Are you generating sustainability-focused innovation around you? (Part 2: WHAT)

WHAT are large players doing around sustainability-focused innovation?

The last post presented why reducing natural resources consumption is certainly the most critical innovation challenge of the 21st century, notably due to the rise of a large urbanized middle-class in emerging countries. http://wp.me/p2rMHi-5K

International organizations began to set a framework, laws and incentives to tackle the most crucial issues around the use of natural resources. This is good news and a must. However, geopolitical negotiations are always a slow and bumpy process…

The UN report on the « post 2015 development agenda » is a good example of the delicate trade-off between the weight of sustainability versus economic development. It describes innovation as essential to generate growth for developing countries but mostly omits the stress of a much larger urbanized middle-class on natural resources.

http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/policy/untaskteam_undf/thinkpieces/28_thinkpiece_science.pdf (Copy-paste and reload the link if the PDF file does not open)

Of course, other more sustainability-focused initiatives are implemented at the institutional level, but will it be enough?

See following links to OECD, UN and NRDC initiatives:

http://www.uncsd2012.org/index.php?page=view&nr=470&type=13&menu=23

http://www.oecd.org/env/consumption-innovation/

http://www.oecd.org/sti/inno/43423689.pdf

http://www.nrdc.org/greenbusiness/cmi/

(copy-paste and reload the link if PDF files do not open)

In the private world, some large corporations began to address the natural resources challenges. Sadly, a major part of Corporate sustainability actions are still too often “green washing” or very borderline in terms of real impact (e.g. bioplastic is still mainly based on generation-1-technology, using food-crops for Soda plastic bottles production…)

Hopefully, when CSR and bottom line meet, the earth is also the winner: shortages of raw materials drive up production costs. A lower consumption becomes a must to please shareholders and keep customers, which as a bonus also benefits the whole society.

This is where innovation kicks in for private companies, because they need to rethink their products and their way to do business in general:

Often, they start by redesigning their packaging. They also try to create more compact products. Think about the impact on natural resources when P&G designs concentrated washing powders: production requires less cardboard, plastic, minerals, trees, water and energy. More products can be transported in a single payload, thereby saving on freight cost and Co2 emission rights. P&G improves it’s bottom line as a result.

This example shows possible win-win situations between the profit objectives of large corporate natural resources consumers such as P&G or Walmart and the protection of the commons; this unique earth that belong to mankind.

See some links illustrating their journey towards sustainability:

http://www.pg.com/en_US/sustainability/environmental_sustainability/environmental_vision.shtml

http://diversityandcommerce.biz/pg-provides-leadership-in-sustainable-packaging-journey-p860-113.htm

http://www.pg.com/en_IN/sustainability/environmental_sustainability/environmental-sustainability-initiatives-in-india.shtml

http://www.scienceinthebox.com/environmentally-friendly-packaging

http://www.walmartstores.com/sites/sustainabilityreport/2009/en_w_packagingreduction.html

Achieving these results that reduce natural resources consumption requires innovation along many dimensions, from product to supply chain and business model. These innovation initiatives are a must but still very mainstream…

In a more disruptive approach, some eccentric or visionary entrepreneurs along with US and European space agencies already envision mining extra-terrestrial raw materials, on the moon and other nearby planets:

The ESA launched a moon base 3D printing project http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Technology/Building_a_lunar_base_with_3D_printing

GoogleLunarXprize incentivizes the landing of explorer robots on the moon (http://www.googlelunarxprize.org/prize-details/why-google-lunar-xprize) with participants such as moonexpress (http://moonexpress.com), Rocket City Space Pioneers that plans to mine the moon for Energy-rich Helium3 (http://www.rocketcityspacepioneers.com/space/mining-the-moon-for-helium-3). Planetary Resource company on their side aim at capturing mineral-rich asteroids (http://www.planetaryresources.com)

Moonmining

(Photo: ESA)

This collection of governmental and private initiatives shows clearly that long-term strategists understand the critical situation looming for many natural resources…

All of us, business leaders, scientists, students, voters should be influencing our companies, universities, political representatives to dream, create and invest in a new type of global modern society that constrains our overall natural resources consumption and wastage.

In the next post, I will present some key best practices to achieve sustainability-focused innovation around you.

In the meantime, speak up for sustainability-focused innovation, products and business models!

Are you generating sustainability-focused innovation around you? (Part 1: why?)

Part 1: WHY is sustainability-focused innovation critical?  

Because limited natural resources are the basis of our modern lives.

Sand is the base ingredient needed to form concrete, glass and silicon chips. Without sand, large-screen TVs would be called theatre, roads would be muddy, mankind would sleep in caverns and computers would have remained counting frames.

Copper is essential to build basic infrastructures for energy transport. It is therefore strategic for emerging countries that are getting urbanized.

Petroleum and now maize crops are key feedstock for producing polymers. They enable you to drive light cars and drink Coke.

Megatrends analysis and demography modelling show clearly that decades to come will add hundreds of millions to the global population and that hundreds of millions will access middle class and urbanize. (see my previous post on Megatrends: https://smartinnovation.org/2012/07/23/megatrends-a-framework-to-strategically-rethink-your-business/)

If emerging countries consume like the developed world did in the past decades, you can imagine that our modern societies on a crowded earth will push the stress on natural resources to their limit…

To illustrate this thought, I would like to share with you the video of the “Story of stuff”, which provides a blunt picture on the workings of our modern societies in relation to natural resources:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GorqroigqM

Another video, “Sand Wars” from Denis Delestrac that investigated the human lifestyle impact on sand reserves generates a powerful picture: in tomorrow’s world, there will be no beaches anymore for kids to play and adults to relax…

Sandwars

The truth is that reducing by all means natural resources consumption is certainly the most critical innovation challenge of the 21st century.

In the next post, I will tell you more about what large institutional and corporate players are doing around sustainability-focused innovation.

You will hear about United Nations programs, P&G initiatives and NASA’s crazy dreams. From down to earth to the sky’s the limit sustainability-focused innovations…

Stay posted…