Universiteit Leiden

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The environmental rebound effect: a new paradigm for an old challenge. The case of transport eco-innovation

What is the role of the rebound effect in achieving environmental savings from transport eco-innovation? Are traditional definitions of the rebound effect adequate in the context of transformative innovations and multidimensional environmental issues?

2012  -   2016
The project is funded by the EU FP7 project EMInInn The project is funded by the EU FP7 project EMInInn


This project is carried out jointly with the partners of the EMInInn project:

Short abstract

Current transport systems are associated with complex and multidimensional environmental issues such as global warming and urban pollution. Policymakers see in eco-innovation a way to deal with such issues, yet the outcomes are not always as expected. The intertwinement between technology and the other elements of socioeconomic systems sometimes brings unexpected results. One of the causes of such divergence is the so-called rebound effect. However, the classical definition of the rebound effect, focused on energy efficiency, may be insufficient in the context of transformative innovations dealing with multiple environmental issues. This PhD project aims to develop the concept of the environmental rebound effect, and test its usefulness in a case study on transport eco-innovation.

Project description

Transport eco-innovation does not always deliver the expected environmental savings. A more efficient car can induce extra travel through economic savings, or an electric car may be used as an alternative car rather than as a replacement. Including such considerations into the environmental assessment of innovations is thus key in achieving environmental targets.

The so-called rebound effect provides an explanation to the divergences between the actual environmental savings and those from engineering-based methods. However, being traditionally focused on energy efficiency, it gives an incomplete picture of all the unintended environmental consequences. A more complete picture can be obtained through the environmental rebound effect (ERE) concept, which is expressed as a multidimensional value and allows to study broader technical changes.

The ERE results of various transport eco-innovations show reasons for concern, as both its occurrence and magnitude may be higher than that described through traditional definitions. For instance, the ERE would be higher for those environmental pressures that are uniformly caused across economic sectors, as extra consumption from economic savings may offset environmental gains more easily.

These findings can help in the design of policies targeting environmental savings through eco-innovation, for instance by identifying key innovations or technology areas. In this sense, adequate policy mixes, especially those combining economic instruments, have the potential to mitigate or revert the detrimental consequences posed by the (environmental) rebound effect.

CML has an extensive research history in the field of sustainability  assessment and the application of tools such as life cycle assessment (LCA). The interdisciplinarity and the high technology detail offer a unique view on complex and multidimensional environmental issues, including the study of the rebound effect.