There are tremendous opportunities to develop new innovations that help to manage the environmental and social challenges we face. We need to learn from those who are using sustainability to drive new business value. We also need to generate new ideas and build productive partnerships.
Although not everyone is currently on-board when it comes to sustainable innovation, it should be clear to thinking people that all of the brand leaders of the future will be sustainable. The combination of resource scarcity, increasing fuel costs, extreme weather related supply chain disruptions, and rising consumer awareness are among the many factors that make innovation in sustainability one of the most valuable endeavors of the modern age.
Given the tremendous benefits and the overwhelming logic of sustainable innovation why have we not seen more progress? The simple answer is that people and organizations are reluctant to change and even when they are prepared to change they often do not know where to start.
To cultivate sustainable innovation we will have to change direction and that entails some very significant differences in the way we think and the way things are done. We must develop and adapt new ways of looking at the world, novel skill sets and new tools. Sustainable innovation is also a highly collaborative endeavor and while this type of cooperation is gaining ground, it reflects an approach to business that is very different from the business strategies of the past.
Some additional answers are reviewed in an article by Jennifer Woofter, the founder and president of Strategic Sustainability Consulting, a boutique firm specializing in helping rapidly growing mid-size businesses integrate sustainability into their business model. In response to the question of why sustainable innovation has not gained more ground, Woofter references a course titled Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations, by David A. Owens of Vanderbilt University.
According to Owens, hurdles to innovation can come from six different places:
1. Individuals Do Not Have the Mindset: It is hard to learn how to think differently and challenge assumptions.
2. The Group’s Culture Does Not Support Risk: It is one thing to have great ideas, it is quite another to be involved with an organization that is welcoming of change. Corporations tend to be averse to disruption and they commonly fear the risk and expense associated with change.
3. Your Organization Is Not Structured to Move Ideas through to Production: When innovative ideas are accepted they are commonly shut down because there is no clear path for moving an idea through the corporate hierarchy, and the brilliant innovative idea flounders in no-man’s land.
4. The Market Doesn’t See Value in Your Innovation: Many great innovations are ignored because it is hard to diffuse your innovation through society (or your customer base). Therefore the idea does not get the traction it needs to scale.
5. Society Doesn’t Accept Your Idea as Legitimate: Innovation must be seen as palatable, otherwise your target audience will not embrace the change.
6. The Technology Is Not There: There is often a lack of existing technology to realize the innovation sought. Even if it is feasible, innovations will often be shelved if the technological requirement are too complex, too expensive, or too restricted to use in practical applications.
Part of effective sustainable innovation involves anticipating and proactively overcoming obstacles. From an organization’s perspective it is vital to foster an atmosphere that is prepared to consider new ideas as well as delineating clear path to put these ideas into practice. Successful sustainable innovations must also factor shareholder preferences and concerns.
© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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