Successful industry leaders realize that even in the current economic turmoil, innovation is essential to staying competitive and growing the business. Innovative innovators are entering a new design space and are discovering that it has the potential to radically change our world for the better and give their companies the right advantage of being at the top. That space is green.
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Business innovates by developing new and disruptive technologies, refining existing technologies or developing new applications for existing technologies. The innovator or innovation team divides the task into three segments: problem solving, creative solution of ideas and putting it all together. The basic goal is a product or process that is better, cheaper, faster, or all three.
What is Green Innovation?
Green innovation results in a product or process that has environmentally neutral attributes or reduced resource needs. Green Innovation expands the innovation box to include the product or environmental footprint processes. It also fulfills the basic goal of better, cheaper, faster.
Environmentally neutral products and processes are those in which the use of material, water and energy is eliminated, minimized or replaced by other sources that have less impact on the environment. Environmental footprint takes into account the sustainability of the raw materials used, how the product or process is packaged, transported, used and disposed of.
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It may not be intuitive that a company can achieve a significant competitive advantage given the environment. The perception is that consumers and businesses are reluctant to buy green products or services. Reasons given include prohibitive costs, maintenance concerns, and general aesthetics. Companies that have already moved along the path of green innovation are turning these reasons into myths by developing products and processes that incorporate these features that all translate into reduced costs and a better price point:
- Reduced energy consumption,
- Easy to recycle or made from recycled material to get started,
- Use less material,
- Occupy less space,
- Use less packaging materials or require less maintenance.
Three new potentially disruptive green technologies
Hikrete is a new product that is positioned to disrupt the concrete industry. This material is a mixture that closes the capillaries in the concrete, making it waterproof. Extends the useful life of concrete and also facilitates recycling. The current industry standard uses plastic vapor barriers and outer coatings, which offer similar costs but without recyclability. Hikret has the potential to push users towards a recyclable product as the deconstruction of buildings and the recycling or reuse of materials is being done cost-effectively compared to disposal.
High temperature microwave ovens, such as those manufactured by Spheric Technologies, are changing the ceramics industry just as microwave ovens changed our home cooking habits. Microwave heating uses up to 80 percent less energy than conventional gas, electric or coal ovens and this reduces processing time by 90 percent.
Microwave heating produces a better ceramic product with fewer defects than traditional thermal methods. The methodology has the potential to bleed into other industries where high temperature processes are needed and where fossil fuel costs have become a driving factor to identify other technologies.
The behavior natural light in trouble-free buildings related to controlling heat and light transmission has resulted in another example of potentially disruptive green technologies. Electrochromatics Sage has taken on the green inorganic chemical chemistry, developing a new electro-coating formulation that produces an “intelligent glass” that, when applied lightly, can modulate the amount of light and heat transmitted through the glass, improving thus the convenience of indoor space while offering relief for energy bills. The advantage over curtains or shadows directed by the sensor has no moving parts and less material, thus lower cost.
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Use green to renew
It starts at the problem definition stage. Consider the gallon milk container. How do you redefine or improve this product to meet the best, cheapest, fastest demand considering the environment?
Plastic milk container, a 1960s innovation that includes a carrying handle that allowed eight pounds (1 gallon) of milk to be conveniently packaged, carries a large environmental footprint compared to its size. The polyethylene container is made from non-renewable sources of fossil fuels. They cannot be collected without the use of plastic crates, which take up considerable storage space and need to be cleaned and replaced, requiring considerable use of water and replacement material. Although the jug is square which improves the packaging, the crates take up space and part of this space is empty. A hidden part of the environmental footprint is that space conditioning uses energy sources. More trips are required between the dairy and the shop due to the transportation of dead space along with the product.
The storm of creative thoughts a new milk container now goes beyond simple redesign. It examines the source of materials used, natural resources (water and energy) and the space requirements needed to move the product from the dairy to the store, and minimize the flow of waste generated. The green innovation is a solid, rectangular polyethylene container that reduces dead space, allowing a 50 percent reduction in collection without the need for crates. It is the right size for a standard pallet and is held together with cardboard strips and shrink wrap resulting in a 50 percent reduction in transport and fuel requirements. Cardboard and shrink wrappers are recyclable, leaving a zero waste stream for the store that sells this product. And, the consumer can still recycle the plastic container at home.
Superior Dairy created this new dairy system and is distributing it through Costco, Sam’s Club and Wal-mart, three companies that understand the value of green innovation. Because milk used a green innovation approach, the price of a gallon of milk in the new packaging is 20-30 cents less than the traditional milk container.
Why Innovate Green
- Cost and resource security. Energy and virgin material costs are no longer sustainable in the long run. Waiting until oil rises to $ 140 a barrel is not the time to start thinking about reducing energy or material use. Green innovation can help reduce costs while producing a better product, regardless of energy and commodity prices.
- The market is already looking for green solutions to meet government and self-imposed demands. Wal-mart is committed to greening its supply chain. Green buildings, for example, accounted for 2 percent of all new buildings starting in 2005; in 2008 it was 6 percent and was expected to grow exponentially based on energy and long-term cost concerns. Green buildings have specific requirements for materials and energy, which must be met. If your product or process does not meet those requirements, you have lost a customer.
- Your competitors can get information about market advantages and innovate on your behalf.
Green space is new to many industries. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to all green innovations. Every industry has its own needs that need to be pioneered. Even so, lessons can be learned across industries and a third party can help find new applications.
Partnering with green innovation experts can also help companies understand future green trends, identify products or processes that would benefit significantly from green innovation, help identify the true environmental footprint of a product, and help find ways to position products or processes for the explosive growth of the new economy.