Monthly Spotlight: Interview with Annika Surmeier, Philipps University Marburg, Research Group: Knowledge Dynamics, Sustainability Innovation, Global Change; Founder: The Editing Enterprise

Why are sustainability innovations gaining in importance?

In the age of globalization researchers, policy makers and practitioners are confronted with formidable global environmental and societal mega problems: social inequality, poverty, climate change, and resource scarcity. Many of these challenges are accelerated by the globalization of economic activities and unsustainable methods of production and consumption.

From an innovation perspective, new forms of innovations – including social innovation, inclusive innovation, base-of-the pyramid innovation, and eco-innovation – are gaining stature in the scientific community and among policy makers as technological or science-based innovations alone are insufficient to address these challenges.

How is your work related to sustainability innovations?

In our research group on “Knowledge Dynamics, Sustainability Innovation and Global Change”, led by Prof. Dr. Simone Strambach, we use the term sustainability innovation as an umbrella term for all those innovations that address some of the complex social, economic and environmental challenges. Sustainability innovations are new products or processes that aim to “preserve critical natural resources and promote sustainable global business practices and lifestyles” (Fichter 2010).

As the cause and effect of these global problems typically do not coincide in time and space, the development of sustainability innovations requires the collaboration of various public and private actors from different institutional contexts and spatial scales. This is a complex issue and many barriers have to be overcome in these processes. How to develop sustainable solutions that adequately address local and global needs is largely an open debate. In our research group, we are investigating the development, impacts and diffusion of sustainable innovation from a knowledge-based transnational perspective. As a member of the group, my research focus is on sustainability standards in the South African tourism industry.

What are the practical implications of your work?

Beyond the group’s theoretical and empirical research – driven by an attempt to put some of our ideas on sustainability innovation into practice – I collaborate with researchers from the University of Cape Town to investigate opportunities that help facilitate sustainable development processes in the South African context.  Through our work in South Africa my South African colleagues and I founded a social business called the Editing Enterprise. The Editing Enterprise provides proofreading and editing services for academic writers. Our goal is to offer high quality and well-paying jobs for previously disadvantaged researchers so that they have better opportunities to develop their potential as researchers, while also helping German researchers  produce better papers in the English language. If you would like to learn more about the Editing Enterprise, please visit: