Use your innovation challenge to solve your sustainability challenge!

How the innovation challenge can support you in becoming more sustainable while finding high potential ideas and engaging your employees

Written by Morten Benn
January 22nd, 2020

Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important strategic topic for companies. At Nosco we see more and more companies using their company-wide innovation challenge to address their sustainability challenge. An innovation challenge is not only a great way to source ideas for becoming more sustainable, it is a great way of engaging the people who have both the expert knowledge and the passion to make your company more sustainable: your employees.

Before sharing some of our experience on how an innovation challenge can be used to address sustainability, let’s just recap why addressing sustainability makes a lot of sense.

Why sustainability is good business

As a global community, we face rapid climate change. It’s a challenge that can only be solved if industry rises to address it. It is in many ways a sensible choice, but it is also good for business. According to a 2016 Harvard Business Review article by Professor Tensie Whelan and Carly Fink research points to 6 very good business reasons for placing sustainability at the core of a company’s strategy:

1.Building customer loyalty

Customers are increasingly expecting that companies are committed to sustainability. According to a study by Nielsen, sustainability-committed brands grew four times more than those that didn’t advertise as sustainable.

2. Improving financial performance

Good environmental, sustainability and governance (ESG) standards is positively correlated with lower cost of capital, higher sales growth, and significant cost reductions through better management of natural resources.

3. Creating shareholder value

Investors are increasingly rating companies on their ESG performance and there is a growing body of evidence that companies adopting sustainability practices outperform their peers in terms of creating shareholder value. 

4. Managing risk

Unlike traditional forms of business risk, social and environmental risks manifest themselves over a longer-term. According to a study by McKinsey of 8000 companies, 72% said that climate change presents risks that could significantly impact their operation, revenue or expenditures.

5. Fostering innovation

If tied to value creation, sustainability provides a significant opportunity for innovation.

6. Building employee engagement

Employees are increasingly focusing on working “for a purpose” that makes them proud. As a result, companies that are committed to making a positive impact on society have more motivated employees and higher productivity.


How can an innovation challenge deliver results to sustainability?

Over the last 10 years, we have helped large organisations run innovation challenges to solve their important business challenges. Sometimes, rallying the entire organisation, making innovation everybody’s business, and sometimes engaging a focused group of employees in a more narrow or specific “call for ideas”.

With technology (the Nosco platform), asking your entire organisation is not only possible, but it is also the most efficient way reaching beyond the usual suspects in your organisation to find new and innovative ideas to drive development. Furthermore, it makes for a compelling story to ask your employees for ideas rather than going externally, when you have passionate experts ready at hand, namely your employees. It’s a real appreciation of their daily efforts and builds knowledge. Not only does this engage them in the important discussion of “what is next” and “how to do it better”, but it also rallies the collective intelligence around your company’s important business challenge. And done right, it improves chances for the idea to be realised. After all, results matter more than fancy “breakthrough” ideas that never materialise. So, using the innovation challenge to solve your sustainability challenge is almost plug and play.

There is, however, one tweak that we would strongly recommend when running a sustainability oriented innovation challenge. Make sure to take a more holistic approach on deciding what constitutes a good idea. Instead of judging ideas solely on ROI and growth try to also incorporate social and environmental criteria. Favour ideas that not only meet your business goals but those that are good for people, planet and profit. 


Our clients are leading the way

A good example of a company that has used its innovation challenge to address its sustainability challenge is Covestro, a world-leading supplier of high-tech polymer materials. Its “Start-up Challenge” is an internal competition designed to encourage entrepreneurial thinking among the company’s nearly 17,000 employees worldwide. In its second year, the Start-up Challenge combined the company’s drive for innovation with its strong focus on sustainability, tapping employees for their creative ideas to promote a more circular economy. The final projects reflected a diverse range of solutions (see video below) to tackle complex global challenges, such as: generating power from plastic waste to counter plastic pollution in the oceans, while providing greater access to electricity for people in developing countries; curbing water pollution with an innovative polyurethane technology; and promoting resource efficiency through recyclable shipment packaging and a CO2-based cleaning agent that degrades more easily. 


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Want to tackle your sustainability challenge with a company wide innovation challenge? Morten is happy to talk to you.

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