In a way, this is a story of two stories. The first was published September 2009 by Harvard Business Review. It was entitled "Why sustainability is now the key driver of innovation," and it absolutely rocked the world of management. After all, this was HBR talking, the depository of the most cutting-edge thinking when it comes to running a business. When published by HBR, it is mainstream.
With this one stroke, sustainability graduated from compliance and social responsibility to the core business practice of innovation that every CEO should adopt.
Still, the practice languished. Yes, it became embedded in everyone's thinking on sustainability, but has yet to cascade into the daily to-do norm in the minds of the vast majority of senior management teams.
Enter the second story, published just last quarter by Network for Business Sustainability out of Canada, first as a webinar in September and two months later as a blog post entitled "Innovating for Sustainability."
NBS, in essence, picks up where HBR left off, because while the latter was a thorough look at the innovation breakthrough, it did not provide an operational framework a management team could actually execute. That is the fantastic contribution NBS has gifted the world.
At Homera, it has already become ingrained in our own thinking and modeling, part of the Innovation building block of our Holistic Value Chain (HVC) sustainability toolkit, which includes four other components. In two recent blog posts, we covered Circularity and Resilience. Stakeholders and Context are coming soon. Today, it's Innovation's turn.
As a general rule, and the reason sustainability rose to the level of core-business innovation, the process of complying with best-case sustainability practices inevitably yields opportunities to slash operating expenses at any company, large or small, no matter the industry. The path to zero carbon, zero waste and minimal extreme-weather risks, invariably requires new ways of managing processes, suppliers, people and materials.
But that is only the beginning. You can also capitalize on the entire sustainability revolution by developing and launching new products that address any of the multiple crisis points the planet is facing. Photovoltaic tech that captures more of the sun's rays. Longer-lasting batteries. More efficient lighting and A/C units. Cleaner cars. Non-toxic detergents. Resilient infrastructure, education and healthcare. Circular-economy software. Organic agriculture. Ways for people to consume less animal-based and more plant-based food. The list of sustainable product & service innovations has become quite long, indeed.
And it doesn't stop there. Beyond operations and products, a huge space has emerged to innovate broader societal systems and policies than can benefit your company by making society and the economy as a whole more sustainable and resilient for every company. This is where you join others in collaborative initiatives.
The NBS framework, and our own modeling, is based on these three levels. NBS calls them stages: Eco-Efficiency, New Market Opportunities, and Societal Change. Across each, NBS lays out objectives, outcomes and mindsets, and the framework includes a toolkit of 38 best practices that businesses can choose from when tailoring and executing an innovation strategy, the result of years of research and analysis on thousands of companies.
Our own research at Homera confirms this is now the new gold standard in sustainability innovation, and the core of our own HVC Innovation entails sessions where we assess which of the three stages you are at, whether to include other stages in your path forward, and which of the 38 practices are the best fit for your particular goals and situation.
It is as exciting and profitable an enterprise as you can embark upon. Great for you. And as more of you get in on it, great for the world.
A note on the photo. It's from Virginia Tech's Green RFP program, which encourages students to present ideas on how to make the campus ever greener. How about launching a similar initiative at your company?