Last week, we briefly outlined the basic categories of innovation management software. Today, we’re profiling environmental innovation management. The name is slightly misleading; although some companies, such as Toyota, use this term to invite their customers to submit specific ecological concerns relating to concepts such as land and water use, the term is also used to refer to a larger abstract notion of how technology interacts with the environment. While environmental innovation does apply to benefiting the environment, it usually takes the form of patenting a process or technological technique that can be applied broadly to an industry, thus making the idea itself a kind of map of sustainability.
Because of their broad scope, patenting these ideas or processes can be difficult. Increasing the efficiency of a particular industrial process, such as how to make carpet in a cleaner manner, can be extremely profitable to an organization, to the point that the process becomes more valuable than the actual product being manufactured. However, the individual components of a process, much like a trade secret or recipe, can be replaced or modified by other companies, thus eluding the boundaries of the patent.
Patents become valuable when companies are dedicated to creating a product in the most sustainable way possible, with the least waste. The focus of industry, in essence, must remain on creating the products for environmental innovation to continue to be a lucrative field without the threat of government regulation. “Processes,” like any other product that can be purchased from a vendor, become sale-able items. In other words, those companies that are truly successful at environmental innovation will no longer have to produce anything tangible themselves. They will become entities which sell knowledge to companies that do produce items.
Some academics have theorized that without government regulation, the only way that environmental innovation will thrive is through rigid competition. This presents a considerable challenge. In order to stay profitable, environmental processes — which often are initially more expensive than traditional industrial processes — must not only be greener, but cheaper, too. With so many companies now spending a portion of their budget on environmental innovation, this goal seems increasingly attainable.