Sustainable Innovation – What is it and the Industries that are leading – 2024

28 December, 2022
Sustainable innovation trends

What is Sustainable Innovation?

Sustainable innovation refers to the development and implementation of new products, services, technologies, and business models that provide economic and social benefits and protect the environment and natural resources. In other words, sustainable innovation aims to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The concept of sustainable innovation encompasses a wide range of topics, including:
– renewable energy,
– sustainable transportation,
– green building,
– sustainable agriculture, and
– eco-friendly consumer products.

It also involves a systems approach, meaning that it considers not only the environmental impact of a particular product or technology but also its social and economic implications.

What drives sustainable innovation

Sustainable innovation can take many forms, such as the development of new technologies, like hydrogen fuel cells. It may also include the redesign of existing products and systems, like the circular economy where products and materials are kept in use for as long as possible and are eventually recycled.

In any case, it’s important that sustainable innovation is economically viable and socially accepted and not only environmentally friendly.

Innovation is becoming increasingly important as the world faces the twin challenges of climate change and dwindling resources. It can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve natural resources, while also creating new jobs and economic opportunities. This is why there is a growing interest and investment in innovation and sustainability across sectors and regions, not only by governments, companies, and civil society organizations but also by individuals.

Table of contents:

How does Sustainable Innovation work?

Sustainable innovation can be applied to products, services, and processes in several ways:

A. Product design

Sustainable innovation in product design involves creating new products or redesigning existing ones to use fewer resources, reduce environmental impacts, and improve their overall sustainability. For example, this can include using renewable materials, reducing packaging, and designing products that are more durable and can be easily repaired or recycled.


B. Service design

Sustainability innovation in service design involves creating new services or improving existing ones to be more efficient and environmentally friendly. For example, this can include offering car-sharing services instead of car ownership or using teleconferencing to reduce business travel.


C. Process design

Sustainable innovation in process design involves designing new processes or improving existing ones to be more efficient, reduce waste, and reduce environmental impacts. For example, this can include using renewable energy sources, implementing recycling programs, or designing industrial processes that emit fewer pollutants.


D. Business Model Innovation

Sustainable business model innovation is another important aspect of innovation, which involves designing new business models or modifying existing ones to achieve sustainable outcomes. One such example is the circular economy, which shifts the focus from “take-make-dispose” to a closed-loop model, where resources are kept in use for as long as possible.


Types of sustainable innovation

All of these types of sustainable innovation can help companies and organizations reduce their environmental footprint and improve their bottom line through cost savings and new revenue streams. Additionally, sustainable innovation also helps create a better, more equitable, and more resilient future for all. The sustainable innovation process also provides opportunities to come up with innovative ideas that might be outside the normal scope of the business, this can bring new opportunities and competitive advantages.

Sustainable Innovation vs Traditional Innovation

Sustainable innovation differs from traditional innovation in a few key ways.

1. Focus: Traditional innovation is often driven by a desire to create new products or services that are profitable, while sustainable innovation is focused on creating solutions that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This means that sustainable innovation often takes into account factors such as environmental impact, social impact, and economic viability, whereas traditional innovation may only consider the economic viability of a product or service.

2. Scope of the innovation: Sustainable innovation often involves a systems-thinking approach, where multiple interrelated components, such as technology, social systems, and the environment, are taken into consideration. In contrast, traditional innovation may be focused on a single product or service, rather than the wider system in which it operates.

3. Collaborative Approach: Sustainable innovation also often requires a more collaborative approach than traditional innovation, as it often involves multiple stakeholders, including government, business, and civil society.

4. Long-term perspective: Finally, sustainable innovation often requires a longer-term perspective than traditional innovation. Traditional innovation may be focused on short-term gains, while sustainable innovation is focused on long-term, sustainable outcomes.

Sustainable innovation vs Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation and sustainable innovation are two different concepts, but they can be related in some ways.

Disruptive innovation refers to a new product or service that creates a new market and value network, typically by being simpler, more convenient, and more affordable than existing products or services. These innovations often start by appealing to customers who are not well-served by the existing market leaders.

