramid”'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this