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Sustainability-driven innovation: how it can help your business

Adopting sustainability-driven innovation practices can bring many benefits to your business. As well as helping the environment, it can reduce your costs, build your resilience and give you a real competitive advantage. Learn six ways you can apply these practices across your operations and get ten key principles that will help evaluate your products.

Over the next few decades, as the world’s population is expected to rise, the social and environmental issues we face today are likely to become more important than ever before. There’s no doubt that this will reshape the global economy. 

This is a challenging time to run a business, and it's even harder to create and sustain profitable growth. To adapt to these changes, many companies are looking for more sustainable ways to create and improve their products and services. 

What is sustainability-driven innovation?

The term ‘sustainability-driven innovation’ describes new or improved products, services or processes that reduce the use of natural resources (such as materials, energy, water and land) and the release of harmful substances into the environment.  

It can also refer to marketing solutions that achieve these same goals.  

This approach to innovation lets businesses grow while addressing important challenges like climate change and shrinking biodiversity. It also helps lessen the threat to natural resources. 

Using resources efficiently

By using resources more efficiently, you can both drive your competitiveness and help the environment.  

Sustainability-driven innovation takes a full lifecycle view, which means it's not just about creating new products and services. You can also reduce your environmental impact by changing the ways your products are designed, made, used, reused and recycled. 

This process can be gradual, focusing on improving existing goods and services. Or it can be more disruptive, involving new, creative approaches to the market. 

Eco-checklists and other digital tools can help you assess the sustainability of your innovation process and see how it compares with those of other businesses. This will help you to develop an effective action plan that's tailor-made for your business.

Gain a competitive advantage

With sustainability as an innovation driver, you can spot unique challenges and opportunities that exist at every level of your business. This could help you gain several financial benefits. 

An increasing number of businesses, both in Scotland and globally, see the real competitive advantages of placing sustainability at the core of their innovation strategies.  

It could help you to:  

  • Manage risks
  • Reduce costs
  • Build resilience  
  • Cut your carbon emissions

For some businesses, it even creates a desire to go further and start aiming for net zero emissions. 

Four benefits of sustainable innovation

Cost-saving innovations can help to improve resource efficiency. This means using the Earth’s limited resources in a sustainable, low-impact way. It will also help you save money, time and materials by reducing waste and energy use.  

Cost-saving innovations are often based around initiatives like:

  • Energy efficiency
  • Resource management (organising your company’s resources more efficiently and effectively)
  • 'Cleaner and leaner' production (reducing waste while increasing efficiency)

The business case for focusing on resource efficiency is always growing, especially with unstable and rising prices. 

Businesses that create and sell sustainable and innovative products, services and technologies have more opportunity to reach new markets and customer bases. This allows them to improve their margins and profits.

Businesses often reduce resource use and open new market opportunities by reviewing existing business models, products and services. This often involves finding new ways to deliver value to your customers. One example is switching from selling products to providing services.  

This helps make the business more risk aware and resilient against market changes, like shifting prices or threats of extreme weather events.

Many businesses innovate when designing their processes and products so that they can more easily meet new and existing regulations or standards.  

This helps them address an increasing number of environmental and social demands from stakeholders and external parties (like suppliers, retailers, consumers and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency).

Six types of sustainability-driven innovation

  • Product innovation

    Embracing new technical and sustainable dimensions when you develop products and services, which help you stand out from the competition.

  • Process innovation

    Improving efficiency by reducing waste (for example, by adopting a ‘cradle to cradle’ model, in which you plan to reuse components and waste from the start).

  • Market innovation

    Addressing new needs and wants, changing your mix of markets and sectors, and finding new, more sustainable ways to serve your customers.

  • Brand innovation

    Developing a brand and culture that reflect the purpose and sustainable practices of your business.

  • Business innovation

    Focusing on sustainability as you rethink your company’s purpose, business model, stakeholders and measures of success.

  • Strategic innovation

    Changing the fundamental rules by which the business and its competitors work and compete.

Other practices worth considering

You can also look at applying practices like: 

  • Streamlining (reducing and eliminating) – this means finding cheaper, faster, less impactful ways to meet your business goals
  • Elaborating (enhancing or adding parts of the business) – this means trying to adopt more engaging, unique and profitable ways to achieve positive and sustainable outcomes for your business 

10 key principles for sustainable products

A good place to start is to evaluate your products against the following 10 sustainability guidelines. These principles will help you evaluate and improve the sustainability of your products:

  1. Use materials that will have a smaller environmental impact
  2. Use fewer materials overall when making your products
  3. Use fewer resources during the manufacturing process
  4. Produce less pollution and waste
  5. Reduce the environmental impact of distributing products
  6. Ensure that products need fewer resources to be used by customers or consumers
  7. Ensure that products cause less waste and pollution when in use
  8. Optimise the function of products and ensure the most suitable service life
  9. Make reuse and recycling easier
  10. Limit the environmental impact of disposal

Contact us

If you want to learn more about sustainability-driven innovation, or any other aspect of making your business more sustainable, our sustainability team are here to help.

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