Sustaining innovation, on the other hand, refers to the development and implementation of new products, services, technologies and business models that address environmental and social issues, and reduce the ecological footprint of an industry or society as a whole.

Sustaining innovation vs disruptive innovation

While the two concepts are not identical, disruptive innovation can lead to sustainable innovation in some cases. For example, disruptive innovation in the field of renewable energy, such as the rapid decrease in the cost of solar panels, can lead to more adoption of sustainable energy sources and a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, which has a positive impact on the environment. Similarly, a disruptive innovation in sustainable transportation, like electric vehicles, can lead to a reduction of pollution, and the creation of new clean technology jobs.

Therefore, disruptive innovation can play a role in the transition to a sustainable future by creating new opportunities, business models, and markets that enable more sustainable products and services to be developed and adopted at scale.

Why is innovation important for sustainability?

Another question that comes to mind is why is sustainable innovation important when we can do without it. But can we?

Sustainable innovation is important for a number of reasons:

1. Environmental protection: The planet is facing a number of serious environmental challenges, such as climate change, deforestation, and pollution. Sustainable innovation can help address these challenges by creating products and services that are more environmentally friendly and by finding ways to reduce waste and conserve resources.

2. Social responsibility: Many people around the world still lack access to basic necessities such as food, water, and healthcare. Sustaining innovation can help to address these issues by developing products and services that are affordable and accessible to people in need.

3. Economic benefits: Innovating sustainably can also help to create economic benefits by fostering new industries and creating jobs in the fields of clean energy, sustainable agriculture, and green technology.

4. Long-term viability: As the population continues to grow and natural resources become increasingly scarce, it is important to ensure that our economic and social systems are sustainable over the long term. Innovation can help to create solutions that are viable in the long run, rather than those that are only focused on short-term gains.

5. Improving the quality of life: Sustainable innovation can help to improve the overall quality of life by addressing issues related to health, education, and access to basic services.

How do we make innovation sustainable?

Making innovation sustainable involves a number of steps and considerations. Some key approaches to making innovation sustainable include:

1. Incorporating sustainable principles from the start: When designing new products or services, it’s important to consider factors such as environmental impact, social impact, and economic viability from the very beginning. This can help to ensure that the final product is sustainable, rather than trying to retrofit sustainability into an already-designed product or service.

2. Taking a systems-thinking approach: Sustainable innovation often involves multiple components, such as technology, social systems, and the environment. To make innovation sustainable, it’s important to take a holistic view and consider how all of these components are interrelated and interconnected.

3. Collaboration: Sustainable innovation often requires collaboration between a wide range of stakeholders, such as government, business, and civil society. It’s important to bring together different perspectives and expertise to find sustainable solutions.

4. Long-term perspective: Making innovation sustainable requires a long-term perspective and thinking about the future. This means considering not only the short-term benefits of a product or service but also its long-term impact on the environment and society.

5. Measurement and reporting: Tracking and reporting the sustainability performance of innovations in a transparent and comparable way. This would help monitor the progress and impact of the innovations, and adjust and improve the strategy over time.

6. Incorporating circular economy principles: To achieve a truly sustainable innovation, it’s important to consider how products and services can be designed to minimize waste and optimize the use of resources. Circular economy principles such as product design for repair and remanufacturing, and extended producer responsibility, can help.

How to make sustainable innovation

Industries that are leading in Sustainable Innovation 

Most sustainable businesses today are heading over to innovative technologies. It is one of the greatest challenges in business development today. From consumer to industrial goods, there is a huge opportunity to create sustainable substitutes for the products and services. 

Sustainability trends

However, there has been an exponential rise of sustainable innovation in these top 3  industries. 

1. Architecture and construction 

It is estimated that nearly 40 per cent of the total energy is consumed by the architecture and construction sectors. This allows the industry to employ sustainable innovation. Even though digitalization has streamlined a lot in this industry – project management, environmentally sustainable materials, and plans are being laid across the value and supply chain. 

