2.2 Connecting societal challenges with sustainable innovation
Sustainable development offers an organising framework based on opportunity and respect for human values. Innovation is about using change in ways that better meet human needs and values. The connection between the two seems obvious although, in the absence of clear market pressures and a common language, can be hard to realise, especially since innovation can come unexpectedly ‘out of left field’ and have such uncertain consequences.
Innovation has often been the result of presenting (or being presented with) a credible strategic dilemma: a shock that can only be resolved by developing wholly new approaches. Innovation based on better design and new technologies gives us the means to act smarter and more sustainably. Using these tools well depends upon understanding the public’s expectations and concerns, and being able to meet needs cost effectively without raising further alarms over the scale or novelty of technology.
The leadership task is to harness these economic and social trends, capture the tremendous amount of knowledge and experience that exists in networks worldwide and combine these in ways that create value. Traction is likely to be greatest when the management approach is positioned appropriately for the organisation in its network and seen by staff to be relevant and self-evident (if not simple) in purpose and content.
The need for sustainability is already starting to transform the competitive landscape, which will force companies to change the way they think about products, technologies, processes and business models. The key to progress, particularly in times of economic crisis, is innovation. By treating sustainability as a goal, it allows enterprises to develop competencies that will give them competitive advantage.