Sustainability and innovation: the trend toward Frugal innovation

Sustainability and innovation: the trend toward Frugal innovation

The current efforts to find solutions to environmental issues have introduced frugal innovation in various sectors as the ultimate aim of sustainability and not just a way.


Sustainability is the ultimate search for a long-term equipoise of financial, social, and ecological needs of humanity, and in the name of future generations. This is a kind of a non philosophical definition of frugality.

Frugality is usually described as an “Art of living”, which implies low material consumption and a simple lifestyle, to open the mind for spiritual goods as inner freedom, social peace and justice.

In recent years, many efforts have been made in the aim to find solutions to environmental issues such as pollution and global warming by introducing sustainable innovation into various industries. These moves have created new business opportunities for traditional enterprises and enabled creativity of startups. 

What is frugal innovation?

There are various definitions and characterisation of frugal innovation. According to Pr Rajnish Tiwari, Senior researcher in the Center for Frugal Innovation, Germany: “Frugal innovations seek to create attractive value propositions for their targeted customer groups by focusing on core functionalities and thus minimizing the use of material and financial resources in the complete value chain. They substantially reduce the cost of usage and/or ownership while fulfilling or even exceeding prescribed quality standards.”

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However, what gave sustainability the widespread recognition it enjoys today, was the UN World Commission on Environment and Development report “Our Common Future” in 1987. This report was described as “A global agenda for change” that aims to to propose and share long-term environmental strategies for achieving sustainable development. 


Frugal innovation is considered for now as the approaches of rethinking, reengineering, and reconfiguring. It’s imperative and a means to an end at the same time. It’s affecting the suppliance chain of goods, the fashion and all sectors of industry.



Some capital owners described frugal innovation as a “threat” but others recognize it as an opportunity for new markets and projects that will move the industry forward in its thinking both in how it uses technology, and in how it approaches sustainability purposes. However, frugality’s acceptance as a societal value may differ between the developing and the developed world.

In Germany, a research from Frugal Innovation Center in 2017, has investigated the potentials, challenges and societal relevance of frugal Innovations. The experts conducting this research opined that “frugal products and services (should) focus on the customers’ core needs and reduce unnecessary complexity while adhering to high quality standards.”

For Pr Tiwari and his group, the trend towards frugal solutions in Germany is due to a complex interplay of various factors. One notable factor was the “frugal choices” by parts of the German society as a growing appreciation of moderation and voluntary simplicity. The second main factor was the need for companies to secure long-term competitiveness in unsaturated markets in the emerging economies. 

Despite the great technology innovation experienced in the world, several challenges have emerged for the actual implementation of frugal concepts in the product development process, mainly the complexity-embracing innovation pathways by engineers in German firms and the need to get local knowledge of emerging markets as in Asia in order to successfully meet market demands and to maintain frugality goal. 

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