Even the actual service is now focusing on sustainability – creating sustainable structures that support the natural ecosystem. Successful innovation in architecture would be if the services offered are quality and protects the environment as well. It needs to use technology that is fairer and more efficient. 

  • The objective of sustainable business is to change the paradigms of design and construction. 
  • It is essential to look past the technological future by using the resources available and using them strategically. 
  • It is essential to observe sustainable building that looks into climate change closely and uses local materials – that are truly sustainable.

There are two aspects to sustainability in construction. One is related to the performance, even though a building has no technical output. The other aspect is the process of designing and building structures with creative empathy. Architects can focus on resolving local problems which is an interesting aspect. 


2. Transportation and mobility 

One of the most highlighted sectors that are expected to see sustainable innovation is transportation and urban mobility. It contributes to nearly 30% of the total emissions. A major part of this emission is due to the burning of fossil fuels. The depletion of fossil fuels and the rising population has pushed the industry to the brink of crisis. In order to sustain and grow, innovating sustainably can save the sector, leading to major decarbonisation. 

Not just the end product, but even the operations of making the transportation needs to be sustainable. It can be achieved by reusing parts and using renewable materials to create zero-emission fleet vehicles. 

It is natural to understand that as technology progresses, the emphasis is towards creating unique sustainable innovation. This can push us away from exploiting fossil fuels and using renewable energy alternatives that will keep the industry from moving forward. 


3. Energy processes and utilisation 

With the growth of artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing, automation and other technologies, a cleaner future can be easier to attain in this transition. This triggers the need to improve the environment by bringing better solutions. With technological advancements, there are many trends that are growing in the energy industry. 

1. Solar power

Solar power is one of the most popular sources of energy It is available infinitely and can be run all day without recharge. Renewable energy sources have gained transactions in the solar power industry.


2. Tidal energy

Tidal energy is very similar to solar energy – a consistent source of energy. Scientists have struggled to utilize this because of the geographical locations. It is hard to navigate energy from the ocean to land. It is more prominent in the coastal region.


3. Hydrogen Power

Hydrogen power has the potential to be an essential energy source. It is one of the cleanest and most abundant fuel sources.


Sustainable innovators make new products and services that are upgraded in collision with economic growth and natural systems. This form of creativity looks into materials and energy use. 

International and national industries for emissions, renewable and energy-efficient power, and safer, greener items have all risen quickly in response to this rising worry. Given industrial development rates, the quick ascent of more populations through into the global upper class, and the limited ability of living processes, especially our bodies, to withstand the effects, these industries will keep growing.

Innovative individuals and entrepreneurs often do not focus much on hateful remarks, despite the fact that some people only hear bad news when they hear these phrases. They come up with options via creativity. They see fresh, improved options. To address alleged shortcomings and to remedy issues, they act.

A better understanding of the extent and range of human influence has contributed to the change in viewpoint towards commercial and industrial emissions and its negative effects. For instance, until recently, trash was viewed as a controllable local issue. In other words, difficulties spanning local, regional, and even planetary scales are important ripple effects of industrialisation. Today, our scientific knowledge has improved to detect not just evident acute environmental difficulties as medical conditions but also chemical testimony distant from their source.

Examples of Innovative Sustainability Companies

innovative sustainability companies

Here are a few examples of sustainable innovation in different industries:

1. Renewable energy: Companies such as Vestas Wind Systems and First Solar are developing and producing wind turbines and solar panels that generate electricity with minimal environmental impact.

2. Electric vehicles: Automakers such as Tesla, Nissan, and BMW are producing electric cars that have a much lower environmental impact than traditional gasoline-powered vehicles.

3. Sustainable agriculture: Companies such as Indigo Agriculture and Pivot Bio are developing sustainable farming practices and technologies, such as precision farming and microbial soil treatments, to improve crop yields and reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

4. Sustainable materials: Companies such as Ecovative Design and MycoWorks are developing sustainable materials made from mushrooms, agricultural waste, and other renewable resources that can replace traditional plastics and building materials.

