Deep innovation knowledge and insights from experts of the verrocchio Institute 

Table of Contents

What is sustainable innovation?

Sustainable innovation is the development of new products, services or business models that meet the needs of today’s customers without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The development of new ideas in companies is currently still often focused solely on potential success on the sales market. Many popular approaches such as design thinking or the value proposition canvas focus primarily on customer needs.

However, sustainable innovation also takes into account the environmental, social and economic impact of the idea. Efforts are made to minimize the negative impact while maximizing the benefit to the customer. Often this involves using renewable resources and developing technologies and processes that are more energy efficient and less harmful to the environment.

The biggest challenges in developing sustainable innovations

The focus on developing sustainable innovations is associated with a number of new challenges that have also strongly influenced our innovation work in recent years.

  • The balance between sustainability and profitability: Whether it’s a matter of social or environmental sustainability, the development of sustainable innovations is often associated with sometimes high investments in research and development and the procurement of sustainable materials. This can be a hurdle for smaller companies in particular.
  • Limited consumer demand: Although demand for sustainable products is rising steadily, a large proportion of customers are still not prepared to pay a higher price for sustainable products. This makes it difficult to invest in sustainable technologies and materials
  • Complex supply chains: In many sectors, sustainable supply chains first have to be established, and the intensive global integration of the economy makes it difficult in some cases to provide evidence of sustainable production.
  • Different definitions of sustainability: Sustainability is defined differently in different countries. Few global standards exist, making it difficult for international companies to establish a consistent supply chain.
  • Limited financial resources: The shareholder value approach, especially in listed companies, often makes it difficult to access funding for investments in sustainability.

Resistance to sustainable innovations

Sustainable innovation requires not only a change in the use of resources, but rather a significant change in corporate processes and the self-image of one’s own organization if it is to be truly effective. This often involves major changes for employees, suppliers and customers. Resistance is therefore inevitable, especially if the company takes a pioneering role in the industry by developing sustainable products and services.

Handwritten by Christian Buchholz