5 tips to create a sustainability-focused innovation culture

A sustainability-focused innovation culture is a mindset that favours the design of products, production and supply-chain processes that take into account the limited nature of the earth resources.

An anti-planned-obsolescence tagline such as “design to last, not for the dump” describes it quite well!

In past posts, I presented why sustainability-focused innovation was the most critical innovation challenge of the 21st century http://wp.me/p2rMHi-5K and large corporate and institutional players initiatives http://wp.me/p2rMHi-6a.

The first step for your organization is to add this dimension to its corporate culture.

Following “common sense” tips might help you succeed:

1 – Green up boards!

Influential shareholders (e.g. pension funds, insurance companies) can lobby for the appointment of board members and senior leaders with a track record of sustainability programs developments.

This list of the 100 most sustainable corporations in the world might help you identify whom to recruit next… http://global100.org/annual-lists/2013-global-100-list.html

global 100 innovation

As well as the shortlist of the sustainability leaders awards: http://www.edie.net/news/5/Congratulations-to-the-Sustainability-Leaders-Awards-finalists-2013/

2 – Add an innovation twist to the sustainability executive committee

A number of large companies have already set up sustainability steering committees. They defined goals around water and energy consumption, CO2 emissions or waste reduction.

Obviously, NGO pressure helped blue chips to take sustainability seriously. Management education now also boosts the understanding of “the triple bottom line concept” (for instance at Kellogg School of Management: http://www.kinglobal.org/about.php).

3 bottom line

However, many middle-size companies still have a journey to begin and baseline environmental performance indicators to gather.

Besides, for many companies, the sustainability dimension, which is both a must for humankind and a growing aspiration of populations, is not yet fully integrated into strategic planning and innovation processes.

A sustainability-focused–innovation executive committee lead by the CEO will ensure more focus and alignment on “innovation with sustainability inside”. It will review sustainability and innovation goals progresses.  It will ensure that both are integrated and that it encompasses all inputs, outputs, projects and functions of the company.

Who should be appointed?

A new dedicated leadership function: the head of sustainability-focused innovation, the heads of marketing, R&D, operations, supply-chain, sourcing, finance, HR and sales.

Nike took some leading steps in that direction: http://www.nikeresponsibility.com/report/content/chapter/our-sustainability-strategy

3 – Launch a centre of sustainability-focused-innovation excellence

A strong leadership team alignment is not sufficient to develop a culture of sustainability-focused-innovation.

It also requires a dedicated and passionate coordination as well as training activities for all functions. Launching an excellence centre is the perfect tool to promote hand in hand sustainability and innovation.

The excellence centre, under the CEO sponsorship, will coordinate the implementation of initiatives, notably in the area of strategic planning, product design, operations and supply-chain.

It can start as a one-man-show with a director level leader in charge of kicking off, communicating and pushing initiatives. It should then expand with a team of experts, champions and project leaders on an ad hoc or permanent basis depending on the projects scale.

4 – Create symbols of pride showcasing your sustainability and innovation mindset

Design and communicate about your innovative, low energy, no waste headquarters, R&D centers, and plants.

Dutch dairy company FrieslandCampina orchestrated a powerful communication campaign with the opening of its sustainable innovation centre by the Dutch Queen. http://www.frieslandcampina.com/english/news-and-press/news/press-releases/2013-10-18-frieslandcampina-innovation-centre-beoordeeld-als-zeer-duurzaam.aspx

News about your green HQ will provide trendy content to the press and bloggers. They will thank you in return with free corporate image improvement that will resonate positively with customers , communities and employees.

UN Headquarter in Copenhagen: http://denmark.dk/en/green-living/sustainable-projects/un-opens-green-headquarters-in-copenhagen/

Spiegel newspaper headquarters in Hamburg: http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/design-architecture/der-spiegel-moves-into-new-green-headquarters/1991

Amazon HQ in Seattle: http://www.sustainableindustries.com/articles/2011/03/amazon-responsible-urban-citizen

It will also prevent negative press coverage such as the one generated by the new “old style” Apple HQ: http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2012/03/13/whats-wrong-apples-new-headquarters

Another way to gain free reputation improvement is to obtain independent recognition of your environmental performance such as expert-based GRI ranking (www.globalreporting.org) or consumer-based rankings (http://www.rankabrand.org).

rankabrand5 – Recognize and reward sustainability-focused-innovation projects

As was done with safety (e.g. Safest plant of the year award, entry sign displaying the number of days without injury), initiatives and achievements related to sustainability-focused innovation projects should be acclaimed publicly and incentivized.

BMW for instance pushes and recognizes suppliers’ innovations in sustainability at the BMW innovation awards: http://www.bmwgroup.com/e/0_0_www_bmwgroup_com/verantwortung/lieferkette/nachhaltigkeit.html

bmw innovation awards

Dow on their side organized a large student sustainable innovation award: http://www.dow.com/sustainability/studentchallenge/

I look forwards to hearing about future sustainable-innovation twists to your corporate culture!