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!

A new blog: inspire & share innovation best practices

Innovation, whether it is about launching new products or adopting new ways to do business shares some features with any new market entry (industries, customer segments new geographies). It is in most cases a slow, difficult, ambiguous process. Outcomes are highly uncertain. It can be at times highly frustrating for those in charge of making it happen. However, it is a very rewarding job from an intellectual perspective and experience gain. Besides, it has the “fun factor” that lacks (at least for people like me) in routine activities. It can also provide large financial rewards to individuals, companies, industries and even countries when the sweetspot is discovered.

But above all innovation, having a flexible mindset and entering new markets in general are a must. The world evolves more quickly every day. Individual tastes change over time. Emerging countries can still produce cheaper than developed ones. Now they even innovate, threatening what advanced countries believed to be their single property. In a global economy, where capital, knowledge and human resources are highly mobile, the capacity to renew itself, to add more value is critical to revitalize growth in the developed world  – leaving austerity and unemployment at bay, rather than shutting down borders and advocating isolation as the solution. It is also one of the keys to exit poverty in emerging nations, enabling them to earn the right to sit at the table of the big nations. The freedom to choose, is better than being a debtors forever.

Making innovation happen is my daily life, with it’s achieved milestones and challenges. Despite common points with any market entry, the path to success in innovation also follows some peculiar rules, which are not well-known. I will share my practical insights in this blog that are relevant to new market entries in general and those more specific to “innovation”. There are people of course who have more experience than I have in this field. I would not hesitate to recommend their books. I am not an academic (though I did study all the theories during my Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA). I am not a consultant (hence don’t expect me to draw to many models).  I am also not a native English speaker (don’t expect language wonders here). I am an industry practitioner, in charge of leading on a daily basis an innovation program aiming to introduce a game-changing technology. I am also a believer in the benefits of innovation.

This blog will contain notably best practices, innovators interviews, innovative ideas presentations and polls, books and articles recommendations, and more to come around ideas that can improve our world.

My intention is to inspire you to question status quo (in your company and in life in general) and share practical experience. My goal is to help you transform ideas into tangible (and profitable) realities that improve life. Hope I will help!

Be open – Be passionate – Have fun – Challenge status quo – Dare to act – Improve life