Innovation and Sustainability
Overview of Innovation
What is Innovation?
Innovation in business involves a change in a product offering, service, business model, or operations that meaningfully improves the experience of a large number of stakeholders.
There are two particularly important words in the previous definition-“meaningfully” and “stakeholders.”
If a company redesigns its packaging to be more environmentally friendly, that’s a change. It’s new. But does it meaningfully reduce the materials and energy use of consuming or using the product?
There are many types of changes that can be made, but the question of whether it’s an innovation rests on how significantly it improves what is being targeted to be improved.
This aspect of the definition raises the bar to avoid classifying meaningless changes as innovations. What is meaningful is contextual on a per innovation basis.
For an invention to be more than something new and creative, it should have broad impact.
The term stakeholders acknowledges that the beneficiaries of an innovation can vary widely-consumers, shareholders, employees, and any subset thereof.
All of these stakeholders can potentially benefit from different types of innovations meant to address sustainability.
Innovation at Apple
Consistently since 2006, Fortune surveys have ranked Apple number one in innovation and the company is also frequently mentioned as the most admired company in the United States. In August 2011, Apple also became the world’s most valuable company at $349 billion based on stock market valuation.
Apple’s innovations have revolutionized the way we use computers and phones and play music and movies. One innovation in particular, the iPod was the start of a trend of products with broad consumer market appeal. The iPod combined technical knowledge with a new online music concept to become the most influential new product in decades.
That was followed by Apple’s introduction of the iPhone and iPad. All these products combine technological innovation with attention to design, usability, and content delivery in new and innovate ways to transform the way billions of consumers use music, use their phones, use their computers, and access the Internet.
Responding to an opportunity often requires innovation; for example, finding a new way to solve a problem or address a concern that is cheaper, faster, or better than the old way of doing things.
The innovation can range from a relatively simple process (way of doing things) change to a highly complex new technology.
To help illustrate the concept of innovation, two companies will be discussed. Both companies are innovators in two entirely different areas at two entirely different price points. However, both companies are connected to sustainability in that they are providing a product to help reduce the consumption of fossil fuels for energy.
Enertrac  provides low-cost smart sensors to track energy use so households and businesses know when they need refills. The smart sensors allow fuel distributors to electronically monitor the amount of oil in a tank. The sensors send information to a software-as-a-service interface that integrates into fuel dealers delivery scheduling systems. This allows business owners to make their delivery methods more efficient while reducing greenhouse emissions by 30 percent or more.
The same sensors can also monitor other energy and natural resource use, including water, and can help with regulating use and conservation efforts.
The basic smart sensor device is priced at less than $30. From early 2010 to early 2012, Enertrac went from 200 monitors installed to 25,000 monitors in place with 140,000 units on order.
SustainX Energy Storage Solutions
On the other end of the technological spectrum is SustainX Energy Storage Solutions , a company started by the former dean of the engineering school at Dartmouth College.
SustainX has invented a new technology to cost-effectively and efficiently store energy from renewable and other sources. The technology being pioneered by SustainX compresses and expands gas resulting in seven times the reduction in storage cost as compared to traditional methods.
This could profoundly change the economics of energy generation from both renewables and conventional sources. The storage systems that SustainX is developing for utility companies will cost more than $1 million.
The process by which a new product or service is introduced into the general market is called commercialization.
Commercialization is broken into phases, from the initial introduction of the product to its mass production and its adoption. It takes into account the production, distribution, marketing, sales, and customer support required to achieve commercial success.
As a strategy, commercialization requires that a business develop a marketing plan, determine how the product will be supplied to the market, and anticipate barriers to success.
End of Unit
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