Innovation in the context of global warming
The 6th Innovation for Extremes – 30 April 2008
Lancaster University Management School
Innovation for Extremes: Innovation in the Context of Global Warming was held on April 30th 2008, and hosted by the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development (IEED), Lancaster University Management School and organised by Mike Parsons and Mary Rose OMM and IEED. Opened by Lancaster University Chancellor Sir Chris Bonington this exciting conference was fully booked and drew its audience from across the UK outdoor trade, with a set of world class speakers from the outdoor sector, from academia and from the leading environmental charity and lobby group Forum for the Future.
Lancaster Management School’s video conferencing facilities allowed participants to join the CEOs of Patagonia, Mountain Equipment Co-operative (MEC) and Polartec. Presentations from David Labistour (MEC), Casey Sheahan (Patagonia) and Andy Vecchione (Polartec) brought remarkable insight directly to the Innov-Ex 08 audience. Delegates were able to question them about how these leading companies dealt with environmental issues profitably while making their eco-promises understandable and transparent.
Don Gladstone, Brand Manager Grangers on Innov Ex 08:
Many thanks for a superb, informative environmental conference. I must be honest and say that up until to day I would have said the above was a contradiction in terms! What I really feel you have achieved is a ‘solution’ based platform where we can all learn and gain more knowledge about our planet and indeed our back yard! I can only hope the wider leisure industry follows your model of thought and delivery. Brilliant and thank you again.
David Sproson, The Outdoor Warehouse, Windermere
“Having read much on the subject of climate change and the impact our industrial society adds to an ever changing solar system cycle it was very interesting to hear from all the various speakers. It is clearly a very complex subject and one we cannot afford to treat lightly. The responses that Patagiona, Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) and Polartec made, showed just how much an organisation can do to reduce it’s negative impact in this field. On a personal level it has very clearly shown a way forward that we as an independant retailer can and need to do without delay. I would encourage those within the industry who have yet to attend an “Innovations Conference” to do so. It’s well worth it and time well spent!”
Tim Drake Outdoor Industry CEO Think Tank
The day was a great achievement and will have set in train some genuine momentum within the industry for change.
Sir Chris Bonington, Lancaster University Chancellor, Chairman of Berghaus, President Outdoor Industries Association
I found it fascinating and even more important I think it is going to influence the out door trade in what they do in future.
Overview of key themes of the day
The frightening speed of global warming and climate change highlighted by Bob Headland (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge) Chris Sherwin (Forum for the Future), and Nick Brown (President Nikwax Paramo,
member of Board of Directors of European Outdoor Group‘s Association for Conservation), demonstrated the urgency of action and the need to confront the threat of ‘the end of civilisation as we know it, identified by the New Scientist, in April 2008. Addressing this challenge requires a shift in the mental map across the outdoor trade, rather than tweaks by individual companies. It involves sustainability, based on energy use throughout the life cycle of products in ways which consumers trust. It involves imagination, creativity and innovation and Bernadette Macdonald (freelance writer and past Director of the Banff Mountain Film Festival) highlighted the power of taking a long term view, when companies are prepared to take an environmental stance in ways that make a difference.
Avoid Green Wash
Sustainability and ‘Green’ have become buzz words in recent years. The result has been ‘Green Wash’ and a recent report suggested that 80% of company environmental claims are bogus. Building consumer trust through transparent communication by companies is the way forward, while ever more complex labelling serve to confuse rather than to inform.
Transparent communication rather than simply ‘eco-promising’ is a vital step in this process and the recent Forum for the Future Eco-promising report is an exceptional guide on to how to embed trust and build integrity into brands using honest and open communication.
Mark Held (Secretary General of the European Outdoor Group (EOG) and founder of the EOG Association for Conservation) warned how misuse of the green message leads to consumer cynicism giving ‘going green’ a bad name. The combination of transparency and integrity has been recently illustrated by the success of Marks and Spencer’s current sustainable innovation strategy. This philosophy was also vividly conveyed by David Labistour’s inspirational video-conferenced presentation. As CEO of Canada’s largest and most respected environmentally responsible outdoor retailer, MEC, Labistour showed how green policies were the basis of MEC’s culture and brand. Ethical corporate responsibility and the environment are so deeply embedded in the actions of MEC that extravagant claims, labels advertising are entirely unnecessary and consumer trust is enormous. Environment and ethical corporate responsibility is visible in all elements of MEC policy, from its buildings and location, through its HR strategy where the job description includes ‘curiosity’, through to product design and recycling. Patagonia’s ethical and ecological philosophy is well captured in a recent TV interview with founder Yvon Chouinard The company’s eco leadership reaches out across American business, well beyond the outdoor trade.
