What is sustainable innovation?

Sustainable innovation is the application of ideas that create useful outcomes which meet current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is a type of innovation that creates solutions to address environmental, economic, social, and governance challenges.

It involves designing products and services that are energy efficient and less wasteful throughout the lifecycle. It drives the creation of new technologies and business models to improve companies’ abilities to manage its resources and responsibly generate profits in the long term. It also includes strengthening the stability and capabilities of communities.

When is sustainable innovation a disruptor?

Sustainable innovation is a disruptor when the adaptation required by a business is competence destroying, i.e., challenges something fundamental to the current business model. It can also be a disruptor when a new entrant introduces a solution that achieves customer preference because it answers a sustainability need that the current solution cannot (e.g., EV vs ICE vehicles).

What are the key drivers of sustainable innovation?

Regulations and Policies: Regulations and policies create incentives for businesses to adopt sustainable practices and invest in sustainable innovation. Examples include carbon emission reduction incentives, renewable energy mandates, and regulations on waste and pollution.

Environmental: Businesses need to reduce the impact of their products, services, and operations on nature. In some cases, businesses need to demonstrate environmental outcomes to win contracts.

Economic: Businesses need to mitigate the impact of climate change on their ability to do business (e.g., depletion of raw materials to produce products). Businesses need to create new technologies and business models to strengthen competitiveness.

Consumer and Social Expectations: Consumers are showing preferences for sustainable products and services at competitive pricing. Social expectations for businesses to demonstrate how they are addressing societal sustainability needs.

Leadership: CEO and top leadership commitment to sustainability (e.g., investment, long-term goals, risk-taking, customer / employee / community value).

What are some examples of sustainable innovation?

These are a few examples of sustainable innovation.

Energy: The development of renewable energies such as solar, wind, and hydropower. This includes the supply-chain to create the energy and the methods to recycle assets (e.g., wind turbines, solar panels).

Sustainable Materials: Waste oil from kitchens is emerging as one of the alternatives to jet fuel. Sustainable packaging solutions using mushrooms and agricultural waste are being tested. Textiles made of shrimp shells, mushroom waste and other biomaterials are in early production.

Agriculture: Industry and governments are investing in drought-resistant seeds to mitigate impact of global warming on food supply.

Green Buildings: The construction industry is designing buildings to be energy-efficient and use sustainable materials.

Why is sustainability now a key driver of innovation?

Sustainability has become a critical driver of competitiveness and long-term success. Businesses need to address how climate change, resource depletion, and social inequality impacts their current business model. It also provides opportunities for new products and services. Innovation can provide solutions to meet challenges and opportunities.

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