Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Future Innovations

I was at a Forum for the Future 'low carbon innovation' event last night. I was facilitating one of the tables in coming up with ideas for businesses in 2022, that would work, would be attractive and would save carbon.

They have had a range of such ideas themselves, all available to be viewed at

Plus they will post the ideas presented by each table at the event. However since every table only got to pitch one idea and my team had a number of fairly good ones I thought I'd share them all here, in case any might plant a seed with someone reading:

1. A building company service to enable people to take their home carbon neutral
2. A financing service to pay for this and let people pay over time using the money they save on energy bills and/or increases in value to their home
3. A flexible public transport shuttle system which takes bookings from individuals by mobile phone and plots routes using GPS to get a collection of passengers to all their destinations. Cab experience at bus fare prices.
4. A kitchen info system that reduces food waste by suggesting recipes based on what needs to be used up in the fridge.
5. A hybrid gym and launderette, which partly uses treadmill energy. Clothes are washed while you exercise, soap and water being reclaimed through new filter technology and re-used.
6. A version of eBay where you can only buy and sell locally, reducing impact (and cost) of shipping.
7 A smart switch to turn off unused devices in the home. Could be extended eg to street lighting being triggered like security lighting.
8. A certified green landlords incentive/scheme/classifieds site enabling those who buy-to-let to get charge better rents (ie higher) and perhaps get nicer tenants if they green their properties.
9. A green shared procurement service for small businesses enabling them to purchase at big corporate prices by pooling what they buy and placing large orders, with responsibility built in (just like it would be in procurement at Walmart or M&S).
10. Boarding house hotels for young professionals. Beat the housing market trap, live in a cool shared space, share all facilities and hence reduce carbon footprint too.

My reflections on the event include:
- its great to work on creative solutions, it really enriches the debate, maybe (as someone suggested at the event) this is a template for a much broader coffee house challenge type initiative from the forum?
- is entrepreneurship the right model: whereby 50 companies wastefully all launch slightly different version of the same idea and 49 fail? Is there another model? (dunno - but eg the Swedes are very good at planning local economies with entrepreneurship, corporate research sites, local gov and education all pulling in same direction to create jobs & a thriving sector. I guess what I am saying is more of a science park type approach? Rather than .com = out in the cold/started up and shut down out of pure investor greed and fear).
- is it true that there are lots of good ideas and the trick is making them happen. Or are there relatively few great ideas? (I tend to suspect the latter might be more the case, based on experience with IT innovation - the hunt for the killer app).

Anyway a fantastic event, made a number of interesting new contacts, and caught up with some familiar faces too. Do check out their site for the project. :J


Adrian McEwen said...

Hehe, great minds think alike. I had some thoughts about a service similar to the first two points recently and got round to posting them on my blog on Friday.

And, although it's air travel rather than buses/cabs, Jon Udell has been following a ride-sharing venture a bit like the idea in your third point.

Luke Tipping said...

Great stuff!

How did you evaluate the einnovations? Does the Diffusion of Innovation theory help here?


- Relative Advantage
- Compatibility
- Complexity
- Divisibility
- Communicability

Be key criteria for evaluating sustainable innovations?

John Grant said...

Hi Adrian, great minds eh, but I didnt have the benefit of chants and hurdy gurdy! people are saying that the answer in sustainability is better design; of cities, services, products, routines... But actually lots of the big wins will be more like software IMHO. It's that systemic view of how it all works together, for instance feedback loops as subsroutines.

That's a great check list Luke. Most of the terms have clear meanings in this context but what does divisibility refer to?

My understanding of the diffusion of innovations is all the stuff about early adopters etc.

Maybe this is more of a disruptive innovation model/challenge (an example might be condoms post aids, when the usual generational and 'hand me down' traditions were 'burst through' by a simple solution to an overwhelmingly anxiety provoking problem?

In other words we dont have time for the diffusion of innovations, at least on the standard theory that it usually takes a generation or two?

On the night we didnt evaluate much - we had 35 mins to change the world!!! - but we did have to select one idea; it was more a case of 'show of hands' and I'm not sure we picked the best one. :J

Luke Tipping said...

Hi John,

Divisibility refers to the ability of the consumer to give the innovation a test run before deciding whether to adopt it or not.

Sustainable innovation is a super interesting topic and I'm gutted I wasn't there the other night!

Real change and a reduction in C02 emissions is more likely to come from discontinuous innovations - a totally new product in the market where there are total changes to consumers buying and using patterns. However, these are always the hardest to adopt.

Continuous innovations (a simple changing or improving of an already existing product) or dynamically continuous innovations (where the innovation can either be a creation of a new product or a radical change to an existing one)are often easier to adopt, and it will be interesting to see whether these rules of thumb also apply to green.