This post was published whilst working at Seymourpowell
The dust may have settled on Sustainable Brands ‘15 London, yet its impacts continue to ripple. Hannah Ritchie’s blog provided excellent coverage of our ‘Future Concepts’ workshop that invited attendees to innovate with us on the day. Yet the session was about more than just a clever process so we wanted to share the results with you, too.
We believe that innovation is a crucial yet under-utilised strategy for responsible brand leaders, so our workshop aimed to push more brands along a sustainable innovation path, showing them that this is possible and beneficial.
We see sustainable innovation as a practical rather than theoretical activity where it is sometimes better to dive in and get your hands dirty. So our workshop set three everyday sustainability challenges for the room’s collective brains to work through. These were:
How can we reduce by half the environmental footprint of showering?
How can we dramatically reduce the impacts of using fridges?
How can we reduce the impacts of heating your home, for under £500?
The concepts were almost entirely created by participants from the Sustainable Brands community, supported by Seymourpowell facilitators and with our designers helping bring them to life. Over just 3 hours our workshop generated nearly 40 ideas; not half bad for a bunch of non-specialists with only 15 minutes of stimulus and inspiration. Here is a snapshot of the concepts that emerged supported with the illustrative sketches, created on the day, to support them.
Challenge 1: Rethinking Fridges
We’re fascinated with fridges. They are the single largest energy-consuming appliance in western homes, they are the largest contributor to UK’s mountains of e-waste, plus they also manage and store our food — the largest segment of your eco-footprint. Modern refrigeration allowed food supply chains to be globalised 150 years ago. With a careful rethink and redesign, fridges could become anything — but the faceless, commoditised white boxes they are today. These three concepts approach refrigeration differently:
Northern European homes experience low exterior temperatures throughout the winter months, yet ironically we heat our households, then cool the food in the fridge - which seems backwards and inefficient. One route we explored was to bring in the external cold to help save on fridge energy consumption.
‘Outside-In’ is a fridge that is externally connected, pulling in cold air in from fans during winter months. Your granny may remember this one; it's the larder re-invented.
New packaging technology and innovation could easily help make fridge use more efficient and less wasteful.
This temperature-sensitive ‘Tupperware concept’ changes colour when it reaches 5 degrees optimal cooling, helping you preserve food and reduce waste.
Challenge 2: Sustainable Showering
Many brands are grappling with the impacts of showering. The advent of power showers, not to mention twice-daily showering routines, means that water and energy consumption from showers is on the increase, with modern power showers using more than 50 percent more water than a bath! Showering also uses a complex and ever-increasing mix of products and services — water, energy, showering equipment, shampoo/conditioner/bodywash, towels, etc — only adding to its footprint. The team’s ideas explored multiple technology and behavioural innovation, but two in particular caught our eye:
Save the Fish
Many water-using products give no feedback on their resource consumption, yet evidence suggests that feedback loops can change behaviour. One idea playfully explored this mechanism, married with people’s innate love and care for animals.
Your virtual-avatar fish swims in your daily fair share of water, projected against your shower screen. This then drains away as you wash; shower too long … and the fish gets it!
Dyson Shower Experience
Another idea was to optimise and control the full shower experience. Consumers select a pre-determined setting, such as on a washing machine, which the shower then delivers super-efficiently.
The ‘Dyson Shower Experience’ offers timed slots providing an optimised shower. It consumes less water through physical movement, whilst also air-drying, which also eliminates the need for a towel.
Challenge 3: Home Heating
The day’s trickiest challenge was to innovate the way we heat our homes. We know that lots of building-scale technologies exist to improve insulation, retrofit homes or generate your own energy for heating. However, these can be expensive and technically challenging, so we set a financial limit of £500 for our home-heating concepts. Our ideas explored new and old technologies.
Hot Right Now
One exciting area with potentially huge potential is to heat people, not spaces. This would allow us to be more targeted and efficient with our energy usage and heating.
The ‘Hot Right Now’ concept uses wearable technology with temperature sensors and heating function — blanket, sweater, under/outer-wear fabric. This could easily be expanded into furniture — to heat more people rather than buildings.
We also explored how spaces could be more versatile and be reconfigured to help use heat better.
‘Heat Bounce-Back’ is a reflective warm air device that allows users to retain and recirculate air back to the room and users.
Drawing this together
In case all this sounds fanciful — just fun and games or colouring-in — there’s a serious side to this innovation experiment. We’ve used variations on this workshop process for years now, to help us develop and deliver many breakthrough innovations to our clients: from the world’s first cordless kettle, through the world’s first hydrogen-powered motorbike, the world’s most ethical smartphone and the world’s first public spacecraft.
Though the fledgling concepts might seem underdeveloped at this early stage, in there somewhere may be the seeds of something radically new and different. These kinds of proven innovation processes can help us take new sustainable products and services into the mainstream, ensuring we deliver the sustainability breakthroughs we will surely need.