Powering Sustainability with Open Innovation

Collaboration and co-creation boost ENGIE’s energy ambitions
Powering Sustainability with Open Innovation
Publ. date 12 Jul 2019
Changing market dynamics, rapid technological growth, and stakeholder pressure to find solutions to today’s toughest challenges requires companies to constantly evolve and develop new practices – if they want to stay competitive. There is no denying that every company can benefit from looking outside its own boundaries to come up with bold, new, and sustainable ideas. However, the search for open innovation and its integration into the company context needs to be done right to drive sustainable business transformation.

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Open innovation as a strategic core

Investments in innovation are essential to developing new competitive advantages and thus vital to securing long-term economic growth. More specifically, research from Booz & Company found that companies with stronger open innovation capabilities were seven times as effective as their peers with weaker capabilities in terms of generating returns on their R&D investments.    

Although the benefits of investing in open innovation are widely recognized, many companies are struggling to reap all the potential rewards. The main issue is that open innovation is usually not truly integrated into the company’s R&D strategy. This, in turn, creates complex open innovation processes where decision-making and execution are often slowed down by limited resources, internal politics and sometimes even company culture.    

Overcoming the challenges linked to the misalignment between innovation efforts and business strategy is crucial to better leverage open innovation. This is confirmed by the aforementioned research, which also found that the size of investments is not a differentiating factor, but rather strategy is what determines the success of an innovation initiative.

Joining unlikely forces for the energy transition    

An example that supports this point is ENGIE, a French multinational electric utility company and industry leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, which is applying the full power of its research and innovation capabilities to become the world leader in zero-carbon transition as a service, as described in its newly released 2019-2021 strategic plan. The group explains that its corporate strategy relies heavily on “an ambitious innovation policy to identify emerging needs and respond to them in an innovative and responsible way”. In addition, the company’s CSR ambition Opening New Opportunities also has a clear link to innovation.  

ENGIE stands out by having an innovation strategy that is aligned with the company’s overall goals and strategy. This alignment enables ENGIE to bring together the necessary capabilities to capture, develop, and commercialize the best sustainable ideas and in turn to gain a financial advantage from open innovation. Specifically, ENGIE’s open innovation approach is based on:    

  • Being transparent and structuring challenges for participation: to make it easy for contributors to collaborate, ENGIE outlines its challenges into categories such as sustainable mobility, smart buildings, and energy storage and describes the desired objective of each call for projects. This enables contributors to know exactly what to work on as well as work on different projects in parallel.    
  • Attracting a diversity of people: innovative ideas often come from unexpected pairings, so it is important to engage the full range of contributors such as customers, inventors, suppliers, academics, and even competitors. ENGIE’s innovation strategy relies on extensive collaboration between its internal and external stakeholders.  
  • Providing the right incentives: companies should have a good understanding of what motivates contributors to participate in open innovation with corporates. In some cases, ENGIE provides financial incentives, while in other cases, contributors are motivated by recognition and visibility as well as the access to the company’s networks and contacts.    

Want to strengthen the link between corporate strategy and open innovation?    

Corporates can no longer ignore the imperative to innovate – especially in order to avoid being disrupted by today’s startups. As ENGIE showcases, companies can realize the gains from open innovation if it is made a core part of their strategy. If you are interested in learning more about how Finch & Beak helps companies ensure that they are focusing on what matters most to them, please contact Bas Nuijten, Senior Consultant, at bas@finchandbeak.com or say hello by calling +31 6 28 02 18 80.  

About Camille Simm

Passionate young professional aiming at bridging sustainability and corporate strategy. | camille@finchandbeak.com

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