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Marco Pellizzer

DBA Graduate - 2020

Thesis title

COPING WITH ECO-INNOVATION: Perspectives on Opportunities and Challenges to eco-innovate from managers of China automotive sector

Supervisor(s)

David Grover
Purpose With over 23 million new vehicles produced and sold yearly, China is the single largest automotive market worldwide. While a remarkable achievement, this carries a heavy toll for the country and its people; vehicle emissions are estimated to account for up to 45% of air pollution in major Chinese cities and are a major contributor to high GHG emissions. Encouraging a shift toward ecological modernization, Governmental agencies are leading actors in addressing the dynamics of climate change; though, as the 2016 Paris Accord reminds us, the private sector has an active role in the implementation of eco-innovation (EI). Mediating this complex relationship between external environmental expectations and their private sector companies, the managerial experience offers a unique source of insight into the advancement of sustainable and effective environmental measures. This research investigates opportunities and challenges faced by managers operating within China’s automotive industry in their efforts to eco-innovate.Design/methodology/approach Presenting a thematic analysis on semi-structured qualitative interviews with 26 front-line professionals from China’s automotive industry, this work contributes to extant discourse on EI in the automotive industry, leverages Carnall’s Coping with Change framework, and draws from neo-institutional theories.Findings Still early in the adaptation process, many view EI as a means to achieve economic benefits. The main challenges are identified in the lack of adequate demand for greener products, difficulties in accessing state of the art technologies, and economic considerations. The absence of sincere commitment from leadership is a significant factor undermining the strength and credibility of EI efforts. This research highlights the critical role of effective collaboration efforts amongst the various actors: consumer, automakers, government. Further, it exposes emergent normative pressures while offering evidence that the adoption of a social-ethical dimensionality by automakers is a strong motivation to enact EI. Finally, it recognises the role of the novel industry players as important change agents.Research limitations/implications Ecological modernisation of China automotive industry is advancing mainly due to the coercive pressures of Government Intervention, while the lack of significant normative forces (consumers and automakers) emerges as a key factor explaining the reactive approach towards EI. The research’s findings highlight the importance of parallel advancing all dimensions underpinning EI as a critical condition to facilitate its progress and they call for more effective collaborations among the various actors (i.e. government, manufacturers, consumers).Practical implications Managers from the automotive industry and their organisations are de facto coping with eco-innovation. The findings represent valuable insights for the industry players (i.e. senior management) to reflect on how they can support managers to carry out their responsibilities concerning eco-innovation and identify opportunities to improve such dynamics.Originality/value This research represents an original contribution to the call to action to intensify efforts through management research and explore societal grand challenges to offer further insights to businesses in the field of ecological innovation, particularly in the context of a mature industry (automotive) in a developing economy (China) by exploring the phenomenon from the lens of managers responsible for its execution.Keywords: Ecological innovation, drivers and barriers, China automotive industry, Ecological modernization, managers