Open Innovation for More Sustainable Products

open innovation for sutainable products

Most entities are focused on meeting their own needs. This is true both for individuals and families as well as for small businesses and large corporations. However, it’s important to note that satisfying current needs should not just be the main priority. If we want to continue enjoying a comfortable life in the coming years and decades, we should also concentrate on building a more sustainable future.

And, you know what? That doesn’t have to come at the price of profitability. Many consumers are willing to pay a premium for products that represent their own values.

What Does a Sustainable Future Look Like?

Sustainable development is often defined as the process of meeting current needs without sacrificing the next generation’s ability to meet their own needs as well. In this context, we can say that a sustainable future provides our children and grandchildren the resources (specifically, natural and non-renewable ones) that they need to survive and live a comfortable life. In terms of the business world, a sustainable future allows companies to access the resources they need to continue their operations — without having to pay high prices for them and increasing their environmental impact in the process.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see just how important it is to create a more sustainable future. Unfortunately, at the rate that the world is going now, it seems that this goal is getting harder and harder to achieve.

Obviously, one of the biggest challenges is the fact that numerous businesses and industries are still using non-sustainable practices. Many of them believe that these traditional tried-and-tested methods are the only way to increase their revenues and profit margins. It would take a lot of effort to make them realize that switching to sustainable techniques doesn’t really cost that much and that it won’t disrupt their operations.

However, this isn’t the only challenge that must be conquered. Before they can create a more sustainable future, businesses must first know how they can get there in the first place. This can be difficult to do especially for small and medium-size enterprises that don’t have a lot of funds for research and development and don’t have enough resources to spare to focus on developing sustainable practices. Even large corporations can also run into this problem.

This Is Where Open Innovation Comes In

It’s definitely not a panacea, but it can greatly help in helping businesses build a sustainable future in a quicker and more efficient way.

But what exactly is open innovation? This term refers to the process of creating pathways between various organizations or between organizations and individuals and using these pathways to share knowledge in an effectively managed way. Open innovation contrasts with closed innovation (i.e. keeping research and innovative information within the organization).

Open innovation can be used to accomplish various goals. In technology, for instance, it’s the concept behind product platforming, in which tools are provided to developers to allow them to build on an existing product and increase its value. Software development kits or SDKs for computer and mobile phone operating systems are some of the best examples.

This process does have its potential drawbacks. For one thing, it can make companies lose their competitive edge since they’ll be sharing their innovative ideas with other businesses instead of using these to make themselves stand out from the crowd. It also increases the likelihood of accidentally revealing sensitive information that’s not meant to be shared with other organizations. Of course, there’s the challenge of regulating how contributors work on a project, steering innovation to the right path, and customizing new ideas to ensure they fall in line with each business’s unique operations and goals.

However, if we look at the big picture, these disadvantages often pale in comparison to the benefits that open innovation can bring. Because of this, entrepreneurs should not easily dismiss what open innovation can do for their business and their future.

Is It the Key to a More Sustainable Future?

Open innovation is definitely not the only thing that makes a sustainable future possible. After all, even when they already have all the information they need, businesses and organizations still have to turn these data into implementable processes. If they don’t incorporate these processes into their day-to-day operations, having the right knowledge will be useless.

But open innovation can open the right doors and pave the way to sustainability. It gives businesses the chance to share information that can help other organizations in improving their processes and ensuring they can meet their needs without using up a lot of resources. It’s a lot easier to make changes in how you do business when others have gone before you and share their experiences. It also allows companies to obtain useful data from sources that they would not have thought of otherwise, such as their customers, the academe, and businesses from another niche or industry.

One of the best examples is the Global Opportunity Report 2017. This was created in response to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report and is presented by the United Nations Global Compact along with DNV GL (an organization that offers safety and sustainability services) and Sustainia (a consultancy that focuses on sustainability solutions). The Global Opportunity Report does not just offer solutions to some of the world’s biggest issues, but it also shows how open innovation can encourage creative thinking and result to effective solutions for sustainability.

How Can You Adopt Open Innovation in Your Business?

If you’re an entrepreneur and would like to create a more sustainable future for your business, you’ll want to incorporate open innovation into your operations. Here are some ideas that you can explore:

Organizing conferences with other businesses

This one of the best ways to adopt open innovation and keep useful information flowing. If none of the other businesses are willing to organize, you’ll have to take it upon yourself to introduce open innovation into your niche and get the conversation started. To do this, you’ll need to set some ground rules to foster good communication while ensuring that all participants can protect their sensitive data.

Gathering customer input

Most consumers simply wait for the innovations that businesses dream up. But sometimes it can also be the other way around: businesses can learn a lot from the ideas that their customers come up with. So don’t miss the chance to listen to what your target market has to say! Conduct surveys, online polls, and short interviews to get your customers’ ideas on how you can make your products and services more sustainable. This can also help you establish realistic price points that would allow you to reach your environmentally sustainable goals in economically sustainable ways.

Developing product platforms

This cannot be applied to all products, of course. But, if you think that platforming is a good choice for your specific product, you might want to give it a try. This way, you can create an avenue for individuals who are experts in your industry and have excellent ideas on achieving sustainability. It’s a win-win situation for everybody: inventors and developers get the chance to express their ideas, while you get access to innovative concepts that will help you improve your processes.

Hosting crowdsourced design competitions

This is similar to product platforming, but the difference is that you’ll start from scratch. Basically, you gather a group of contributors, provide them with a rough sketch of the goal you want to achieve, and give them free rein on creating a design. Doing this can be scary at first since you have no control over the outcome, but it’s an excellent experience when you acknowledge the skills and knowledge of your contributors and trust that they’re giving their best to the project.


There are many ways to assemble a group of contributors. For instance, if you want to develop a sustainable product, you can get the help of Cad Crowd and take advantage of our design competitions. By hosting one, you can gather creative ideas from our large network of product design freelancers and see how they can turn your initial concept into a working design that promotes sustainability.

If you’re ready to begin, simply go to our Design Contest page and create your own competition. Describe your project (include your requirements and specifications for sustainability) and set a timeline as well as your budget. Once your contest is launched, the community will then submit their designs.

Learn more about how Cad Crowd connects innovators and entrepreneurs with world-class design talent.