To quote Chris Sherwin Forum for the Future’s Director of Innovation, sustainability is about : ‘meeting the demands of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs’ involves a holistic response which goes deeply into economic systems down to the individual business and consume- one planet living applying from economies, down to individual plants. At the heart lies a reassessment of innovation which focuses on the life cycle of the product from cradle to cradle, with an emphasis on the energy intensity of systems throughout a product’s life – from the energy used in production of raw materials, to process to use and critically to recycling and reassembly. Robert Lomax (Baxenden, a Chemtura Company) demonstrated that as many myths as realities surrounded the life cycle and environmental impact of textiles and especially textile polymers. In textiles the prime energy intensive impact comes in the product life cycle rather than primarily in textile production. He showed that contrary to popular opinion, cotton has a very significant environmental impact. Although it accounts for less than 3% of farmed land use, it consumes 25% of global insecticide production and 10% of herbicides.
Cross Industry Collaboration is Vital
The depth of the change in mindset and business models go beyond the capabilities of individual companies, especially small companies ,whose owners may be either time or finance poor or both. Forum for the Future’s partnering of companies, to help with change, shows the benefits of sharing and the need for sectoral action and collaboration to achieve genuine change. Companies have to learn when to collaborate (some issues and tasks are too big alone) and when to compete. this is key in getting across our message at bottom.
Consumerism and sustainability
A crucial shift relates to consumerism in a fashion led, throwaway society as Nick Brown, Ed Douglas (freelance journalist) and Chuck Kukla (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Recreational Equipment Inc.) showed. Sustainable design processes and systems allowing recycling and easy repair have implications throughout the life use and re-use of products.
How to make products which consumers want to buy but cutting the waste going to landfill
Four crucial themes were identified:
1. Create products that are much loved and offering repair services to extend their life
2. Make products with recycled materials
3. Design for dis-assembly (and thus enabling recycling) with the the amazing Patagonia shoe design as superb example.
4 Inform consumer choice with trustworthy and transparent eco-promises eg Timberland Green Index which enables consumers to compare the differences between products
A sea-change in thinking for the future of the outdoor trade
Innovation has lain at the heart of survival throughout human history and has taken different forms over the centuries. Productivity driven innovation began comparatively recently with the industrial revolution, and for generations energy intensive, productivity growth became synonymous with creating wealth and prosperity and was embraced by companies, by sectors and governments and shaped business models, products and processes for over a century.Whilst productivity has continued to be the holy grail for many large industries eg. automobiles and electronics, the textile based industries, including the outdoor and sports trade, have relied almost entirely on moving to low labour cost countries. Over the last 15 years outsourcing has removed productivity engagement in Western design and product development. Decisions were based largely on following the lowest labour cost sourcing. Now the upturn in China labour costs is hitting simultaneously with wide ranging eco and energy demands.
As Mike Parsons and Mary Rose pointed out in their closing remarks, this model has reached breaking point. Innovative and creative thinking are needed to transform practice and attitudes we take for granted. The coincidence of global warming with rising Asian labour costs brings a whole new imperative into productivity improvement. This could be called ‘total energy productivity’ ie. human and industrial energy, bringing the opportunity for product designers and their teams to innovate in ways which take account of the energy implications of their designs and the potential for dis-assembly and recycling of their products.
How do we break the current unsustainable trend of wasteful resource use?
A fundamental shift in our mental map can be achieved in the outdoor sector if CEOs, product managers, marketing directors, retailers, work within and between their companies to achieve a set of changes. But these need to be ones which consumers trust and engage with, rather than ones dismissed as green wash. The experience of Marks and Spencer and, in the outdoor trade, MEC, Polartec and Patagonia shows how a holistic approach to ethics and the environment is commercially viable.
For the product manager, with the support of the CEO, this challenge brings the opportunity for creativity in developing genuinely sustainable, recyclable products. New Product Development (NPG) – often associated with change for change sake can become an ‘energy productivity’ guardian. It can include continuous incremental energy savings within all phases of production, the reduction of harmful chemicals, alongside designing to allow mass dis-assembly for recycling purposes.
The conference highlighted the enormous challenges faced by the outdoor trade.Transforming thinking and changing mindsets on this scale brings an urgent need for cross outdoor trade collaboration and training, alongside individual initiative. Success requires expertise from outside as well as inside the trade. Lancaster University Management School is one of the top four in the UK with outstanding international connections and facilities as demonstrated at this conference. With its nationally renowned LEAD programme and a prize winning course in innovation, IEED is in a strong position to offer ongoing support for the outdoor trade, with opportunity for collaboration with the Lancaster Environment Centre and engineering departments- both with strong expertise in sustainable innovation. As Don Gladstone said -a platform has been created which could help take the outdoor industry forward.Reflecting on a successful day Mike Parsons commented, “I have been in this industry I know and love for 40 years and the design and product development functions challenges are greater than at any previous time”. Mary Rose commented:
“The event demonstrated the scale of the environmental threat, the challenges it posed for the outdoor industry and some potential solutions. We look forward to assisting the outdoor sports trade build for future generations.”
Key Messages to take away from Innov-Ex 08:
- Avoid Green Wash, do be transparent in communications.
- Collaborate to achieve change for eco gaols.Know when to compete and when to collaborate.
- Plan and train for sustainable innovation
MORE TO FOLLOW : PDFs and podcasts from 2008 are being restored
We are grateful for media support from Outdoor Trade & Industry, Outdoori, and NWtexnet and to OIA for PR support