Sustainability and innovation hand in hand

13th of July 2012 Article by Markus Asch

Markus Asch, vice chairman of the management board at cleaning equipment manufacturer Kärcher and president of EUnited Cleaning, writes his latest blog for the ECJ website. He examines the relationship between sustainability and innovation.

Successful interaction between innovation and sustainability plays a central role in finding solutions to global challenges. Sustainability in all its diverse aspects can be both the result and the trigger of innovation. Sustained action is gaining constantly in importance, especially in respect of worldwide mega-trends.

Along with demographic change, core issues are the availability of affordable energy, the growing scarcity of raw materials, a shortage of water in many regions of the world, climate change in connection with the destruction of natural resources and the rise of mega-cities. Affected industries are aware of all these challenges and the associated responsibility.

But industrial sectors should not only be aware of these challenges; they should be the driving force and take their responsibility in realising solutions towards a sustainable future.

Sustainable innovations always stem from actual needs and are not an end in themselves. In developing them, economic efficiency is the top priority, and this requires new thinking and action. Keen interest in sustainable innovations exists, as the rising market demand shows. Industry associations, and NGOs in particular, are helping to shape public opinion. In my view, legal provisions that target only individual aspects are problematic.

Clearly, companies and industry associations need support from politicians if they want to succeed in acting sustainably. They cannot do so within the tight constraints of ever more numerous regulations and prescribed maximum ratings rather than clear superordinate goals. Goals of this kind are the only ones that will enable companies to make full use of their core competence: the ability to develop genuinely sustainable solutions.

To generate an innovation from an idea, as a rule there is a defined production creation process. This includes all steps from project approval to series testing and specifies responsibilities for each stage. At its centre is time- and cost-optimised implementation of a product with the greatest possible customer benefit.

Sustainability need not necessarily be the starting point, but can be added later. However, incorporating it at an early stage is more expedient than subsequent adjustment. Because sustainable action is more than only safe energy during the production process, it is about social responsibility, hence social sourcing, and acting economically.

Sustainability is not only a trend, but critical for our future. Thus, sustainability, e.g. sustainable production and material use, should be a self-commitment by every single industrial player. That will increase competitiveness, generate growth and safeguard employment.

In addition, it is also very important for us to develop forward-looking assessment criteria for sustainability because it must not become just a marketing tool. All activities must be credible, verifiable and measurable. Finally, it is all about credibility of an industrial sector itself.


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