Date of Award

Summer 8-25-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy


Doctoral Program

First Advisor

Dr. Susan Rauchwerk

Second Advisor

Dr. Paul Naso

Third Advisor

Dr. Tara Edelschick


This multiple case study aimed to identify and describe factors and conditions that influence the lives of young people who become innovators of solutions that help the environment. This study involved three unique case studies of ecological innovators, two individuals and one paired team. Each participant had designed, prototyped, or patented an environmental innovation before the age of 30 years. The four primary participants, recruited by word of mouth and snowball sampling, were comprised of one American (U.S.) middle-school girl, one American-Israeli man in his 50s, and the team of a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman, both in their 20s. Each case also included interviews with auxiliary participants, such as parents, teachers, and mentors, who shared their perspective on their primary participant. Data collection for the criterion-based case studies included interviews, observations, published materials about the participants and their contexts, supplemental documents, and artifact collections such as prototype sketches.

Results indicate the eco-innovators in this study (1) had sustained, immersive, and tactile exposure to scientific exploration in and out of school; (2) internalized beliefs and perspectives over time that oriented them towards stewardship of the earth and environmental sustainability; (3) benefitted from relationships with mentors who invested in their development and inspired and challenged them; (4) engaged in activism; (5) maintained a stance of optimism and hope in the face of suffering or witnessing others’ suffering; (6) participated in team-based iteration applied to a concern for an environmental problem; (7) assumed responsibility for things beyond themselves; (8) experienced self-directed engagement with creative problem solving and design; (9) had at least one seminal experience that ignited their motivation to solve or overcome an ecological problem; (10) participated in innovation-focused programs, camps, or school courses; and (11) had lives that indicated the presence of three intertwining, integrated pathways towards eco-innovation: scientific exploration, positive relationships, and an empathetic and empowered response to vulnerability.

Implications and suggestions are provided for educational leaders, teachers and educators, and parents, guardians, and adults who invest in children.

Keywords: eco-innovation, eco-innovator, ecological innovation, environmental innovation

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


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