With energy and commodity prices rising, concerns over security of supply and heightened consumer demands around corporate responsibility, businesses will need to pioneer a range of so-called “disruptive innovations” in order to survive in the mid to long-term.

The need for radical innovation to tackle sustainability challenges is nothing new, but environmental NGO Forum for the Future, with help from the likes of Unilever, TUI, Bupa, B&Q and Marks and Spencer, has now published a guide to help businesses think about new ways of working.

Speaking to Edie.net, Marks and Spencer head of sustainable business Mike Barry said it is “a brave business that would put its head in the sand and say it will be selling the same products or services to the same consumers in 10 years’ time. Chugging along using 2% less energy won’t make you a resilient business.”

Barry said the positive changes made by businesses to date are all well and good, but “sustainability demands disruption [and] any business that doesn’t radically re-invent itself will not have a business in 20 years’ time”.

He said that competition will drive some of the innovation, but some would involve more collaboration than ever before.

Forum for the Future is hoping to stimulate communication between sectors and has produced a toolkit for businesses: ‘Breakthrough Innovation – Your Guide to Innovating for a Brighter Future’.

The hope is that this will help stimulate thinking around new products and gismos, as well as new services and skills. The guide doesn’t define what the innovations will look like, but “will get people started” said author, and leader of Forum for the Future’s Sustainable Business Model Group David Bent.

Examples of disruptive innovations are, to date, hard to come by, said Bent, but one would be Cafédirect’s introduction of Fairtrade coffee to the UK.

“That not only disrupted their own supply chain and that of the coffee market, but also led to wider change, with Fairtrade products in other products like bananas,” he explained.
Eventually, the Nissan Leaf electric car could be heralded as a disruptive innovator, if the concept becomes mainstream.

A switch from providing products to services may also evolve. This will help companies build resilience in an increasingly resource-constrained era, said WWF head of business and industry Dax Lovegrove. The Zipcar short-term leasing model, for instance, is now being adopted by the bigger players including Hertz and Enterprise.

“This shows that new disruptive business approaches are starting to enter the mainstream,” added Lovegrove. “Many in the private sector see the needs for disruptive innovation to enter the next phase of sustainability.”

Bent said the evolution of disruptive innovations would take time and money, as well as leadership. He said that “normal, incremental innovation” needed to continue, but that isn’t enough.

“We know that disruptive innovation is needed to help us address the major issues we are facing in a world constrained by its resources – and we know big companies struggle with how to do it. By helping them make sure there is resource set aside for innovation, that transformative innovation becomes part of their culture.”

edie staff

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