Stimulating Innovation to Create more Sustainable Cities

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Stimulating Innovation to Create more Sustainable Cities

By André Veneman, Corporate Director for Sustainability & HSE, AkzoNobel November 2014
Saturday, November 1, 2014 - 12:00pm

CONTENT: Article

It won’t be long before the world’s population reaches nine billion and by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. All around the globe, population explosions are putting city infrastructure under severe strain. And at the same time climate change is posing serious challenges.

How will we cope? Can our cities accommodate so many people?

Yes it can, but we have to do things differently. We have to use our ambition and imagination to deal more efficiently with the world’s limited resources. 

Ultimately the future health of our cities – and the people who live there – will hinge on our ability to do radically more with less. We need more innovation, less traditional solutions; more collaboration, less introverted thinking.

The very widespread idea that innovation is driven by a lonely genius, a specific department, or a very special group of innovation champions is not the case. Instead success hinges on organizing and driving innovation through a team effort and a strong sense of a shared mission.

For many businesses this should start with building strong relationships between different departments. A strong alignment between sourcing, research & development and marketing is vitally important to deliver sustainable solutions that work commercially and could bring a practical benefit to urban environments.

The problem is that in large corporations there is often a strong inward orientation. And there are structures, rules and regulations in place that hamper the ability to set up open relationships – both within an organization and externally. Perhaps the biggest challenge that companies face is creating a more open and forward-looking mindset – thinking beyond current business issues and immediate future horizons.

To engage in sustainable innovation successfully, companies need to be prepared to work in a much more collaborative way. This means working effectively across procurement, operations, marketing and sales functions, and by partnering with suppliers and customers.

Through this collaborative approach not only is it possible to uncover exciting new ideas but it is more likely that those ideas will get to market faster than would be possible through traditional models.

Of course linking up departments is not enough on its own. They need to be all aligned and focused on identifying sustainable solutions that customers actually need. At AkzoNobel we have a strong track record of developing such innovations that bring a benefit to our customers and for urban environments across the world.

A good example is Ecosel®AsphaltProtection which is an additive to de-icing brine which can reduce frost damage in roads by 50%. This product contributes to road safety, reduces traffic congestion, and reduces damage to cars and windscreens. Fewer traffic jams mean lower CO2 emissions and fewer repairs mean less raw material and energy consumption.

There are many opportunities for businesses to develop commercially viable sustainable product offerings that could make our cities more sustainable, enjoyable and liveable. The key to success lies in the business model and in making the right connections – engaging effectively across the whole value chain and working in an open way open way with external stakeholders such as city councils, urban planners, NGOs, and universities.

Companies such as AkzoNobel can play an important role in in safeguarding the future health of our cities and we have a long history of providing innovative products that make the world a better place.

But we know that the world is changing and that our business has to change with it. So we have adopted a strategy of radical efficiency which involves us working with our customers and suppliers to open up infinite possibilities in a finite world. Something we call Planet Possible.