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Business Success Through Sustainable Innovation

Tue, 12 May 2015

Contributed by Business in the Community
In Responsible Business Week 2015 (April 20-26), Sam Etherington, winner of the 2014 Shell LiveWIRE Future Impact Award, shared a high-level panel platform with some of the world’s leading companies on how innovation is increasingly going hand-in-hand with sustainability and business growth. 
Hosted by 3M and Business in the Community this conference brought together delegates from a broad range of sectors, to explore how innovative environmental and social thinking is being integrated into corporate strategies and processes. This is a huge issue facing the business community as the pace of change is speeding up and companies must keep up and innovate or lose valuable opportunities. To be sustainable, innovation must be fully integrated and not confined to the lab bench but extended throughout the organisation right up to the board table.
Wynne Lewis, Technical Director R&D at 3M UK, Ian Ellison, Sustainability Manager at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and Andrew Hinckley, Executive Head of Anglo Platinum Marketing, agreed that permission to fail is vital to building a culture of sustainability and innovation. As Sam pointed out, “Lots of innovations fail, but we can learn from them and then produce something better.”

Does size matter when it comes to innovating for the future? Ian Ellison from JLR argued that innovation is often about transforming very small things that have huge cumulative impact, such as the weight of individual parts. This is really important for JLR’s engineers in terms of sustainability. But when it comes to innovation, delegates felt that there is a ‘no one size fits all’ approach and that the adoption of a flexible business model is key. Collaborative cultures allow multinationals to accommodate, support and promote mutually beneficial and sustainable ventures with SMEs and start-ups. 3M creates value by investing in innovation to transform money into knowledge and back into money. Sam felt it was easier for start-ups to come up with ideas that are inspired by sustainability – big companies’ employees are often very constrained by systems and processes, which doesn’t help foster a culture of innovation. However, commercialising ideas is a barrier for start-ups as they don’t have the capital, which is why some forward-thinking companies like Shell and Anglo-American are investing in new innovations from start-up entrepreneurs.
Of course, there are potential risks and barriers to innovating for sustainability and at the conference delegates discussed the need for more innovation in their systems and processes in order to bring forward sustainable solutions to the huge challenges ahead.  Companies must spend more time innovating for a sustainable future so that they can make the products and services that meet society’s needs.
Inspired by the panel debate, the Chair, Sally Uren, CEO of Forum of the Future, put forward her criteria for companies to achieve successful innovation:
  • I – invention plus (merging soft and hard skills)
  • N – nurture culture innovation
  • N – new collaboration
  • O – it’s OK to fail
  • V – value creation (not just financial but societal and environmental)
  • A – a mind-set of innovation
  • T – target materials
  • I – I can do it
  • O – open innovation (bringing the outside in)
  • N – networks (coaches, technical experts, etc. –networks that allows scaling)

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