Eco Innovations - how eco ideas become reality
What are they?
The term ‘eco-innovation’ is most commonly used to refer to innovative products, processes or organizational innovations that reduce environmental costs, increase social acceptance and contribute to sustainable development.
The concept is often used in conjunction with eco-efficiency and eco-design and can cover a range of related ideas from environmentally friendly technological advances to socially-acceptable, innovative paths towards sustainability.
Why the focus on eco innovations?
Research has shown that there is rising concern, particularly among young people, about environmental issues. Continuing along the same path doing things the way they have always been done will not provide a solution to major issues such as climate change and deforestation. To minimize human induced environmental impacts, movement to a more efficient, sustainable and low carbon economy is vital. Understanding and working with natural processes rather than against them and creating new solutions and technologies is widely regarded as vital in order to achieve this.
The door opens for innovators
As the public embraces the shared effort required to combat climate change, products and services which are seen as more sustainable are being preferentially selected, causing a grass roots movement driven by consumer demand.
The acknowledgement of the opportunities that are available if we act now, and the increased focus on eco-innovations, presents enormous opportunities for researchers, designers, innovators and entrepreneurs.
How to innovate
Fundamentally, eco-innovations may mean development of a new product or service, or rethinking the way in which products or services are currently offered.
Eco-innovations can be created by companies, individuals or non-profit organizations, and they can be technological, applying more efficient processes or using alternative resources. They can be organizational, incorporating changes to the way a system or company is organized to increase efficiency. Or they can be social in terms of altering the way individuals or groups interact in an effort to become more ‘socially responsible’.
If you want to start developing an eco innovation perhaps these definitions may give you the inspiration you are looking for.
Technological eco-innovations can be distinguished in curative and preventive technologies added onto existing production and consumption practices without influencing them significantly. Curative technologies repair damages (e.g. contaminated soils) while preventive technologies try to avoid them. Preventive technologies include additive and integrated technologies.
Additive or end-of-pipe technologies include measures like disposal methods and recycling technologies occurring after the actual production and consumption process. These tend to be developed by what is described as the environmental industry (see http://www.wsn.com.au/).
Integrated or cleaner technologies directly address the cause of emissions during the production process or at the product level. They comprise all measures leading to a reduction in input materials, energy inputs and emissions during production and consumption. Examples include reducing or replacing environmentally harmful inputs by environmentally friendly inputs (e.g. solvent-free lacquers) and changes to the design of products so that they produce fewer emissions during their use and disposal.
Organizational innovations can include things like company focused eco-audits and environmental management systems. By looking at the environmental aspects of a company, appropriate measures to continually improve environmental performance can be implemented. This approach may also include looking at the bigger picture such as the interaction between companies, such as using the waste material from one company or process as the raw material for another, which is also called industrial ecology or industrial symbiosis.
Changes to lifestyles and consumer behavior are often defined as social eco-innovations. In fact, any successful innovation has to mesh with peoples’ values and lifestyles. Increasing the knowledge we have of implications of our actions can encourage behavioural change, such as switching from private cars to public transport.
Communication methods to raise awareness and promote sustainable consumption, such as marketing and advertising, also have a key role to play in encouraging sustainable lifestyles. Access to information on products through eco-labeling and web pages, for example, provide a greater opportunity to deliver more information on products and services.
It is becoming increasingly clear that high eco-efficiency and responsible behaviour is an important competitive factor and presentational innovation will be increasingly important for companies.
How to do it
Eco innovation is basically about challenging the materials, processes and distribution methods that we use and producing more goods and services with less energy and fewer natural resources. Eco-efficient businesses get more value out of their raw materials as well as producing less waste and less pollution. This is known internationally as 'design for the environment' (DFE), or 'ecodesign'.
To minimize the impacts of a product it is necessary to undertake a ‘lifecycle analysis’. Here all elements in a products lifecycle (raw material production, manufacture, distribution, use and disposal and the intervening transport steps), can then be analysed independently. This allows consideration of alternative materials, cleaner production processes, distribution, packaging or other methods to increase the environmental sustainability of a product over its lifetime. It also requires consideration of a product at the end its life so opportunities for re-use, disassembly, recycling or safe disposal can be considered. Tools such as Greenfly helps designers to integrate environmental considerations into their products using eco design strategies and life cycle assessment data and allows comparison of the impacts of different raw materials and manufacturing processes.
The Commonwealth Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) has also put together guidance on how to design for the environment which is available on their website. Product Innovation - An Introduction to Design for Environment for Australian Business or visit the Business and Sustainable Development website http://www.bsdglobal.com/.
Examples of eco efficiency achievements in Australia are also available on the DEWHA website http://www.environment.gov.au/settlements/industry/finance/publications/producer.html.
Once you have the idea the next stage is to put it into practice. This takes time and usually will require cash or other resources. So here are a few tips to help you get your idea off the ground.
Self financing – If you have funds then this is often the simplest means of getting started, however, it also means that you shoulder the entire risk should the venture take longer than planned, or if things go wrong.
Grants – The federal government does offer grants and funding for small business and certain projects. Have a look through the list of federal grants and other assistance at www.business.gov.au. Other sources include State government, local councils and private companies.
Investors – A lot of companies are set up using money invested by friends and family. Usually before individuals or groups are willing to commit money to a venture they will no doubt want to have confidence that the scheme will work, in which case it is wise to prepare a business plan.
Bank loans – This is the most common source of funding. Small business loans will be provided if you can show that the business case is sound and will need to review a comprehensive business plan.
Angel investors – This is an individual or company who provides funds for a business. Due to the risks involved with investing in start-up companies, they usually require a high return on investment. A Google search will provide further details of angel investors groups and services.