Innovation and sustainability are two crucial concepts in today’s world.
Combined, these two concepts create sustainable innovation, a powerful and effective process highly relevant for consumers increasingly becoming conscious of their environmental impact.
As people develop more interest in companies that take a more sustainable approach to their products and services, it would be great to have a guide and a tool that can significantly help drive both sustainability and innovation within organizations.
In this blog, we will explore the various approaches to sustainable innovation and how businesses can incorporate sustainability principles into their innovation process.
What is sustainable innovation?
Sustainable innovation intentionally aims to create and utilize novel technologies, processes, products, or services that cater to current requirements while ensuring that future generations can realize their needs without any adverse impact.
Business-wise, sustainable innovation refers to the deliberate modification of a company’s products, services, or processes with the objective of producing enduring social and environmental advantages while also generating economic profits for the organization.
In summary, sustainable innovation requires a comprehensive approach considering a product’s or service’s entire lifecycle to create innovative and sustainable solutions that promote social and environmental responsibility while maintaining economic viability.
This concept includes every process, from sourcing raw materials to waste disposal.
How are sustainability and innovation related?
Sustainability and innovation are closely related concepts because they aim to create a better future by addressing current challenges and opportunities.
Sustainable innovation means combining sustainability principles with the creative process of innovation to develop environmentally, socially responsible, and economically viable solutions.
Innovation is often driven by solving problems or creating new opportunities.
In contrast, sustainability strives to preserve future generations’ ability to meet their needs without any detrimental effects while meeting our present requirements.
Popular approaches to sustainability
Nowadays, some of the most common sustainability approaches are initiatives that produce both competitive advantage and environmental benefits.
Examples of these sustainable practices include the following:
1. Green design
At its core, green design refers to incorporating environmentally friendly practices in the design of products and processes.
This approach involves optimizing various aspects of design, such as materials sourcing, energy consumption, waste reduction, and end-of-life disposal, with the goal of minimizing food waste, plastic waste, and other negative e impacts on the planet.
Green design can take many forms, from using sustainable materials and energy-efficient manufacturing processes to creating easily recyclable or compostable products.
Example of green design
One example of a company known for its commitment to green design is Interface Inc., a global manufacturer of modular carpet tiles and other flooring solutions.
The company has been a pioneer in sustainable business practices since the early 1990s, when its founder, Ray Anderson, had a transformative moment that inspired him to shift his focus toward sustainability.
Aside from being a certified carbon-neutral enterprise, Interface’s mission now focuses on reversing global warming through four steps:
- Aiming for a zero negative environmental impact manufacturing
- Use carbon as a resource in making products to minimize carbon emissions
- Store carbon via innovation processes as part of their sustainability strategies
- Collaborating with other businesses and influencing them to generate sustainability-oriented creative ideas
Through this program, Interface has defined challenging aspirations for mitigating environmental footprint, such as curtailing greenhouse gas emissions, eliminating waste, and sourcing materials responsibly.
2. Advocating social and environmental campaigns
Social and environmental campaigns can take many forms, including educational programs, community outreach, media campaigns, and policy advocacy.
These campaigns can focus on various issues, such as reducing carbon dioxide emissions, promoting renewable energy, protecting natural resources, promoting sustainable agriculture, and advocating for social justice issues such as poverty, inequality, and discrimination.
Most businesses are now adopting business models prioritizing sustainability and environmental protection, recognizing that these values are increasingly important to customers, employees, and other stakeholders.
Example of advocating social and environmental campaigns
Hewlett-Packard was among the pioneers in achieving sustainability within its operations.
After reporting its greenhouse gas emissions, the company subsequently launched initiatives that eliminate waste, reduce emissions, and limit the use of toxic substances in product manufacturing, particularly cartridges.
The company also implemented a robust recycling program to prevent most manufacturing waste from ending in landfills.
Additionally, it has set an example by advocating for environmental responsibility through its advertisements that promote green initiatives.
3. Embracing the circular economy
Companies can embrace the circular economy principles, prioritizing resource efficiency and waste reduction.
This concept involves designing products for reuse, recycling, and refurbishment. It also aims to create closed-loop supply chains where materials are continually repurposed.
Moving away from the traditional “take-make-dispose” model of the linear economy, the circular economy seeks to create a more sustainable, resilient, equitable, regenerative economic system.
In addition to its environmental benefits, embracing the circular economy can also have economic benefits for companies.
By reducing waste and increasing resource efficiency, companies can save costs, improve their bottom line, and increase their competitive advantage.
