Pulse of Innovation: Achieving Sustainability & Net-Zero Emissions

October 04, 2022

Every so often we ask our community to sound off on popular topics in innovation and share their best tips, tricks, and advice in hopes that their answers may inspire others in the field. We’ve gathered these insights by email, over phone calls, at events and roundtables, and catching up with clients and colleagues.

Sustainability has been a hot topic for leaders in virtually every industry. In the past year, we’ve seen the ESG impulse ratchet up substantially – above all due to consumers’ concerns about climate change and the growing belief that the brands they support must be a part of the solution. From integrating sustainability practices into daily operations to the actual research and development of “cleantech” that can drive sustainable products and business models, the discussion surrounding each company’s commitment to be as green as possible is more pressing than ever.

From conscious consumer choices to the ideal circular economy there are many ways to begin integrating green practices into a company’s operating model. Many steps have been taken to accommodate green initiatives, but solving short-term issues with unsustainable strategies will only go so far. We gathered together leaders from a wide variety of industries to discuss how they are currently incorporating sustainable practices.

In this Pulse of Innovation we’ve asked: What are the best practices for meeting the bottom line while incorporating sustainable practices into your corporate strategy? Here’s what we learned:

  • Prioritize Full Circularity – Many companies dabble with post-consumer recycling programs without a systemic view of the industry-wide carbon footprint as materials flow through the value chain. In many cases, even though recycled materials are available as production inputs, companies find it difficult to fold them back into the manufacturing process, as the cost and/or performance is not seen as competitive. Leading companies place an emphasis on solving for a sustainable value chain that is circular at a systemic level –- thus prioritizing the roles that reuse and upcycling play on top of traditional (and often carbon-intensive) recycling practices.

  • Set Deadlines for Achieving Scopes I, II, and III – To drive concerted action, nothing beats setting quantifiable metrics. For some businesses, the mention of a dedicated timeline will create anxiety around unacceptable tradeoffs and perverse incentives. But most organizations are able to find areas of improvement in various departments without taking a one-size-fits-all approach. The key is to be deliberate in assessing where the business can make gains easily – whether that is process or product based – and then incorporating goals that are precise, accountable and can be made transparent for stakeholders and consumers.

  • Leverage Emerging Technologies – Following the open innovation model of investing in external technologies that provides solutions that can accelerate a company’s path to sustainability. Leaders in the sustainability arena have found great ideas and funded the pilots for small start-ups in the tech and science fields in pursuit of finding renewable raw materials and sustainable alternatives to traditional operating models. Collaborating across industry boundaries or even forming pre-competitive alliances with competitors has also shown success in the right circumstances. These investment opportunities can result in new green processes, lower greenhouse gas emissions, or sustainable materials and manufacturing – and can generate long-term term advantage in staying ahead of competitors.

  • Rationalize Green Metrics – It's hard to compare and contrast the success or failure of initiatives without a history of data to rely on. Furthermore, within a global operation the specifics of the regulatory environment, department initiatives, methods of manufacturing, and customer inputs all widely vary across geographies, complicating efforts to assess progress uniformly throughout the business. Creating a shared rubric for all sustainability efforts is critical for determining success vs failure. Holding partners and suppliers accountable by establishing transparent metrics and then mandating their adoption establishes sustainability as a stated priority for all business ventures.

  • Mobilize Consumer Participation – For decades, consumers followed producer trends; today, the tables have turned. Consumers increasingly demand that brands live up to their mission statements, and one of the key issues for many is carbon footprint and overall sustainability. Rather than viewing these demands as adversarial, leading companies have found ways to align interest and involve customers in the changes they desire. Those who have created convenience-based incentivize programs have found that some consumers are more than likely to participate in green initiatives (for example: recycled materials vending machines with small reimbursements or credits toward the next purchase).

  • Source Production Inputs Locally – Scope I emissions are a direct result of a company’s combustion from fuel use, whether that’s from transportation or manufacturing. Companies can substantially reduce the carbon footprint from global shipping by utilizing local farmers, manufacturing plants, and transportation companies. This also decreases delivery times, simplifies supply chains, and promotes positive social sustainability in those regions.

  • Placing Sustainability within Corporate Strategy – In recent years, companies have been creating sustainability teams and departments as their own individual entity with their own sustainability strategy. Today, integrating sustainability strategies into the entire company’s corporate strategy makes more sense, as it has become an important factor in value-creation activities spanning customer loyalty, employee retention, and brand influence. Adopting company-wide sustainable strategies makes it much more feasible to extend procedures across multiple departments without having mix-and-matched behavior which fails to result in real change.

  • Focus on Value Creation – There are many methods to incorporating sustainability into a current business’s value chain, but often companies focus on the immediate cost/benefit calculus rather than setting a path toward compounding market value over time. Success becomes easier when it can be framed over the short-, medium-, and longer-term, in which strategic leverage may begin as a loss leader but end up driving enduring success. Reframing the mindset of production and profit and incorporating price and product into one hurdle instead of two separate issues will aid in the pursuit to determine how practices can be both sustainable and profitable.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below. For more tips, check out our growing collection of Pulse of Innovation posts!

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay



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