Nudging to Foster Sustainable Innovation within Organizations: An Exploratory Theoretical/Empirical Study

Sandro Daniele & Frida Lindqvist

Student thesis: Master thesis


Organizations face a rapidly changing environment demanding innovation during a climate crisis, accompanied with related policy changes and an ongoing transition towards an economy where sustainability is imperative. Thus, organizations need to be able to innovate taking social, economic and environmental sustainability into account, and to make use of opportunities associated with this transition. Cognitive and behavioral factors can both inhibit organizations from making this shift and facilitate it. Behavioral interventions such as nudging could be a relevant tool, but the literature on nudging within an organizational context is scarce, especially in regard to fostering sustainability, innovation and sustainable innovation. The objective of this thesis is to develop insights on how organizations could use nudging to foster sustainable innovation and provide a basis for further research and practical experimentation by organizations. The main research question “How can organizations use nudging to foster sustainable innovation?” is divided into two sub-research questions: 1. What cognitive and behavioral biases are the main obstacles to sustainable innovation in organizations? 2. What nudges can be used to address these biases in an organization?. Our research is based on a critical realist philosophy and we adopt an exploratory theoretical/empirical literature-based research strategy with an abductive approach.. We conduct a multi-method qualitative study, including expert interviews, literature research and a qualitative questionnaire. The primary and secondary data is interpreted through a theoretical lens – through biases identified in literature as obstacles to sustainable innovation (sub-research question 1) and through nudge taxonomies (sub-research question 2). The primary data for both sub-research questions are separately subjected to a thematic analysis with a predominantly inductive approach. Primary and secondary data comparison is also part of the analysis, to highlight similarities and differences. Ultimately, we develop a hypothetical conceptual model where we visually map biases inhibiting sustainable innovation and appropriate nudges for addressing these. To answer the “how” of our main research question, we suggest an approach for organizations, emphasizing the need to understand the problem before implementing any nudge as a one-size-fits-all solution. In conclusion, this approach together with the hypothetical conceptual model provide a theoretically and empirically informed contribution to the aforementioned research gap. It creates a basis for further research and practical experimentation by organizations aiming to foster innovation that is sustainable for people, planet and profit.

EducationsMSc in Finance and Strategic Management, (Graduate Programme) Final ThesisMSocSc in Organisational Innovation and Entrepreneurship , (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages177
SupervisorsLucia A. Reisch