5 Ways to Eco-Innovate

5 Ways to Eco-Innovate

5 Ways to Eco-Innovate

Jacquelyn Ottman

Originally published: 2012 (PDMA Visions Magazine Issue 3, 2012 • Vol 36 • No 3)
Read time: 4 minutes

It’s good to use the most authentic green design principles possible to create products with a lower impact, but even this may not be enough. In a quickly shifting consumer market with an eye on sustainability, the rules are rapidly changing. To stay competitive, forward-thinking businesses need to stay ahead of the curve and practice “eco-innovation.”

As explained in “The New Rules of Green Marketing,” eco-innovation means innovating at the concept stage. Green marketers must develop products that fulfill the same functions in entirely new, sustainable ways. These improved products do not rely on generic green claims to generate sales. Rather, products with additional value will sell themselves among enthusiastic consumers.

Industry leaders are taking green to the next level by following my five steps to ecoinnovation:

1: Innovate at the System Level

Businesses must consider the entire system from which their products draw resources and deposit by-products. Then they must fundamentally change how their products relate to that system.

The Japanese company Soladey decided to completely change how customers brush their teeth. The company built a photocatalytic titanium dioxide rod into the handle of their toothbrush. Brushing in a bright room triggers chemical reactions that break down tooth plaque, eliminating the need for toothpaste.

Disposable diapers crowd landfills while reusable diapers present hygiene challenges. Therefore, makers of the gDiaper designed a reusable, washable diaper with a disposable inner lining. This disposable lining can be flushed down the toilet, ensuring that the human waste winds up in a sewage treatment rather than a landfill where it could contaminate groundwater.

2: Develop New Materials

Instead of merely cutting down on use of materials, marketers must try to develop new materials altogether.

Coca-Cola’s “plant bottle” combines petroleum-based plastic with up to 30 percent plant-based materials. This includes sugar cane, molasses and other by-products of sugar production. The plant bottle is fully recyclable and has shown to reduce carbon emissions by up to 25 percent. An alternative bioplastic is Natureworks’ Ingeo, made from 100 percent polylactic acid (PLA), which comes from the fermentation of corn. The company integrated this material into a wide array of food packaging and food serviceware. Ingeo also lines the new Ecotainer—a compostable paper cup made by International Paper in collaboration with Coca-Cola.

3: Develop New Technologies

Industrial progress does not have to be at the expense of the environment. Companies are learning to harness technological advancement to solve environmental challenges in remarkable ways.

Moving beyond compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) lighting, new light-emitting diodes (LEDs) will increase bulb efficiency and last twice as long as CFLs. These LEDs are projected to represent 46 percent of the $4.4 billion U.S. market for lamps in the commercial, industrial and outdoor stationary sectors by 2020.

Clean energy has also migrated to portable devices and hip, new consumer products. Solio, for example, is a hand-held charger that powers cell phones, digital cameras, iPods and the like for up to 56 hours on nothing but sunlight.

4: Develop New Business

Eco-innovators often realize that instead of reducing a product’s wastefulness, they can replace that product altogether with a low-impact service.

Zipcar, the largest car-sharing company in the world, personalizes the notion of public transportation. Paying only $8 per hour or $77 per day, Zipcar members can rent a car for small trips and errands and eliminate the need to pay for gas, insurance, maintenance or a parking spot.

Similarly, textbook publisher Cengage Learning began renting textbooks to college students in 2009. Upon purchase, students gain electronic access to the book’s first chapter and receive the physical book by mail. Cenage also offers students with PDF chapters of textbooks, providing a convenient and eco-friendly learning experience.

5: Restore the Environment

The true leaders of eco-innovation will work to actually reverse industry’s damage to the environment. Businesses must implement new technologies and business models that can actually improve the environment in which their products are sold.

Procter & Gamble provides clean water to developing nations via PUR, a powder that instantly removes dirt, microbial cysts, pollutants and bacteria from drinking water.

The BASF PremAir ozone catalyst attaches to car radiators and converts up to 80 percent of the ground-level ozone it filters to oxygen. It is now a standard device in several automobiles, including all Volvo models and certain BMW, Mercedes, Mitsubishi and Hyundai cars.

About the Author

Jacquelyn Ottman is principal and founder of the New York City-based J. Ottman Consulting. She is an expert adviser on green marketing to Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. government and the author of four books on the subject. Her latest is “The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools, and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding.” For more information or to download a free chapter, visit www.greenmarketing.com.

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