Being innovative in business isn’t always sustainable innovation. In fact, sometimes being inventive in your business models can actively harm the environment.

Take aluminium coffee pods for example (the ones with the stunning ad featuring George Clooney). Those coffee pods were extremely harmful to the planet.

However, those businesses that manufactured those pods boomed.

After environmental supporters showed their disgust, the companies started recycling the coffee pods, to make sure they don't end up in landfills.

What is sustainable innovation?

Sustainable innovation involves making sure that you aren’t harming the environment in any aspect of your business. You also need to lessen your impact on the environment. This includes the climate and the planet in general. The aim is to be sustainable without affecting your bottom line.

The United Nations put together 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals call on global countries to improve the lives of their citizens socially, economically and sustainably. 

They spell out the following:

·      Think about the triple bottom line – people, planet and profit. You need to think about sustainability in relation to making a profit in your business.

You also need to make sure that your company takes sustainability into account whenever it manufactures products or offers services. And you need to make sure that you look after the people working for your business.

·      Changing the way you create your products and services so that you are still making a profit without harming the planet. 

Here's another example: British company Bio-bean manufactured a sustainable product – biofuel – out of coffee waste. They currently use this to fuel London’s double-decker buses.

The company also manufactures green fuel items out of coffee waste; they use these to replace carbon-heavy logs and coal bricks. Who would have thought that a British company would be so innovative? We would have thought the company would be based in a coffee-producing nation in Africa or South America?

·      Not everyone knows how to be innovative. But we all can change the way we do business in every sphere to ensure we are more sustainable.

Think hard about how you can adopt green measures in every aspect of your small business. Consider everything from human resources and marketing to design and production.

More examples of how to be sustainably innovative

·      Think long-term. Be constantly aware of keeping our planet greener for future generations. 

-       Make sure your staff enjoys good working conditions. Ensure that you manufacture items sustainably without wasting energy or water. This could involve using another source of energy, such as solar energy.

·      Ensure being aware of environmental issues is part of your company culture. Every person working in your business needs to actively try and be more sustainable.

This covers everything from saving water and energy efficiency to using less plastic and other waste items and considering pollution.

The bottom line is that creating a sustainable business takes every member of staff.

Adding sustainable innovation practices into your business

Sustainably innovative business processes aren’t a quick fix. They involve a long-term goal that takes time and commitment. And you don’t need a university degree to achieve this.

1.     Manufacture your items sustainably: This doesn’t necessarily mean changing the way you manufacture your existing products. It’s more about manufacturing them better in a way that is more energy-efficient and uses less water.

2.   Go green: Sometimes all you need to do to become more sustainable is find greener ways to do what you already do. At other times, you need to think out of the box to create greener products.

3.   Team work: Companies often join forces with other businesses to help create a more positive impact on the environment.

Think about this when you consider how to make your business more sustainable. The goal is to reduce carbon emissions. If you can partner with another company to do this, then do so.

Making use of the circular economy

At university we learn that in the past, businesses had a linear approach. This involved manufacturing items for customers with one aim in mind – to be successful and make a profit.

Factories design those goods to have a life cycle (take Apple products for example, which change every year). Once the product is past its sell-by date, it is usually discarded and replaced with a newer model. 

This isn’t a very sustainable way of doing business. 

We learn at university that there’s another way. The cyclical method of doing business eliminates waste; it doesn’t create it. It’s not just recycling products.

It’s a whole new way of designing goods so that we can re-use the components.

To do business sustainably, we need a circular economy. This business method involves not wasting water and energy in manufacturing items and not creating pollution. In this type of economy, factories reduce waste and pollution by designing items more effectively and sustainably. 

How to innovate sustainably in a design environment

As most of maake's customers’ businesses are involved in design, we thought we'd discuss performance sustainable innovation in this industry. LinkedIn Learning offers a course that covers this in detail, featuring tools, resources and methods for sustainable design. 

It covers the following:

·      Green Design: Methods of designing goods sustainably, including using recycled materials, natural resources and less energy to produce them.

·      Eco Design: Designing goods that are more sustainable themselves.

·      Green Product Design: Taking the Triple Bottom Line into account (see above) when designing products.

·      Designing for sustainability: This involves a renewable company as well as its products.

Sustainable Innovation in the fashion business

We’ve covered fast fashion in great detail in past blogs, but here we discuss this important concept once more.

·      Fast fashion is here to stay. More and more manufacturers are manufacturing quick, cheap clothing the moment Social Media shows a new trend. And then, when there's another fashion trend, we discard the previous fast fashion garments in landfills.

·      Remember: fast fashion clothing is not biodegradable. Manufacturers usually make this type of garment from synthetic fabrics, which are not manufactured sustainably.

