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The influence of KIBS-client interactions on absorptive capacity-building for environmental innovation

Lisa A. Pace (The Edward de Bono Institute for the Design and Development of Thinking, University of Malta, Msida, Malta)
Ian Miles (Research Laboratory for Economics of Innovations, ISSEK, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russian Federation) (The University of Manchester, Alliance Manchester Business School, Manchester, UK)

European Journal of Innovation Management

ISSN: 1460-1060

Article publication date: 13 August 2019

Issue publication date: 15 June 2020

Abstract

Purpose

Firms need to develop absorptive capacities to effectively source and exploit knowledge relevant to environmental behaviour for their own innovation activity. Business-to-business interactions can represent a significant route through which knowledge and resources about environmental innovations are transferred along the supply chain. The purpose of this paper is to explore how firms exploit business partnerships in order to build capacity for environmental innovation. In order to do so, it investigates two elements of B2B interactions – partner alignment and compatibility – and their influence on absorptive capacity-building.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper is based on a qualitative interview study of knowledge intensive business services (KIBS) operating in the environmental goods and services sector and their clients involved in adopting environmental innovations. Matched pairs of engineering consulting firms and their clients – tourism accommodation establishments – were selected as a sampling frame in order to study the influence of partner alignment and compatibility on the exchange of environmentally relevant knowledge and competencies.

Findings

The findings show that the synergistic attributes of business partners influence absorptive capacity-building and give rise to different patterns of interaction of KIBS with their client. The B2B interactions investigated are characterised by alignment along multiple objectives about the relevance of environmental behaviour. Furthermore, the compatibility of the partners’ competences is a key determinant of environmental innovation outcome.

Practical implications

The study highlights the role of managers in identifying and selecting those business partnerships that accrue greater potential benefit for accessing resources and competencies for eco-innovation.

Originality/value

The study contributes to the literature on absorptive capacity and innovation by demonstrating how B2B interactions – in this study, the interaction of KIBS with their clients – influence the capacity of firms to adopt environmental innovations which is an area of study that deserves further attention.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank two anonymous reviewers and the editorial team for their insightful comments and suggestions. Professor Miles’ contribution to this study was funded by the Basic Research Program of the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE) and by the Russian Academic Excellence Project “5-100”.

Citation

Pace, L.A. and Miles, I. (2020), "The influence of KIBS-client interactions on absorptive capacity-building for environmental innovation", European Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 23 No. 4, pp. 553-580. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJIM-01-2019-0026

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited