Innovation leads to Creativity and Sustainability

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

May 23, 2023

Innovation has been a crucial driver of progress and development for centuries – from the discovery of fire and the invention of the wheel, modern day civilization could be said to be the story of human innovation. Advancements in healthcare, farming, education and manufacturing technologies are the direct result of advanced human capabilities rooted in determined endeavor. 

Yet, despite all these advancements, we still face numerous challenges as a society. Climate change, social inequality, and economic instability remain chronic elements of every economy, and history has shown that for every step forward, we have also taken several steps back. 

For the global community to make true headway on these pressing issues, innovative solutions are essential. 

A key detractor to our efforts has been the fact that many of our innovations tend to be short-sighted and unfocused on the communities or issues that require most of our attention. As a species, we have repeatedly failed to consider the long-term impacts of certain developments – or, in the case of climate change, we did not have the capabilities to understand them. 

For example, consider the important yet destructive discovery of the potential of fossil fuels and their uses for combustion engines. These  may well have been the century’s greatest discovery, but in using them at such scale and breadth, we have inadvertently brought irreparable harm to the environment. In instances where we were aware of the harm, we did not act to mitigate these impacts. 

Leveraging our capacity for innovation and creativity will not be enough if we are determined to create a sustainable future. Instead, we must do a complete rethink of the way we think about innovation by centering on how we can identify and overcome mistakes and incorporate them into the process. Sustainable innovation requires these components to come together in a holistic way. 

The Opportunities for Sustainable Innovation 

Sustainable innovation is an umbrella term that comprises environmental, social and economic initiatives that are not just focused on short-term benefits but designed to build solutions for a more sustainable and resilient future.

The benefits of sustainable innovation are numerous. First and foremost, sustainable innovation directly addresses pressing societal and environmental needs, such as inclusion to ensure all segments of society are benefiting from new products and solutions – not just the top income earners. Sustainable innovation can also directly contribute to improving diversity and empathy, while also focus on creating solutions that work for everyone, not just a select few. 

Sustainable innovation also leads to opportunities to fostering economic growth through new, cutting-edge business models that take into account different goals and priorities. These new approaches will be necessary to be able to meet the changing demands of today’s consumers. Nowadays, we see more and more consumers opt for sustainable products and services that exert fewer impacts on the environment. In such circumstances, sustainable innovations can produce better outcomes for society at large while simultaneously being financially rewarding to the innovators.

There are myriad examples of this already available to us. One such example is Daan Roosegaarde’s Smog Free Tower, a patented ionization technology that aims to significantly improve air quality. Powered by green energy, the tower – which is 7m high – is able to clean 30,000 cubic meters of air per hour. Its captured smog particles are then compressed into a “Smog Free Ring” which are then sold to tourists as a souvenir of their support for sustainable innovation. 

Another interesting innovation is the development of AirCarbon, a form of biomaterial made from captured carbon from land and water. This biomaterial is naturally meltable and can be used as replacement for plastic, fiber and leather. The company that founded this innovative material has already developed a range of foodware that never gets soggy in either hot or cold environment, and has a negative carbon footprint. Using AirCarbon products, the founding company has also developed a range of fashion accessories such as sunglasses and leather products. 

CloudFisher is another innovative solution that addresses the issue of safe drinking water, particularly in arid mountainous and coastal regions that experience long periods of foggy weather. It uses a 3D mesh net that can withstand speeds of up to 120 kph that has the capacity to collect over 600 liters of clean drinkable water per day from each net. 

Innovation for Generations

The examples that we have explored are not just expressions of humans’ incredible technological capabilities but also our immense creativity in tackling big problems. These are traits that will remain important as we continue to pursue a more sustainable future moving forward. 

Innovators must stay focused on sustainability as we move forward, making it a core part of their mission and values rather than an add-on. Organizations must make a concerted effort to invest in sustainable solutions, embed sustainability metrics in their day-to-day work, and educate their internal and external stakeholders about the importance of sustainability.

Of course, in the long run, the problems we face will change – and so must our solutions. Flexibility and continual improvement are essential ingredients to sustainable innovation. In rethinking innovation with these values and attitudes in mind, we can reshape how we as a society face the challenges of our present and future. 

Photo Caption: Innovation has been and remains key to human progress.