Cardiff Metropolitan University
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Ecodesign systems and government intervention: an analytical framework

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posted on 2022-10-14, 14:10 authored by Simon O'Rafferty


Over the last two decades there have many government interventions to enable ecodesign in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). These interventions occurred worldwide but mainly within European Union member states. The rationales for these interventions have been numerous but broadly speaking they have been developed due to an assumption of market failure in relation to ecodesign in SMEs. This market failure is generally characterised as the cumulative environmental impact of SMEs alongside a low level of ecodesign application. In an effort to rectify this market failure, the interventions have taken many forms including demonstration projects, knowledge and technology transfer, curriculum development.

Despite these numerous interventions, there does not appear to be a significant increase in the amount of ecodesign in SMEs, While there is an abundance of literature and research aiming to ecodesign tools, methods and company level barriers, there is much less research focusing on the relationship between policy, government intervention and ecodesign in SMEs, Therefore, this thesis develops a critical approach to understanding this relationship between government intervention and ecodesign practice.

This thesis firstly explores the policy rationale for ecodesign intervention and highlights that the policy rationale for ecodesign, based on defined conditions, has not been met. This is because the available evidence suggests that the government has been unable to rectify the problem. In order to understand this, the thesis explores previous interventions for ecodesign to illuminate the characteristics and logic behind these interventions.

The literature on ecodesign policy generally and ecodesign interventions specifically is very thin. The thesis therefore explores the innovation and innovation systems literature in order to build a frame through which these interventions can be explored. What this exploration of the literature establishes is that the current understanding of innovation emphasises the systems and interactive aspects of innovation. In doing so, this literature contests and challenges the principles of market failure and the linear logic of innovation.

On the basis of these insights, the thesis develops a preliminary analytical framework through which previous ecodesign interventions can be explored from a systems perspective. Using this analytical framework, ten case studies of previous interventions are examined.

This preliminary analysis provides insight into the underlying logic of ecodesign intervention while allowing for critical reflection on the preliminary analytical framework. Through this critical reflection and additional interaction with the literature the analytical framework is further developed and then applied to an in-depth case study of an ecodesign intervention, This in-depth case study is an intervention that the researcher was directly involved in the design and delivery of.

The insights and conclusions provided by this thesis establish a basis for wider discussion on the design, development and delivery of ecodesign interventions. Broadly the thesis suggests that previous interventions were developed through the logic of market failure and a linear interpretation of innovation, both of which are contested in the literature. The thesis presents a model of ecodesign systems alongside a model of systems failure related to ecodesign. The final analytical framework that is developed provides a basis through which the future design of ecodesign interventions can be explored. While the framework doesn't provide support to the regulatory process it will be of most interest to those policy makers involved in the development of national programmes of intervention. The thesis also provides recommendation for further research in the field of ecodesign interventions from the perspective of systems failures.



  • School of Art and Design

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD

Publication year


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