In fact, regular manufacturing of synthetic materials uses plenty of energy and water, which impacts the environment. And the manufacture of these garments also involves using micro plastics and other waste materials.

·      The only way to combat this is to manufacture slow fashion. Slow fashion garments are quality items of clothing made from recycled or natural fabrics. These garments have classic designs that withstand the test of time.

Not only are they of exceptional quality, but they are also classic, timeless designs that factories manufacture sustainably.

·      Part of the problem the fast fashion industry faces is mistreatment of garment workers. This includes the awful conditions in which they work.

Businesses need to create sustainable workplaces where workers have good working conditions and reasonable hours. In the fast fashion industry, garment workers receive low pay, work impossible hours and often work in unhealthy conditions.

·      Here is some good news: international countries are making laws about manufacturing sustainably. These include ensuring that fashion businesses have to save energy and water when they produce clothing.

How to use sustainable innovation in your business

Follow our lead and become evergreen in every possible way. Here is a list of 8 ways we use sustainable innovation at maake:

1.     Embrace sustainabilityAt our North London factory, every single product is designed, printed, manufactured and delivered sustainably.

2.   Make it British: All the fabrics and designs we use are locally sourced.

3.   Give the staff the best: Our employees enjoy good working conditions and are paid salaries that meet the Living Wage. They undergo extensive training to learn about the company’s sustainable textile printing and fabric production.

4.   Create an sustainable culture: Employees are creative, focused and believe in our sustainability philosophy.

5.   Make less wasteAt maake, we have a Zero Waste policy. Also, our printing machines have cut-off switches to reduce the amount of energy we use. 

6.   Recycle: We give all offcuts and leftover fabrics a second life. Our CEO’s Zero to Landfill initiative involves sending any leftover fabric to worthy institutions like a school or charity.

Our innovative recycling initiative

We also offer our customers free upcycling bags. They come in different sizes (up to 15kg upcycling boxes).

At the factory, we fill these with white, ivory and natural-coloured fabric offcuts, including organic cottons, linens and velvets and recycled polyester materials.

Customers can either collect these from the factory for FREE or have them delivered at a postage fee.

7.   Manufacture items sustainablyIn our business, this involves printing on fabrics sustainably using eco-friendly inks that are safe for children.

Although fabric printing can use a lot of water and energy and create waste, our printing methods don’t. In fact, they minimise our factory’s impact on the environment.

These methods use 95% less energy and we use only 100% renewable energy when we print. Aside from using less energy, the printing process uses virtually no water at all.

8.   Create items on demandWe only produce and print exactly what our customers order. No more.

Working towards positive change

·      Being aware of environmental issues and sustainable innovation ideas are ongoing projects for businesses. There is no timeline, but there is a deadline – start being more sustainable in your company right away. And if you’ve already started, increase your initiatives.

·      Remember, we’re looking after our children’s futures, and the future of the planet.

·      We are all cognisant of the importance of being aware of our environmental impacts. And innovation is just as vital. Because without innovations, we are unlikely to find new ways to change the world and protect it.

Assistance from the SBRI’s Sustainable Innovation Fund

Sustainable innovation contributes towards a greener planet. To help companies in Britain, the country’s Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) was formed. It helps government departments communicate with British businesses so that they can solve tough challenges. Of course, environmental issues are one of those tough challenges.

This pre-commercial procurement programme uses university and other research studies to assist innovation business performance and help businesses create new products. It also generates new business opportunities for small businesss.

The SBRI formed the Sustainable Innovation Fund (SIF). It's job – to encourage and support new, inventive ideas for a positive impact on climate change and environmental sustainability.

This sustainable development and implementation forum has put together a funding programme that focuses on “a prosperous, resilient and equitable future based on net zero technologies”.

The programme focused on supporting sustainable innovations in businesses and using these innovations to improve public services. To this end, the SIF SBRI offered £48.6 million to businesses, which was delivered in 2 competition phases at various events.

Funding projects created by the SBRI

The SBRI also formed various projects aimed at assisting different industries with being more aware of environmental issues. One of these, the UKRI Circular Fashion Programme, involved the search for and funding of UK businesses in the fashion industry.

The companies were provided with funding to produce "innovative technologies, services and processes involving recycling and sorting in the UK’s Fashion and Textile sector".

The Last Word

It’s important have knowledge about programmes, video announcements and projects like these that can assist your company innovate sustainably.

Please note:

At maakewe care about our customers. We know you have your own company and are trying to make ends meet, just like we are. And that’s why we offer you advice on how to improve your company with blogs like this one. Visit our website and see how we can help your company further, with our products and services.

May 17, 2023 — Alexander Wills