Example of embracing the circular economy
In 1993, Patagonia utilized recycled polyester derived from plastic soda bottles to produce its outdoor apparel.
Currently, the company employs a recycling system that utilizes bottles, manufacturing waste, and used Patagonia garments to create polyester fibers for their clothing line.
Moreover, the environmentally conscious company offers Guppyfriend a washing bag that minimizes the number of synthetic microfibers that may enter the oceans.
How to do sustainable innovation
Sustainable innovations are essential for modern business.
Companies prioritizing sustainability in their innovation efforts can create value, reduce waste, and contribute to a better world.
Here are six steps that you can apply to achieve sustainable innovation:
1. Establish your focus areas
Identify the areas in which the project aims to create a positive impact.
Choose which areas to include to create a sustainable engineering project. Think of the environmental, social, and economic aspects critical to the project’s sustainability.
For instance, you may focus on reducing your carbon footprint, promoting energy efficiency, creating eco-friendly products, or promoting social equity while trying to incorporate economic growth.
By defining the scope, you can determine the goals and objectives of your sustainable initiatives and ensure that they align with your overall sustainability strategies and innovation process.
2. Set up a mission (campaign)
Create a campaign that aligns with the focus areas previously identified.
Design a comprehensive plan outlining the strategies, tactics, and activities required to achieve the project’s goals.
This plan should coincide with the project’s focus areas. Don’t forget to include a clear roadmap that guides the project from start to finish. That way, the project could meet its objectives, stay on track, and achieve its desired outcomes.
On a side note, inviting many stakeholders to participate in your sustainability innovation campaign would benefit the project.
If you include employees, customers, suppliers, and other external partners in the process, you can generate a diverse range of ideas and perspectives that can improve the quality and effectiveness of your sustainable innovation project.
3. Score and select the best ideas
Evaluating, scoring, and selecting the best ideas is crucial to identify the most promising and impactful concepts that align with the project’s sustainability goals.
To score and select the best ideas, establish clear evaluation criteria reflecting the innovation campaign’s focus areas and mission.
These criteria could include environmental impact, social responsibility, economic viability, scalability, and alignment with the company’s sustainability strategy.
Once the evaluation criteria are established, businesses should develop a scoring system to evaluate each idea objectively and consistently.
This system should be transparent and communicated to all stakeholders to ensure they understand the process and criteria for evaluating their ideas.
After scoring the ideas, businesses should select the most promising ones based on their potential to create sustainable value.
It is important to note that selecting the best ideas is not a one-time event but an iterative process that involves continuous evaluation and refinement.
As the project progresses, new ideas may emerge, and existing ideas may need to be revised based on new information and feedback.
4. Prepare a comprehensive report
Develop a comprehensive report that highlights the outcomes of the innovation campaign and details the selected ideas for implementation.
The report should include an action plan that outlines a clear path for executing the project.
Apart from describing the selected ideas, the report should offer an extensive action plan that explains the resources, timelines, and responsibilities required to implement the project successfully.
This action plan must have a defined timeline that specifies the key milestones and deadlines for the project and the necessary resources, such as funding, personnel, and materials.
Additionally, the report should allocate each stakeholder’s responsibilities and detail their roles and contributions to the project’s success. This approach will ensure that everyone involved in the project understands their responsibilities and is accountable for their actions.
5. Execute the project
Begin implementing the sustainable innovation project. See that the project aligns with the company’s sustainability strategy and values and creates sustainable value for all stakeholders.
Also, don’t forget to monitor your progress and adjust the plan as necessary. Communicate updates to every participant, so everyone knows the project’s status and can suggest modifications as needed.
Make Accept Mission your partner in sustainable innovation.
Accept Mission is a tool that you can use to facilitate and manage sustainable innovation campaigns. By partnering with us, you can streamline the process of sustainable innovation and ensure that your initiatives are aligned with your sustainability and innovation strategies.
Whatever your business model, our software can help shape your sustainable innovation campaigns. We can help you set up clear campaigns and invite stakeholders to participate.
You can also evaluate ideas and create action plans for implementation with everyone on onboard. Our tool provides a user-friendly interface that makes it easy to collaborate and share ideas with stakeholders from within and outside the organization.
By using Accept Mission, you can leverage the collective knowledge and creativity of your employees, customers, and other stakeholders to generate diverse ideas for sustainable innovation.
With us, you can identify and implement new solutions that create sustainable value. Book a demo here.