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Innovation and Sustainability


DeloitteI just finished reading the paper “Sustainability-Driven Innovation: Harness Sustainability’s Ability to Spark Innovation” by Daniel Aronson, Director of Sustainability at Deloitte. The paper examines the relationship between the integration of sustainability within a company and the likelihood of innovation resulting from sustainability. The main takeaways from the paper for me are:

  • Sustainability is strongly tied to the ability of the company to innovate
  • Sustainability drives innovation in a very significant way
  • Findings indicate that sustainability leaders are more than 400 per cent more likely to be considered innovative leaders
  • The restrictions of sustainability often drive a different way of thinking (think emission taxes driving energy efficiency projects)

I have often said sustainability is a progressive way of thinking and businesses stuck in traditional modes of thinking hinder advancement. I like the statement in the paper that even if your company is not embracing sustainability, it’s likely some of your customers are expecting it. From my experience at TELUS, I would say this is true of all your stakeholders, whether it’s customers, team members or shareholders. Below are a couple examples of how sustainability thinking drives innovation.

Innovation in action

In a world increasingly reliant on electronic devices, we are facing a new sustainability issue: growing electronic waste. I recently read a WWF blog post about their team visiting an electronic waste recycling plant. This quote resonates with me “If the e-waste collected at this location represents only a tiny percentage of e-waste in the world, it’s hard to imagine the amount that we generate. Not to mention, this is stuff that is recycled responsibly! Imagine how much is going to landfill or possibly being shipped illegally overseas.”

One innovative idea I have seen that is tackling the issue of e-waste is Phonebloks. Have you seen this yet?

According to Youtube, over 17 million people have viewed this innovative product. Clearly the folks at Phonebloks approached the issue of how to deal with electronic waste with a sustainability lens that is driving innovation. A traditional business model of thinking would be concerned about this device thinking it would sell less mobile devices, which is not a sustainable for business. A sustainability model of thinking would say innovation leads to further innovation and the opportunities from this idea could lead to increased customer loyalty, engagement and profitability. Plus, it’s clear that traditional models of thinking are not supporting environmental health, which in turn impacts our own well-being.

Are people keen to support innovation? Well, if you look at Neurio Home Intelligence technology on Kickstarter it appears they really do.  Neurio set a goal to raise $95,000 in 30 days and, with 15 days left (as at today’s writing), they have raised $125,000! My point is that clearly there is a network of people that are willing to support sustainable innovation with their voting dollars. In my opinion, sustainability is driving very cool technological innovation.

Approaching middle age, I am determined not to become a traditionalist wanting to “do things the way we always have.” In other words, I don’t want to become that outdated guy viewed as a barrier. While I may not be technologically sophisticated, I can contribute to sustainability driven innovation by pushing for a culture of sustainability. That is how I see my role on my sustainability journey. If the findings by Deloitte show that sustainability leaders are more than 400 per cent more likely to be considered innovative leaders, then trying to be a sustainability leader is what I will continue to do.