Exploring Ethical Decision Making in Responsible Innovation: The case of innovations for healthy food

In Blok V., Tempels T. H., Edwin Pietersma & Jansen L. (eds.), Responsible Innovation 3. Springer International Publishing. pp. 209-230 (2017)
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In order to strengthen RI in the private sector, it is imperative to understand how companies organise this process, where it takes place, and what considerations and motivations are central in the innovation process. In this chapter, the questions of whether and where normative considerations play a role in the innovation process, and whether dimensions of RI are present in the innovation process, are addressed. In order answer these research questions, a theoretical framework is developed based on Jones’s theory of ethical decision making and Cooper’s stagegate model of innovation management. In order to answer the research questions, a specific case of innovations that contribute to public health is explored, namely, that of food companies that participate in a Front-of-Pack logo for healthier food. As the use of healthy food logos does not necessarily have a positive impact on sales and profits, it is expected that in the decision-making process, as part of their innovation process, companies make several trade-offs between economic, technical and moral factors. As the social-ethical values at stake in corporate innovation processes have remained to a large extent unexplored in research on innovation management, the aim of this chapter is to identify the motivations and barriers for companies embracing and continuing a FoP logo for healthier food, and to assess whether ethical considerations play a role in this innovation process. From the findings in this research, it will become clear that although the studied companies participated in a programme for healthy food and thus are responsive to the needs of society, and although the companies feel responsible for public health, ethical considerations do not play a central role in the operational innovation process. Instead, technical and economic considerations seem to prevail in the operational innovation process. Furthermore, none of the procedural dimensions of RI seems to be present at this level in the innovation trajectory. It is argued that this may be an indication that the ethical decision-making process for RI is not located at the level of the operational innovation process itself, but is something that might be located on a higher strategic level in the company. It is at this level that the moral decision is taken to adopt the FoP logo and to engage in the RI process. The findings cast a new light on the discourse on RI in general, and in the private sector in particular.

Author Profiles

Ludger Jansen
PTH Brixen College
Vincent Blok
Wageningen University and Research


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