Technological Innovation and Sustainable Development: A Case Study of the Knitwear Industry of Seia and Gouveia Counties, Portugal

Technological Innovation and Sustainable Development: A Case Study of the Knitwear Industry of Seia and Gouveia Counties, Portugal

Teresa Paiva (Center for Studies in Education and Innovation, Portugal & NECE, University of Beira Interior, Portugal) and Luis Farinha (Polytechnic Institute of Castelo Branco, Portugal & NECE, University of Beira Interior, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3628-5.ch003
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Industrial competitiveness is linked to sustainable business practices if firms want to be competitive and position themselves as sustainable companies. This chapter analyses how the knitwear industry integrates the sustainable concerns into their strategy and mission and how they adopt new ways of production, performance, and product definition, mainly through technological innovation and therefore improve their industrial competitiveness. The study is exploratory applied into all the knitwear industries of two counties of the Centre Region of Portugal. The innovation, mainly technical, adopted expresses the sustainable concern to the limit of the law and business revenue. It seems that the business environmental concerns showed have a paradoxical behaviour as they don't translate into a clear contribution for the sustainable development and to an industrial competitiveness concern.
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Industrial competitiveness is a theme of high interest to industrial growth, that due to technical change, economic constraints and new forms of organization, new value chains, and policy liberation, has its nature altered, particularly regarding the type of environment that enterprises have to face (Lall, 2013). The competitiveness is, nowadays, on new technologies, advanced skills, and sophisticated supply-chain and distribution techniques. The global economy is feeling a profound change with consequences on the international competitiveness of industrial businesses, and the sustainable development is a major trend that drives, presently this change, shifting industrial structures towards more complex, technology-based, high added value, knowledge-based activities (I24C, 2015; Lall, 2013; Jovane et al., 2008).

Sustainable development is increasingly urgent today, particularly because the environmental effects of the social and economic evolution of our Planet are felt in different ways. So, to discuss the role of each economic agent in the sustainability of the planet is always important.

The adoption of sustainable business practices is a subject that has been analyzed for several years and has seen a positive development of business practices concerning the environment, not only because of regulatory legislative compliance or an evident environmental awareness of individuals (Weng et al., 2015).

However, sustainable development is the biggest challenge of our time (Mulder et al., 2011). The sustainable character of development implies respect for the ability of future generations to unleash their development processes and not be compromised by the current generation. In this sense, development can only be conceived if all the strands are respected (ENDS, 2006; Santos et al. 2005). This integrative vision of development, with harmony between economy, society, and nature, respecting biodiversity and natural resources, solidarity between generations and co-responsibility and solidarity between countries according to ENDS (2006), is the backdrop of the international and community sustainable development policies that have been pursued. Thus, the objectives of sustainable development involve environmental protection, justice, and social cohesion, economic prosperity, and international responsibility for promoting the establishment and defending the stability of democratic institutions in the World, based on peace, security, and freedom.

Despite all the efforts undertaken still unsustainable trends in climate change and energy use, public health threats, poverty and social exclusion, demographic pressure and aging, resource management biodiversity, land use, and transport, always emerging new challenges.

But although the term “sustainable development” has been vulgarized in the political circles and is commonly referred to in the media, it is fundamental to reflect on its concrete implementation, particularly in the business environment according to BSCD Portugal1.

The response of the business world to this type of sustainability has been to reformulate the environmental problem so that it makes sense in the company considering that an entrepreneurial environmental policy provides a competitive advantage and an increase in profitability and consequently the company's development. The emphasis is therefore placed on maximizing the additional value (more value) with the lower use of resources and less pollution (Paiva & Proença, 2011).

However, it has been noted that it is not enough to modify the business models to include environmental pressures but to create a business culture to facilitate the implementation of these environmental programs (Ottman 2011; Lozada & Mintu-Winsatt,1996; Wazik, 1996).

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