Earth Day is on the 22nd April 2017 – a long-standing global, educational movement that aims to put a spotlight on the ways in which individuals can help counteract the ever present climate change threat.

But how can heavy industry take this ‘big picture’ thinking and make it work at a practical level?

The onus is on all organisations to take a robust sustainability stance but in capital intensive arenas – with stringent regulatory policies in place – making positive change possible relies on many different parameters.

Science can support in finding socially responsible ways forward that are both cost acceptable and operationally viable. Strategies that avoid ‘system reset’ and the huge disruption and expense this can incur are the optimum answer. But arriving at a resolution takes short, medium and long-term innovation. Google may be going for the ‘moonshot’ but innovation in slower paced pockets of industry is more likely to occur by linking together a series of smaller but significant breakthroughs that build toward the ‘optimum answer’. A concept which was presented in a paper titled ‘Finding a lower risk path to high impact innovation’ published in MIT’s Sloan Management Review (Summer 2016)[1].

We drew parallels with this paper when we took part in the Disruptive Innovation Festival (DIF) aligned with Ellen McArthur’s circular economy foundation in September 2016. You can view the presentation here. Here we explored how so-called ‘laggard’ sectors can implement forward-thinking initiatives – themes that are very pertinent to the Earth Day initiative at an organisational level.

Breaking down the barriers that so often prevent industries involved in areas like pharmaceuticals, speciality chemicals and food and beverage processing, from achieving their environmental aspirations is dependent on a change in corporate mind-set. A realisation that sometimes it has to be a case of evolution over revolution and that, often the stimulus for step change, can come from seemingly unrelated sources.

Take the tomato stain that led to scientists watching paint dry in a bid to remove a potentially carcinogenic substance from use. Or the journey that allowed 3,000 clever catalysts once destined only for the washing machine to make in-roads for industries seeking cleaner, safer, faster ways of working.

It’s time to think differently and Earth Day is an opportunity to recognise the constraints that corporates face so that, together, we can overcome them.

By Paul Smith, CEO, Catexel

*Finding a lower risk path to high impact innovations – Joseph V.Sinfield & Freddy Solis (published in the Summer 2016 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review magazine)


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