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Future-proof your organisation through sustainable innovation

Find out how sustainable innovation can improve your business’ resilience and impact.

Windmills representing sustainable innovation for long term change.

Sustainable innovation for long-term change

As the market is flooded with new companies and ideas, and businesses have to work harder than ever to remain competitive and relevant, innovation has never been more important. Innovation improves productivity, efficiency, quality of service and customer satisfaction and, with the use of new and improved technology and processes, it also reduces risks and costs.

However, businesses shouldn’t just consider their productivity, revenue and profit; they should also consider how they position themselves in society, and that requires a focus on environmental, social and cultural sustainability. Even though traditional innovation might result in profitability and efficiency benefits for a company, it might also exploit employees, as well as natural resources.

As a result, there is a growing concern among investors and consumers that companies look not only at revenue and profit but also the complete sustainability value chain. This includes the impact on the environment as well as social and economic sustainability.

“Sustainable Innovation” takes into account both the effect on the environment and on society as a whole. Sustainable innovation benefits and is driven by society, the environment and the organisation through long-term thinking, which offers social and environmental benefits while creating economic profits for the firm 1 . This involves developing new products and services, as well as reviewing and updating operational processes, throughout the business, from design and production to marketing 2 .

Sustainable innovation is a great way to future-proof your business, and it also makes your company more resilient and targeted in your approach as you’re considering all the stakeholders. Sustainability can be achieved in three ways: through operational changes, by considering compliance and efficiency to improve processes; through organisational updates, by, for example, offering innovative products and services focused on doing good; and through integrating new systems, by collaborating with others to create a positive impact on the environment, as well as society 3 .

Achieving sustainability through open innovation

Collaboration through the use of “open innovation”, for example, can initiate the process towards sustainable innovation. Open innovation describes the process of opening up your innovation process to external input, rather than just relying on your R&D department. This external input can be compiled in multiple ways, such as via customer feedback, external agencies or the public 4 .

One service making open innovation possible is the HYVE crowd, a crowdsourcing platform on which companies can generate, develop and test innovative ideas, concepts and solutions by running them past the global community. The HYVE crowd describes itself as “the platform where professional talents and experts jointly solve previously unsolvable challenges." 5 The HYVE crowd community consists of more than 8,000 people from around the world, ranging from students, designers, managers and entrepreneurs to software developers and architects.

The Canon idea challenge 2021

The Canon Idea Challenge

In 2021, Canon made use of the HYVE crowd platform to host an international competition on future-proofing sustainability in the book and publishing industry. Our corporate philosophy is Kyosei — 'living and working together for the common good' — and, as part of that, sustainability is a huge focus for us as a business.

That’s why, in tandem with the Future Book Forum 2021, we started the Canon Idea Challenge, which welcomed innovative ideas to make printed books more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. The challenge was hosted on the HYVE crowd platform and open to everyone inside and outside the book industry.

We aligned the goals of our challenge with a number of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Participants were asked to submit their innovative ideas, addressing questions such as: How do we provide communities with access to printed books and make them more easily available and affordable to inspire and educate? And how do we give more people access to knowledge and use books to advocate sustainability themes such as equality, sustainability, justice, and to safeguard and strengthen the environment?

However, we also posed questions surrounding environmental sustainability. For example, how do we sustainably manage natural resources, waste and use throughout the lifecycle of a book? And how do we encourage a circular economy and print-on-demand services?

The winning entry was an initiative called ‘Topic Heroes’ by Lucy Swanston. 6 Topic Heroes is an existing platform, based in the UK, with the aim to encourage children to write more and find joy in the process. It allows them to write, illustrate and then professionally print their own book, overcoming the boundaries of the traditional book publishing model. The service is free for primary schools, making the writing and printing process more accessible for everyone.

We were extremely impressed with the enthusiasm with which the community embraced new ideas and practices shared in the forum. This influenced our Canon Future Book Forum event theme for 2022, where we focused on sustainable and profitable growth in publishing. This not only gives us immense hope for a sustainable future for the book industry but also provides a strong proof point of the effectiveness of sustainable innovation for businesses.

  1. Source: Network for Business Sustainability – What is Sustainable Innovation – 2021
  2. Source: Network for Business Sustainability – What is Sustainable Innovation – 2021
  3. Source: Network for Business Sustainability – What is Sustainable Innovation – 2021
  4. Source: Journal of General Management – Intervening role of realized absorptive capacity in organizational culture–open innovation relationship: Evidence from an emerging market – 2017 and Oxford University Press – Explicating open innovation: Clarifying an emerging paradigm for understanding innovation in New Frontiers. In Open Innovation: definition and explanation. Research Briefing. The Oxford Review.
  5. Source: HYVE Crowd – 2022
  6. Source: Topic Heroes – 2022

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Find out more about the Canon Idea Challenge and our winners