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Frugal innovation: doing more with less for more

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Prabhu, JC 


The global economy will face significant challenges over the next few decades. On the one hand, it must meet the needs of 7 billion consumers (growing to 9 billion by 2050), including the currently unmet basic needs of large numbers in developing countries in areas such as food, energy, housing and health. On the other hand, it must achieve this growth without exceeding the resources available on the planet or causing environmental devastation. This paper argues that such change is possible through a systemic shift to a frugal economy that involves radical, frugal innovation across sectors. Such a transformation will involve the participation of large and small firms, consumers and governments alike. The paper introduces the notion of frugal innovation—the creation of faster, better and cheaper solutions for more people that employ minimal resources—and discusses strategies and examples of such change already taking place in core sectors like manufacturing, food, automotive and energy in developing and developed economies. It also outlines the role of the interaction between large and small firms as well as between firms and consumers in making change possible, as well as the role of governments in driving change where market mechanisms alone will not suffice.

This article is part of the themed issue ‘Material demand reduction’.



climate change, competitive interaction, economic growth, frugal innovation, innovation

Journal Title

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences

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Royal Society Publishing