Accelerating Green Innovation

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

April 13, 2022

When a business implements changes to its business model, or even to parts of it, and they are able to do so while maintaining economic viability, it is termed green innovation. The core ideas are to reduce the organization’s ecological footprint, minimize environmental damage, and ascertain efficient use of natural resources.

Businesses are already making novel adaptations well ahead of any regulations. They are undertaking efforts to lower reliance on fossil fuels, and are moving to other sources of power. Businesses are understanding the need to innovate. How can they speed up strategic mitigation and adaptation to oppose climate change? How might business and government better align their strategic priorities?

Horasis is organizing the Horasis Global Meeting on 19 May 2022 to examine and evaluate such developments. The one-day virtual event will see participation from members of governments, businesses, academia, and the media. The goal is to deliberate on pressing issues that undermine progress and arrive at solutions that can ensure shared prosperity.

Taking Cognizance

A casual ‘business-as-usual’ approach demands a rethink. Organizations cannot be driven by profit alone. Rather, there is a pressing need for existing business models to incorporate ways and means that go beyond material rewards.

Efforts could be in the form of offsetting reliance on fossil fuel power by installing solar panels; perhaps it could entail the building of rain water harvesting facilities in drought prone areas; or it could even involve steps to limit waste generation.

In a positive turn of events, a large share of organizations is recognizing that green innovations can allow them to reap profits while also ensuring their operations are less harmful to the environment. They can even become more competitive by embracing new business models that prioritize ‘greentech’ or ‘cleantech’. More importantly, green innovation and economic viability are complementary. One aspect does not need to be compromised to accommodate the other.

Innovations in Agriculture

Agriculture remains the mainstay for both developed and emerging economies. Often, produce travels vast distances between “farm to fork”. An added woe is the current generation’s reluctance to pursue a career in agriculture – a trend that is substantiated by the large rural to urban migration observed worldwide.

However, one organization has embraced innovation to give traditional agriculture a state-of-the-art edge. Called Vertical Harvest, it has two locations in the US – one in Wyoming and the other in Maine. The company specializes in vertical hydroponic farming, and in the process, it uses 90% less land and water. In only one-fourth of an acre, it grows produce that would otherwise have required about 40 acres of land.

The company has delivered on social impact goals too. It provides employment to locals, a fair share of whom are senior citizens and people with disabilities. As one company representative put it, the Vertical Harvest farm is a “for-profit company with a non-profit soul”. Using its three- and four-story facilities, the hydroponic greenhouses produce over 37,000 pounds of greens, and 44,000 pounds of tomatoes, annually, even when outside temperatures are sub-zero.

Green Innovation in Garment Manufacturing

Outdoor gear manufacturer Patagonia fused green innovations into its business model since inception. It made sure, for example, to design rock climbing equipmentlike carabinasthat minimized damage to rocks. Patagonia espoused the philosophy that each climber should leave the climbing trails exactly the same way they found it. The company also set firm targets to limit its carbon footprint.

In this regard, Patagonia actively took to manufacturing garments produced from recycled cotton. Meanwhile, an estimated 173 gallons of water is needed to yield just one pound of regular cotton fabric. And this is even before taking into account additional banes such as pesticide usage in cotton cultivation. “By using recycled cotton,” the company says, “we extend the life span of a fiber that has already been created, uses fewer environmental resources and still has that soft, comfortable feel.” Such initiatives have helped the company reduce its carbon emissions by as much as 80%

The Way Forward

A 2020 study by consumer goods behemoth Unilever revealed interesting trends. As many as 33% of consumers were willing to pay higher prices for brands that positively delivered on social and environmental targets. The company also highlighted that there is a possible €966 billion market opportunity “for brands that make their sustainability credentials clear”.

There is a need for dialogue between governments and businesses. The harmful effects of irresponsible manufacturing pose severe threats for all of humanity. Collaborative efforts are, therefore, needed to address such issues. Additionally, there is need for regulations that make it mandatory for all businesses—regardless of whether they are a multi-national conglomerate or a corner store—to pivot towards green innovation. 

Photo Caption: A hydroponic farm in Shanghai