The discourse of eco-innovation in the European Union: An analysis of the Eco-Innovation Action Plan and Horizon 2020

Laura Antonella Colombo*, Mario Pansera, Richard Owen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

69 Citations (Scopus)
565 Downloads (Pure)


In recent years, the search for innovative pathways towards sustainability has been brought to the forefront of international agenda settings. While international organisations and institutions, such as the United Nations and the European Union (EU), mobilised around the grand challenge of sustainability, on both a local and a global scale, eco-innovation as a key concept (or buzzword) started emerging and consolidating in policy documents and funding schemes. By focusing on the European context, this paper aims to explore how the discourse of eco-innovation has been framed by the EU research funding programmes Horizon 2020 since the introduction of the 2011 Eco-Innovation Action Plan. The review was conducted by using content analysis methods designed to disclose the framing of eco-innovation in the EU programmes. The article presents three main findings: the eco-innovation discourse in the EU programmes has mostly become constructed around the notion of eco-efficiency; eco-innovation is overwhelmingly framed as a dialectic between the state vs private actors whereas stakeholders in the third sector such as cooperatives, non-governmental organisations, social enterprises, and community-based initiatives are largely neglected; eco-innovation as a buzzword has been losing relevance through the years in favour of the new rising discourse of the ‘circular economy’. The article concludes by suggesting that the construction of a new discourse on circular economy may provide opportunities to embrace more eco-centric and inclusive approaches to economics, towards stronger sustainability and the more systematic inclusion of not-for-profit organisations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)653-665
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Early online date22 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2019


  • Eco-innovation
  • Eco-efficiency
  • European Union policy
  • Horizon 2020


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