Innovation shift: Why radical change must focus on entire value chains
Current efforts to introduce new waves of innovation that address key climate issues need to be "scientific, scalable and systemic" with a focus on industry-wide collaboration, according to the chief executive of a corporate system's accelerator aiming to transform sustainability across 10 industry value chains.
In 2015, WWF incubated an ambitious new organisation aiming to transform entire value chains at a speed and scale required to alleviate global pressures regarding sustainability and climate change. Project X, a B Corp since 2018, is now launching systemic approaches to innovation that sees large incumbent firms mobilise sustainability across key sectors.
Most recently, Project X launched Feed-X in partnership with Skretting, Climate-KIC, WWF and Ikea, aiming to shift 10% of the global feed production to sustainable sourcing by 2025. Feed-X is now welcoming applications for innovators in these sectors that are ready to commercialise ideas.
According to Project X’s chief executive, Marcela Navarro, a novel new approach to commercialising innovation is needed to ensure that entire value chains, rather than just one business, are able to transform to combat global megatrends.
“We have spent decades where poverty and climate action were the problem of a few: governments, development banks, foundations, NGOs, philanthropists and even some few corporates,” Navarro said. “And this is not a surprise. Challenges are enormous and cannot and should not be addressed by one company at a time.
“We do not have the time. We cannot afford to wait for the traditional models of innovation and collaboration to give results. We cannot afford to wait 10 to 20 years to see critical innovations to be adopted at scale, at industry level.”
Navarro has a strong track record when it comes to innovation. She was the head of customer innovation for the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). Under her guidance, the bank quickly became renowned for its willingness to trial and support innovations that directly impact its operations.
RBS trialled electric car clubs, energy systems that adjust using real-weather data, and central heating additives, on top of nine other 'eco-innovations', on its buildings in Bristol. A further eight green innovations were also trialled at its world headquarters in Gogarburn as part of its innovation sponsorship programme.
All of these stemmed from the company’s Innovation Gateway, which saved in its first proof-of-concept year over 40,000 tonnes of CO2 and a staggering 200 million litres of water - equating to savings of £7.5m when rolled out across its estate.
Navarro then founded Business Cubed, to support companies around the world to re-address imbalances within their supply chains by harnessing green innovation. Engine manufacturer Cummins was the first to benefit from this approach.
Project X is an evolved approach to innovation focusing on radical change. For the global feed industry, which accounts for more than 40% of total plant protein grown and 16% of global fish capture, the need for innovation will help ease the impacts caused by global megatrends such as climate change, water scarcity, population growth and soil degradation.
The company’s model for innovation aims to utilise the reach and influence of big end-users across the 10 key value chains, by committing them to procure sustainable solutions at scale. Solutions are then shortlisted based on performance potential and are tested by the lead corporate, with results independently verified. Based on the results, a “knowledge exchange” takes place to engage the wider value chain, which outlines any barriers for companies located up and down the supply chain. From there, successful solutions are accelerated at scale to account for 10% of the industry.
Project X has already obtained and contracted commitments from Skretting to identify and transparently test, at scale, alternative sustainable feed solutions for the aquaculture industry, with Ikea providing strategic and financial support.
According to Navarro, Project X aims to shift $1.3trn in procurement from traditional and unsustainable sources to sustainable variants by 2030 and will focus on solutions that are ready to be scaled up, rather than ideas or concepts.
“This is an adoption programme, not a competition,” Navarro added. “Sustainable solutions are growing, but it is not enough, there is a growing need to do something at scale and collaborate, but there’s still not a coordinated approach that delivers at scale at the pace that the planet needs.
“No single organisation or sector can tackle industry-wide change on their own. Project X brings together relevant corporates, financiers, insurers, innovators, NGOs and scientists, governments and regulatory bodies to adopt replicable and scalable solutions, fast. We do this by marrying profits and purpose, providing solutions which are sustainable and commercially attractive, and can mobilise collective action whilst respecting the self-interest of the players in the system.”
While the Feed X challenge is the first pilot to be launched, Project X and WWF will launch an independent report in 2019 to define the 10 highest impact industries to be focused on in this 10-year programme.
The project will identify industry value chains most responsible for biodiversity decline and climate change impacts, and “hone down” on the highest “impact intervention points” within those value chains.
Commenting on the launch of Feed X, Ikea’s Sweden AB sustainability director, Christoph Mathiesen, said: “Ikea Food is committed to securing a more sustainable supply chain for our food business. We know that animal feed such as salmon feed can have a negative impact on the climate, environment and biodiversity.
“We see the collaboration with Project X as a great opportunity to support sustainable food systems and accelerate the innovation in animal feed.”
Project X at edie Live
Project X’s Marcela Navarro will be speaking on the Innovation Theatre at edie Live next week (21-22 May). In this opening session, a panel of sustainability and innovation experts will discuss how businesses can harness green innovation through the creation and development of ideas. Panellists will include the participants of the Future Systems Hackathon, which is taking place LIVE over the two days of the show.
The two-day show – edie's biggest event of the year – has become a highlight of the calendar for sustainability, energy and environment professionals looking for new ideas and solutions that will help them achieve a low-carbon, resource efficient and profitable future for their business.