Inspiration for Accomplishing Sustainable Innovation

Global best practices from the Most Innovative Companies in the world
Inspiration for Accomplishing Sustainable Innovation
Publ. date 20 Feb 2014
Sustainable innovation is transforming the competitive landscape. By aligning sustainability with business objectives, companies develop competencies that competitors will find difficult to match. Competitive advantages are not limited to higher revenues from better products and new businesses, but eco-efficiency practices can also lead to major cost savings.

Sustainability is the new frontier for innovation. Deriving from Fast Company’s recently published 2014 selection of The World’s Most Innovative Companies, we would like to highlight three recent examples to prove sustainable innovation is not out of your league.

Nike: Incorporating Sustainability 

The world’s leading innovator in sports equipment released the Making app in the summer of 2013. Nike developed the app as an evolution resulting from their sustainable business objective: reducing the use of hazardous chemicals in the creation of its products with 100% by 2020. By downloading the Making app, companies are able to measure the environmental impact of using a particular material. "We’ve created an enormous database of materials and turned it into an index for the entire industry,” says Hannah Jones, Nike’s VP of sustainable business and innovation. In the meantime the app already has been downloaded in 23 countries and two design schools have initiated the app into their curriculum.

Braskem: Plastic 2.0, the green version 

With the global demand for renewable raw material in their mind, Brazil’s largest petrochemical producer developed an innovative way of producing ‘green plastic’. While plastic is generally made from petroleum, Braskem uses its homeland’s renewable resource instead: sugarcane. The $19 billion company obtains ethylene, the hydrocarbon raw material which is used for making plastic, from sugarcane ethanol. Greenhouse gasses are reduced with two tons of carbon dioxide for each ton of green polyethylene during the production process. Beneficial for Braskem is the fact that the company can use the same equipment for the green plastic process because conventional plastic has the same physical and chemical characteristics. Green plastic can also be recycled in the same way.

“We are offering a product that actually takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,” says Alexandre Elias, Braskem’s director of renewable chemicals. “We’re providing an alternative for people looking to reduce their carbon footprint." Customers who use the green plastic are offered to apply the 'I’m Green' seal. Currently there are 19 companies and 23 brands making use of it, including Johnson & Johnson and Walmart. In total Braskem produces 200,000 metric tons of green plastic per year. The future looks promising as the company is investing to increase capacity, and with 80 million tons of conventional plastic annually produced, there is plenty of opportunity for green plastic.

Brightfarms: The realization of the urban farm 

‘Fresh vegetables that actually stay longer fresh,’ was the reference point for the Philadelphian startup Brightfarms. The company wanted to reduce the time in transit of vegetables and so they invented the urban farm. Brightfarms started to work with the big stores to grow lettuce, tomatoes and herbs on-site or nearby in large hydroponic greenhouses. This cuts transportation costs and waste and customers benefit from fresh food with a longer expiration date.

The urban farm was founded with an innovative business model. Brightfarms decided to fund almost the entire supply chain, for example the construction of the greenhouses, providing a farmer and managing the crops. In exchange, retail partners like A&B and Cub Foods are committed for ten years to buy produce at prices that don’t exceed inflation. It’s unusual to sign a contract with such a long-term focus, but it guarantees security which is essential for the American startup to penetrate within this difficult industry with thin margins. At present, Brightfarms operates one farm in Philadelphia, but the company is planning to open three more farms this year in Washington, D.C. and Brooklyn.

Support for sustainable innovation? 

Is your company ready to take the next step in sustainable innovation and could you use support during the process? Please contact Jan van der Kaaij, managing partner, at jan@between-us.nl or call +31 6 28 02 18 80 to see how we can help you.

About Nikkie Vinke

Multidisciplinary advisor in ESG benchmarking, sustainability strategy development and execution. | nikkie@finchandbeak.com

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