Determination of the system boundary for the measurement of sustainability performance

Another critical challenge that arises in the measurement of sustainable innovation is related to the decision on the system boundary for the measurement. For instance, the reduced input use and minimization of input wastage of synthetic agro-chemicals (fertilizer and herbicides) lead to many benefits that can be recognized at different levels. As a direct consequence, less use of agro-chemicals reduces the cost of production and enables a company to earn premium prices while strengthening the market image of its tea. Since this is a direct economic benefit, the evaluation of the performance of sustainable innovation does not offer a problem (Rauter et ah, 2019). Many other benefits are enjoyed at different levels of society. Lower use of agro-chemicals reduces the exposure of estate workers to their harmful impacts. Besides, the minimal escape of these inputs into the environment improves the water quality of the people who are dependent on the water sources originating from the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka. Minimization of agro-chemicals also brings down agro-chemicals residue levels of a product, in this case, the “made tea” benefiting the end consumers who are mostly in different countries.

Hence, it will be necessary to have a clear idea of the assessment of sustainable innovation performance such as the company level, estate worker level, regional level, national level, or international level. As Kiefer et al. (2019) highlight, sustainable innovations produce results at macro, meso and micro levels. In assessing sustainable innovation performance, the determination of the boundary for the measurement of sustainable innovation will be a critical challenge.

Determination of the time horizon for the measurement of sustainability performance

Particularly in the plantation agriculture industry in which the perennial crops are grown, it takes a considerable amount of time to witness the full effects of the impact of sustainable innovations (Gunarathne & Peiris, 2017). As Berrone and Gomez-Mejia (2009) note, since the link between environmental (or sustainable) actions and financial performance is not straightforward, it takes time for the sustainable performance to come to fruition. For instance, the extension of the canopy of tea bushes under the SSTB method gives an increased yield over many years. Similarly, the improvements in the soil conditions and the health of the tea bush due to the absence of herbicides in the HFIWM method can give benefits to a plantation company over a considerable period, sometimes over the full life cycle of a tea bush.

If a short period is considered for the assessment of the performance of sustainable innovations, some of the benefits will be underestimated, and hence, the innovation may be underrated. However, a more extended period may not be feasible due to changing climatic conditions, fluctuations in the market conditions, and other factors that are unpredictable and uncontrollable. This challenge is rooted in the “dynamism” of sustainable innovations in which interconnected factors of change and evolve over time, leading to varying results (Silvestre & Jirca, 2019). Therefore, there is a challenge in selecting the most suitable period for the assessment of sustainable innovations.

Variability in the sustainability performance on the nature of the biological assets

As already mentioned, the plantation agriculture, pulp and paper, forestry, and farming industries are characterized by the possession of biological assets that are subject to a natural and mostly uncontrollable transformation process. This unique feature of the industry can lead to complications in the measurement of sustainable innovation performance. For instance, the health and vigour of a tea bush can have a significant impact on the recovery of tea bushes after pruning. It leads to a varying number of shoots that arise from a pruned tea bush and the subsequent yield. Hence, this variability of sustainable innovation performance due to the nature of the biological asset poses another major challenge in determining the level of innovation performance. This challenge can again be traced to the character of “dynamism” in sustainable innovations (Silvestre & Jirca, 2019).

Variability of the sustainability performance on the innovation process

The two innovations described in the chapter can be identified as process innovations that involve a series of inter-related steps that should be performed with caution. Accordingly, in the SSTB method, factors such as the pruning height from the ground level and the size and spread of branch frame left after pruning can affect the number of branches, their length, and the time taken to grow and attain the required maturity. The post-pruning activities such as proper and timely mossing and ferning, weed management methods, appropriate nutrient management, and maintenance of healthy soil conditions too impact on the post-pruning recovery of tea bushes and the yield. The process involved in sustainable innovation (e.g., pruning and post-pruning activities) will inevitably determine the extent of the sustainable innovation performance and hence leading to changing performance outcomes.

Variability of the sustainability performance on uncontrollable factors

In addition to some of the factors described above, a host of socio-cultural, economic, environmental and technological factors can significantly decide the sustainability performance of the innovations. For instance, in the tea industry, weather and soil conditions, the presence of pests and diseases, and time of the year during which pruning is undertaken, too, are a few other factors that decide the post-pruning behaviour of tea bushes and the subsequent crop yield. While these uncontrollable factors result in a wide variability of sustainable innovation performance, the simultaneous presence of many factors also poses a challenge in isolating the impacts separately.

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