18.1 Sustainable Innovation - organization and goal finding

Lotta Hassi , Industrial Engineering and Management, Helsinki University of Technology, Espoo, Finland
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  • Sustainable Innovation – organization and goal finding Lotta Hassi, Helsinki University of Technology David Peck, Delft University of Technology Kristel Dewulf, University College of West-Flanders Renee Wever, Delft University of Technology   ABSTRACT It is often stated that to produce sustainability, incremental improvements will not suffice: reducing unsustainability is not the same as creating sustainability (Ehrenfeld, 2008). Radical or systemic innovation is needed but also a change in the pattern we search for new solutions. This requires stepping away from the old path, or as Ehrenfeld (2008) illustrates, we should not be “the drunk who lost the car keys but kept looking for them under the street lamp because that is where the light was.” To be able to step out of the ‘beam of the street light' when searching for sustainable innovation, the organization needs to be designed accordingly and the design team at the fuzzy front end of the innovation process needs to be equipped with appropriate tools and methods. There is abundant literature demonstrating why corporations should go beyond compliance when it comes to sustainability (e.g. Elkington, 1997; Hawken, 1994) as well as how to design this commitment into products (e.g. Brezet & Hemel, 1997; Diehl & Crul, 2007; Tischner, 2000). The challenge lies with getting from ‘why' to ‘how': who is making it happen and what are the products that will be produced? (Figure 1). The who and what have received far less attention than the why and how; Boks (2006) being one of the notable exceptions regarding the organizational side and Wever, et al (2008) regarding the goal finding. Figure 1. The ‘why' and ‘how' are extensively addressed by existing literature. ‘Who' and ‘What' remain still ill-addressed.   In dealing with the ‘who' in figure 1, Piasecki et.al (1999) argued that the nature of environmental management over the previous few decades had been defined by regulatory structures but a new approach was emerging and a new vision was needed to drive environmental leadership further. Piasecki et.al (ibid) went on to highlight that there was a major change emerging in the field of environmental management and it is environmental leadership that will be crucial as to whether futurist environmental management would succeed or not. The green wall (ibid) is a point where the entire organisation refuses to move forward with its environmental management program. According to Piasecki et al. (ibid), the reasons for hitting the green wall includes negative or deferred decisions due to a lack of management support for the environmental management concept and programme. Also, due to the inability to demonstrate attractive returns on further investments in the environmental programmes, to others in the organisation. Traditionally, best practice environmental management organisations have had difficulty to adapt their organisations into the business enterprise. What comes to the ‘How' (Figure 1), there is an array of existing ecodesign tools that guide the design team in the design process. However, these tools are meant for a phase in the design process, where the idea and specifications for the product have already been decided, and only incremental changes regarding the products sustainability can be made. (Wever, Boks & Bakker, 2008; Ölundh & Ritzén, 2004) Therefore, it is crucial to take sustainability into consideration already in the early phase of the design process, often referred to as the fuzzy front end (FFE) (Buijs, 2003). It is at the FFE that the company realizes the need for innovation, generates ideas, identifies opportunities, and develops a concept of the product idea (ibid). The FFE still remains ill-addressed in the existing sustainable design literature (Wever et al., 2008).Yet, identifying possibilities for sustainable innovation takes place in this phase. If we accept that sustainable innovation involves moving from the design of individual products to the design of whole systems, it can involve new mixes of products and services, new patterns of ownership, or shared/communal use of products. It might involve replacing physical products with a ‘dematerialized' service or even questioning the extent to which a product or service is really necessary (Roy, 2006). How do we move beyond the current status quo? The current technical ‘eco-efficiency' approach to environmental sustainability is more likely to be adopted in the short and medium term. What however is needed is an organizational change that allows a move to radical, socio-technical sustainable innovations. The research on the ‘Who?' suggested in this paper will look into how organizations recruit, select, develop, and support the key decision makers in order to facilitate sustainable innovation. Also, how could they identify these people and how the development of ‘creative networks' could be facilitated. Possibilities for sustainable innovation need to be identified during the FFE. To support this, methods to identify sustainability innovations need to be created. In these methods, sustainability must be presented as a driver for innovation and value creation, instead of merely a boundary condition. The methods should assist companies in answering the question ‘What can we do to create sustainability?' in a manner that increases the value recognized and received by the end user and the company itself. Also, a well thought through product portfolio strategy is crucial in this phase. The research on the ‘What?' suggested in this paper looks into cases of sustainable innovations to identify elements of a successful sustainable FFE process, and eventually generates methods for innovating for sustainability at the FFE. This paper is a position paper of the proposed research projects of the authors. This paper will review and discuss the current body of literature on sustainable product innovation, identify the gaps and present proposals for research. These gaps can be seen in figure 1 and are the ‘who' and ‘what' boxes. The ‘who' will explore the persona of the key decision makers in terms of new transformational strategies (Ehrenfeld, 2008). Next to this is the crucial ‘what' box that explores the front end activity in sustainable innovation. The paper brings together the ‘who' and the ‘what' in the journey towards the ‘possibility of allowing all life to flourish on earth' (Ehrenfeld, 2008).