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Eco-innovation: Creating an innovation and sustainability strategy

With the scale of environmental problems, social inequalities, and the challenges of competitiveness in the global economy, there is a growing need to change and renew business today.

At best, this awareness can produce innovative responses that gradually move society on a path to more sustainable growth.

That is where the concept of Eco-innovation is gaining more and more weight among governments, universities, and organizations. The struggle to create strategies that combine innovation and sustainability is an effort that must be embraced.

Read on to discover our tips for creating innovative strategies focused on sustainability!

Is your company sustainable?

A sustainable company is one that successfully integrates environmental, economic, and social issues into its business operations. 

Stay tuned: many companies that consider themselves sustainable meet only a third of that definition.

According to a survey by Stanford University, in the United States, more than 90% of CEOs say that sustainability is fundamental to success. The amount of attention that a company gives to sustainable strategies is evidence of the CEO’s vision of the future.

The question is: to what degree are these executives engaging with sustainability?

The challenge is to help entrepreneurs feel connected to this challenge, especially if they do not see a return on sustainability investment. 

This barrier must be overcome before the organization as a whole can commit to sustainability.

At the other end of the spectrum are businesses founded with an environmental cause as one of their main principles. The rise of environmentally and socially conscious companies is evident. Sustainability is their purpose, and we know that the impact businesses can have on global sustainability is quite significant. 

Therefore, companies of all sizes and markets need to understand their responsibility towards sustainability to comply with government regulations and reduce their footprint and actively act in social development. This is what we call a positive impact or win-win-win situation – for the user, the company, and society. 

Innovation and sustainability: is it possible to combine them?

An excellent way to promote this awareness in companies is to show executives that it is possible to combine sustainability and innovation, something so necessary in today’s highly competitive market.

That’s what new consumers expect…

Consumers themselves, especially millennials, are becoming more risk-averse when it comes to spending their money. 

They generally spend more carefully than previous generations. However, when they spend, they value standards that favor sustainable brands. 

These consumers prefer to spend their money on brands that preach pro-social messages, apply sustainable manufacturing practices, and exercise ethical business standards.

According to Horizon Media’s Finger on the Pulse, 81% of millennials expect companies to declare their corporate citizenship publicly.

Then, we can say that combining innovation with sustainability is a “two birds, one stone” situation. The company adapts to new consumers, contributes to sustainability, and remains competitive. 

And sustainability goes far beyond going green…

It is also essential to keep in mind that sustainability goes beyond caring for the environment. It involves three main aspects – environmental, economic, and social – each of which must be considered for a true sustainability strategy.

This is not achieved through sheer force of will. It is necessary to structure and execute innovative strategies that bring answers to complex problems, surprise consumers, and reduce business’s negative impacts on the environment and society. 

→ Success case: understand how a large bank managed to create a new banking experience and facilitated financial services for low-income customers!

What is eco-innovation?

It was from this challenge that the concept of Eco-innovation emerged. It has several interpretations, which can be summarized as follows:

→ Eco-innovation is any form of innovation that aims to demonstrable progress towards sustainable development by reducing impacts on the environment or through the efficient and responsible use of natural resources, including energy.

→ It is also creating competitive prices, goods, processes, systems, services, and procedures designed to satisfy human needs and provide a better quality of life for all, along with the minimum use of natural resources per unit of production (materials including energy and surface area), and a minimum release of toxic substances.

→ It is the process of developing new products, processes, or services that continue to provide value to customers and the business while still significantly reducing their environmental impact.

→ Also called “sustainability-oriented innovation,” it is about creating new market spaces, products, or services driven by environmental or sustainability issues.

→ Sustainable innovation is a process in which sustainable considerations (environmental, social, financial) are integrated into the company – from the generation of ideas and marketing to research and development (R&D). This applies to products, services, and technologies, as well as new business models.

How to be an innovative and sustainable company?

In general, experts say that an innovation strategy is usually composed of seven steps:

1- Aligning the business strategy

2- Obtaining executive support

3- Developing an innovation management process

4-Identifying functions and tasks

5-Determining metrics

6 -Developing strategies, processes, and systems continuously

7-Establishing an innovation culture

→ See our e-book on The Culture of Innovation.

Encourage a sustainable mindset

To begin with, the company needs to show that sustainability is of value to the business. This comes from the top, goes through managers, and reaches the members of the operation.

It is crucial to continually communicate the importance of sustainability daily, which will help promote a sustainable mindset. This mentality values ​​being sustainable in all day-to-day corporate actions. 

Build an open innovation strategy

It is also essential to look beyond your organization’s four walls and seek external collaboration for this innovation strategy. 

This attitude is called open innovation, which promotes partnerships with other organizations and research institutions.

The idea is to take advantage of a fresh set of eyes to help circumvent the tendency to think about problems from a single perspective. This will solve many of your sustainability problems while also promoting innovation naturally.

The structure of an innovation laboratory focused on sustainability

It is also worthwhile to put ideas on paper and direct a team in search of innovative and sustainable solutions – in products, services, processes, etc. 

An excellent way to do this is to set up an innovation laboratory/center, in other words, a space that is 100% dedicated to this objective, complete with a team and all the tools needed for the job.

→ Download our e-book on Innovation Labs to see how this works in detail!

Encourage intrapreneurship

Encouraging internal entrepreneurship can also accelerate the process of innovation and sustainability. This means that the company will provide autonomy for people to come together and test ideas that generally would not be explored before it’s gone up the pipeline.

In addition to creating the technical conditions, the company needs to incentivize employees – monetary, recognition, etc. 

Intrapreneurs, when well used, tends to generate a healthy competitive environment and propose innovative solutions with a focus on sustainability. 

New processes, internal commitments, products, and services can emerge from this initiative focused on the environment and social responsibility.

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Did you like the concept of Eco-innovation? Check now our report with the main business trends for 2020!