The relativity of eco-innovation: Environmental rebound effects from past transport innovations in Europe

D. Font Vivanco*, R. Kemp, E. van der Voet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The term eco-innovation has been coined to label those innovations expected to reduce the life cycle environmental burdens resulting from their use. Claims of environmental superiority are usually supported by technology-oriented analyses, such as product-level life cycle assessment. However, the environmental superiority of an innovation depends not only on its technical characteristics but also on technology-demand interactions. In this article, such interactions are incorporated through the concept of the environmental rebound effect. Using the Dynamic IPAT-Life cycle assessment with Environmental Rebound effect or DILER model, environmental superiority claims of seven alleged transport eco-innovations were evaluated by comparing alternative macro-level scenarios (with and without innovation) for Europe. The results support the claims of environmental superiority of only three out of seven studied innovations. That is, a majority of innovations actually induced increases in various environmental pressures. Such increases can be attributed mostly to the influence of generally noteworthy environmental rebound effects. The magnitude of the rebound effect is found to be highly correlated with two variables: the total change in effective income resulting from the use of the innovation and the difference between the environmental pressures per monetary unit of the studied innovations and that of the rest of consumption. The article contributes to the literature by (a) applying a comprehensive approach to the rebound effect and its relationship with the eco-innovation concept, (b) by calculating original rebound estimates of specific transport innovations and assessing these in absolute terms, as well as by (c) obtaining novel insights into the drivers behind the rebound effect. The counterintuitive results of this study also invite to re-assess the use of technology-oriented tools for guiding environmental policy. Other policy implications of this study relate to the relevance of transport cost differences, the targeted promotion of actual eco-innovations and its combination with broader policies as well as the achievement of higher quality mobility.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-85
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2015


  • Rebound effect
  • Eco-innovation
  • Transport innovation
  • Sustainable transport
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Europe


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