Deep dive: Sustainable Innovation Challenges

Better World Collective is on a mission to revolutionise sustainable material innovation. At the end of March, we gathered multi-disciplinary industry players for an intimate conversation, examining their challenges in sustainability. The discussion highlighted the broad spectrum of obstacles that companies face when moving towards more sustainable practices, from fears of being perceived as “greenwashing” to difficulty accessing “ready to scale” materials. The discussion encompassed key decision-makers from innovative startups, business leaders and corporate ambassadors – including Nike and Santander.  


The evening began with each of the guests unwrapping an exclusive gift: a wallet made from a leather alternative invented by Biophilica, a recent graduate startup from our Central Research Laboratory hardware accelerator programme. Mira Nameth, the founder of Biophilica, co-led the evening’s conversation alongside Plus X Programmes Director Toby Kress and Circularity Leadership Coach and Consultant Connor Hill. After a decade of driving circularity programmes at Adidas, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer, Connor has seen both sides of the coin. He is now collaborating with businesses and brands to bring about change, helping them create truly sustainable products and systems for 21st-century consumers.    


Connor’s core insights included highlighting the importance of brands and corporations, transitioning from linear to circular and placing waste at the start of production, not the end. He noted that consumers seek more transparency from brands; they don’t expect you to change the world in a year, but they expect you to change. This movement requires brands to disrupt their approach to making money entirely – a failure to shift into this mindset means they won’t be around in the future. Brands recognise this, and the willingness to innovate and experiment with materials is happening – but it’s a movement accompanied by some challenges.  


The intimate discussion brought the following critical challenges to the forefront: 


+ Brands keep their sustainability efforts to themselves due to fears of being thought to be “greenwashing”  

+ There is difficulty in discovering “ready to scale” materials 

+ Brands have the desire to use new materials, but they don’t have the timeframe or resources available to test them  

+ Project managers tasked with introducing more sustainable practices to a company often don’t know where to start 

+ It’s tough to know whether or not they are doing the right thing when implementing new approaches - it’s very complex, and there’s a risk of unintended consequences  

+ Impact is difficult to measure, and brands face difficulty when it comes to Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) 


Plus X formed the Better World Collective to facilitate brands in overcoming these challenges. Through curating bespoke and purpose-led connections between big brands and startups for innovation projects and pilots, we make a broad and daunting endeavour simpler. The programme allows startups to do what they do best - innovate, and in doing so, brands can adopt more sustainable practices with ease, speed, and reduced risk.  


The evening came to an end with momentum as connections formed between brands large and small, facing thematic challenges in tackling a common goal – approaching sustainability. Gathering these insights through intimate discussions is a valuable and fundamental part of this process. Each conversation deepens our understanding of the collective complexity of challenges faced by brands when approaching sustainable innovation.  


Want to be a part of the conversation?  


As well as kicking off an exclusive materials innovation programme in April, Better World Collective will be bringing a programme of impact-focused events, curated conversations and purposeful activities. Each will bring together like-minded leaders, innovators, disruptors and change-makers with a common goal – the future of planet Earth.    


Next on the line-up is “Corporate Innovation – A Story from the Inside”, where you will hear about some incredible innovations coming from the most unexpected places and how to make them work for you.  


You'll hear from circular economy material innovators Chip[s]Board, who partnered with FMCG giant McCain to take their potato waste and turn it into bioplastic. The resulting material, Parblex, is perfect for injection moulding and extrusion, making it highly versatile and ideal for use across multiple industries – especially fashion and design. Chip[s]Board used Parblex to partner with Cubbits to produce a range of sustainable eyewear frames. You'll hear from McCain on how they approached collaborating with a startup for the first time, the journey Chip[s]Board went on to develop a plastic from waste, and the magic that can happen when corporates bring startup innovators on board to support them in thinking outside the box. 


Click here to find out more about Better World Collective and how you can move the needle on your sustainability efforts. 


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