Companies that Use Sustainability to Drive Innovation

Mon, Oct 5, 2009

3. Case Studies

As businesses continue to develop with the help of advancing technologies, there’s one thing many think they need to leave behind in order to keep expanding: the quest for sustainability. However, what many small companies don’t realize is that becoming environmentally friendly does not detract from their ability to compete in a difficult market. In fact, those organizations using sustainability as a lens for innovation may even have a leg-up on their competition.

Sustainable & Innovative Companies

Take, for example, American Apparel and The Body Shop: both companies have utilized green methods to produce their products, which seem to be entirely popular. But, if you’re a small company, wondering how you can use eco-innovation, defined by Eco-Innovation.net as, “product, process or organizational innovations that contribute to the economic, environmental and social pillars of sustainability to build and propel a successful business…” Read on to see compelling examples of small-to-medium sized businesses that have made this happen.

Rejuvenation: Manufacturing Example

One such company is a furniture store and manufacturer called Rejuvenation located in Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington.The Premise: Rejuvenation began in 1977 as a small store selling architectural salvage. Essentially, the company focuses on manufacturing period lighting and hardware, growing its business, and treating the environment fairly and with respect. What’s innovative: Rejuvenation maintains strong growth, while attempting to go green from the ground up. First off Rejuvenation’s sustainability initiative begins with its employees, whom the business compensates for walking, riding bicycles, and car-pooling to work. Furthermore, the company places its focus on the minute details, as well the larger impact it makes. That includes everything from our big-picture manufacturing practices – like the clear coating system which significantly lowered our VOC output [by 75 percent] – all the way down to the little details such as replacing paper-wasting salt-and-pepper packets with large containers in the lunchroom. Thus, with the new system Rejuvenation set in place to clear coat its hardware and lighting fixtures, it has made technological advances, turned over greater revenue, and done everything it can to surge ahead in its sustainability initiatives. Also, the lighting systems the organization produces are both aesthetically pleasing and contain compact-fluorescent technology, so they end up being energy-efficient as well. Last but not least, the company has organized a take-back program for its customers, where it pays to have its products shipped back to the warehouse, where the parts are re-used for further production.

Sage’s Way Landscaping: Sustainable Services

Another small business that focuses more on innovatively sustainable services than product is Sage’s Way landscaping.The Premise: Sage’s Way works in the Mid-West on sustainable landscaping that meshes well with the surrounding scenery.What’s Innovative: The company replaces water-guzzling plants with shrubs that are more drought- friendly and incorporates permaculture into its design. Under the banner of permaculture you will find topics that include soil restoration, clean water, waste systems, eco-forestry, renewable energy systems, natural building methods, erosion control, urban food security and local economies.They provide resources to help aid you on your journey towards innovation in sustainability.

Resources for Companies

What many can learn from these small businesses is that whether providing a service or a product, innovation, sustainability, and profit can all walk hand-in-hand.The website www.eco-innovation.net defines eco-innovations (EI) and provides resources on several ways to incorporate development and eco-responsibility. Also, many open-minded entrepreneurs have continued to delve into this world of eco-innovation with something called eco-preneurship, where they develop cutting edge green business models. An aspiring ecopreneur can find information at www.ecopreneurist.com and http://www.ecopreneursguide.com. Furthermore, for small business owners, there’s BALLE- Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (at http://www.livingeconomies.org/)

By Fallon M. McCormick. Fallon can be reached at fmm245@nyu.edu.

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