Adopting a Sustainable Approach to Your Business Can Lead to Innovation and a Competitive Advantage

Dec 13, 2010   //   by Bradley Short   //   Investors & Stakeholders, Leadership, Operations Management  //  No Comments

Innovation through SustainabilityCan environmental sustainability and business growth go together?  Some business leaders think investing in sustainability costs too much money and hurts competitiveness.  In practice, this assumption is often false.  A focus on sustainable business can lead to innovations that create real value for your company and make it more competitive than ever before.

Running a sustainable, responsible business often breeds the innovations that are the lifeblood of any successful company.  It requires forward thinking leadership, and though success isn’t guaranteed, many of the first-movers in business sustainability are already starting to reap rewards in the form of innovative breakthroughs.  They are developing new products and reengineering the way their businesses operate in order to profit responsibly.

How Sustainability Drives Innovation: The Opportunity Disguised as a Problem

Every innovation begins with a need to be met or a problem to solve.  In this view, sustainability is a particularly good problem to tackle. Investing in research and development, environmentally responsible supply chains, and smarter business processes can spur innovation that gives your company a competitive advantage.  This knowledge can even be marketed and sold to other companies, realizing yet another benefit of sustainable innovation.

InterfaceFLOR: How a Zero Waste Goal Reinvented a Company

Innovating with CSRIn 1994, InterfaceFLOR recognized the need to provide more responsible carpet solutions. They have been designing their way to sustainability ever since which has helped them come up with innovative new products and processes that minimize their environmental footprint while saving money and driving more business.  InterfaceFlor has set a goal to eliminate ALL negative environmental impacts by 2020.  As a result, they have developed new types of materials, recyclable carpet tiles, and waste-reducing machinery.  By reducing material and financial waste, they have saved over $100 million in waste costs.

FedEx Office (formerly FedEx Kinko’s): How a Process Redesign Can Increase Efficiency Without Changing Your Product

FedEx finds innovation through CSRA Harvard Business Review article points to a number of companies that have developed innovative solutions by pursing a sustainable business strategy.  FedEx is an example of a company who didn’t change their product offering but saw innovation in the way they delivered their products.  The company has saved fuel, money, and emissions by sending documents digitally to the closest FedEx Office (Kinko’s) store to the shipping destination rather than sending the actual printed materials the whole way.  The documents are then printed and shipped to their final destination from there, sometimes saving hundreds or thousands of miles of travel.  The customer still gets the same high-quality printed materials they expect, but FedEx has delivered them without using nearly as many resources.

Waste Management:  How a Trash Company is Benefiting by NOT Dumping Trash

Turning trash into treasure with CSR-driven innovationIt may seem like a widespread move towards waste reduction and efficiency would spell trouble for a company that has built its business around trash disposal, but Waste Management is coming up with innovative ways to use its expertise in refuse to drive business without simply throwing garbage in a landfill.  In addition to finding new ways to separate valuable recyclable materials, Waste Management built “waste-to-energy” plants that turn trash into electricity, powering more homes than the entire US solar industry.  They have even started to help other companies reduce their waste (for a price).  Consulting, selling recovered materials, and turning trash into energy have become three new revenue streams that came about as a direct result of pursing a more sustainable strategy.

Sustainability creates an environment that is ripe for new advances and employee engagement.  It promotes innovations that lead to lasting competitiveness and real value for the shareholders, employees, customers and society as a whole.

BusinessEarth is dedicated to encouraging companies to move towards enhanced corporate responsibility by demonstrating ways companies have profited as a result.  Tell us how your company has developed innovative ideas as a result of sustainable goals.