5. Sustainable packaging: Companies such as TerraCycle, Loop and Sustain Natural are working on innovative ways to reduce packaging waste and encourage recycling, such as refillable and reusable packaging and packaging made from recycled materials.

6. Water Management: Companies such as Veolia, Xylem and SUEZ are working on technologies and methods to reduce water consumption in industry and households, improve wastewater treatment, and recycle and reuse wastewater.

Sustainable Innovation Forum

A sustainable innovation forum is a platform or event where people can come together to discuss, share, and learn about sustainable innovation. It typically focuses on how innovation can be harnessed to address environmental and social issues and promote sustainable development.

Some top sustainable innovation forums are:

  • The Sustainable Innovation Forum (SIF) held annually during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP)
  • Sustainable Brands, a global community of brand leaders and sustainability professionals that convenes annual conferences and events worldwide
  • The Global Innovation Summit (GIS), a conference and forum that brings together global leaders and innovators to discuss sustainable development and creating a better future
  • The GreenTech Festival, an annual international event that brings together startups, corporates, investors and experts to discuss sustainability and innovation.

Sustainable Innovation Forum 2023

The Sustainable Innovation Forum 2023 will be taking place alongside COP28 in November 2023. Registering your interest is the best way to stay up to date on all speaker announcements, agenda updates, and event information throughout the year.

The ABCs of Sustainability Development

There is a growing need to adopt a new set of Sustainable Development Goals that aim to “Transform the World”. Change comes with collective effort, mutual understanding and knowledge toward specific goals.

Despite the UN and other international organisations making crucial decisions, the result is far from expected. It made me wonder what it is that we are falling short on? Is it the lack of interest or lack of awareness?

That’s when I had a eureka moment, and it suddenly started to make all sense. Many people don’t know the complicated terms and references that are used when we talk about sustainability. The idea inspired me to create a new series called “The ABCs of Sustainability Development”. I hope that this series of blogs is well received and serves its purpose.


What is sustainable innovation?

Sustainable innovation refers to the development of products, services, or technologies that address social, environmental, and economic concerns while meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.


What are some examples of sustainable innovation?

Some examples of sustainable innovation include renewable energy technologies, sustainable agriculture practices, green building materials, and eco-friendly transportation.


What are the three characteristics of sustainable innovation?

The three characteristics of sustainable innovation are environmental responsibility, economic viability, and social equity.


How do you create sustainable innovation?

To create sustainable innovation, you need to identify a problem that needs to be solved, research potential solutions, design a product or service that addresses the problem, and test and refine the solution based on feedback.


What is sustainable innovation forum?

Sustainable Innovation Forum is a global platform that brings together leaders from businesses, governments, and NGOs to discuss and promote sustainable innovation.


What are the benefits of sustaining innovation?

The benefits of sustaining innovation include reduced environmental impact, improved social outcomes, increased profitability, enhanced brand reputation, and long-term business resilience.


Why is innovation important for sustainability?

Innovation is important for sustainability because it drives the development and adoption of new solutions that can help us address environmental and social challenges while creating economic opportunities.


How is sustaining innovation different from disruptive innovation?

Sustaining innovation involves incremental improvements to existing products or services, while disruptive innovation introduces new products or services that fundamentally change the market.


What are the goals for sustainable innovation?

The goals for sustainable innovation include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting resource efficiency, enhancing social equity, fostering economic growth, and achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


What drives sustainable innovation?

Sustainable innovation is driven by a combination of market demand, regulatory requirements, technological advancements, and social awareness.


What are the challenges for sustainable innovation?

The challenges for sustainable innovation include high upfront costs, uncertain regulatory frameworks, limited consumer demand, lack of access to financing, and cultural resistance to change.


What are some examples of sustainable innovation companies?

Examples of sustainable innovation companies include Tesla (electric vehicles), Patagonia (sustainable apparel), IKEA (circular economy), and Beyond Meat (plant-based meat alternatives).


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