Innovation is at the heart of every great business, and it’s also at the heart of what we all need to do tackle climate change. The need to find new ways of doing things has never been more pressing.
There’s a massive opportunity for businesses to be the drivers of environmental change. As a business owner, you’re in a unique position where the actions you take can have far-reaching influence.
Innovation is defined as any new idea, device or method. It’s the ability to foresee a solution to a problem that nobody else has thought of. Eco innovation focuses on new ideas and concepts that address environmental impact, and deliver goals of sustainable and equitable societies and economies.
For a business, embracing eco innovation means taking a fresh look at everything the business does and thinking how it could be done differently.
This includes approaches that use natural resources more efficiently and responsibly, tackle the effects of climate change or reduce carbon emissions.
It’s not just about products
Innovation doesn’t just cover new products; it includes processes, services and business models as well. Airbnb is one of the most innovative business of recent years, but they didn’t invent homestays. They invented a business model and a process.
Embedding an innovation culture in your business
Integrating innovation into your business can be a challenge – just running on a business-as-usual basis can take up all of your time. How do you find space to experiment with new things? By its very nature, innovation is a risk. You’re putting time and resources into something that you’ve not done before.
Identify what type of innovation you want to foster
Depending on the type of business you have, you may be more suited to innovating around your products, services, processes or business model. Take the time to identify where you could do things differently, and in what area you could have the biggest impact.
Embracing innovation throughout the business means employees who aren’t in product development or customer facing roles can be empowered to think innovatively too. You might find opportunities to operate more efficiently where you least expect them.
Empower all employees
Try to empower individuals to embrace innovation and step outside the box. As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to ensure that all employees have the freedom to express ideas and the opportunity to present them to senior staff at the business.
It’s often the employees on the ground who have the insight into the changes that could have the biggest impact. Most of us will have heard the story of the Swan Vesta employee who suggested putting sandpaper on just one side of the match boxes, saving the company millions in manufacturing costs.
Traditional business models incentivise employees to perform well and deliver value for the company. If you want to innovate, you may have to forego some of your KPIs for a certain period of time.
Provide air to those willing to challenge traditional models and try out different ways of doing thigs. You could, for example, commit 10% of resources to innovation, and adjust your performance forecasts accordingly.
Enable as well as empower
For an idea to get off the ground, people need to have the tools to take it from a concept to something that will actually be put into practice.
If you really want to get your business innovating, you could provide training for staff on how to pitch their ideas, how to prepare a business case and how to consider the impact of ideas on all areas of the business.
Collaborate, and make use knowledge around you
There’s a wealth of resources out there for businesses that want to innovate, particularly through eco innovation. Collaborating with other businesses in other industries can open up new ways of doing things that you’d not have thought of before.
Clean Growth UK is a national business network that brings together three university-led business accelerators and R&D hubs at the Universities of Brighton and Portsmouth and Liverpool John Moores University, all working to catalyse clean and green business growth and innovation across the UK.
The network helps ambitious, environmentally focused businesses access university R&D expertise and facilities, business commercialisation advice and coaching, and get investor ready.
Find out more at www.clean-growth.uk
Robb Cunningham leads the marketing for Clean Growth UK and its South East hub, the University of Brighton’s Green Growth Platform.