Businesses leading the way in eco-innovation

Dr Marcus Gover, CEO, WRAP

At WRAP, we have done a lot of work making the business case for sustainability; demonstrating how it is possible to strike the balance between what is good for a company’s profit line and for the planet.

We believe that we have to shift from the linear make, use, dispose culture to a circular one which embeds sustainable production and consumption and prevents us from plundering the planet’s precious resources. This is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must do’ and that business, government, and all of us as citizens have a responsibility to make that happen.

Innovation is key to achieving this vision. Completely reinventing what is possible – shifting from business as usual to business unusual. 

So I was delighted to be asked to be a judge of the European Business Awards for the Environment – held every two years to reward businesses that successfully combine innovation, competitiveness and outstanding environmental performance.

As lead juror for the Management category, I was privileged to review around 40 applications from all parts of Europe – reaching from Ireland in the west to Turkey in the East. Overall there were 161 applications from large and small businesses from 19 countries. 

The innovation and commitment to embedding sustainability I saw in all of the entrants was truly inspiring. But what they had also been able to do was to clearly show impact - environmentally, economically and socially.  What is more is that they had the quantitative data to prove it. They were building a business fit for the future.

The winners and runners-up came from right across Europe, businesses of all sizes, and from a wide variety of fields. From small start-ups through to global brands, they demonstrated the diversity of European eco-innovation in sectors such as technology, tourism, retail and the building industry.

They included, for example, small companies like Jean Bouteille, based in France, which has found a zero-waste system that associates reusable and returnable bottles with the bulk system; or the Greek company Klimis which is using crushed olive stones to make lime products and barbecue briquettes. Through to larger operations like Arcelik, based in Turkey, which was chosen for its performance against its environmental sustainability purpose.

And the UK was also well represented. Amongst the winners and runners-up were the Glenuig Inn in Scotland – a great example of green hospitality; EC-OG’s Subsea Power Hub which converts ocean currents into renewable power, and EnTrade; a company which encourages better collaboration between the buyers and sellers of environmental services.

There was so much great inventiveness on display. And what was so exciting is that this is already happening, and successfully, right now. It was fantastic to hear about newly developed products like an organic method for soil moisture management in non-irrigated and irrigated conditions; a non-oily lubricant for material shaping and a bubble screen which protections against noise for mammals sailors. 

These are the rising stars of our future. Visionary thinkers who are demonstrating real environmental, economic and social impact from innovative business products and practices.

Above all, they are living proof that companies can build a commitment to the environment into business models regardless of size, development, sector or country, and still be profitable.

They are demonstrating that sustainable production and consumption leads to smarter products and services and puts a business at the cutting edge. What’s more, we know from our own research that an increasingly enlightened public is ready and hungry to embrace this approach.

The businesses showcased in Vienna are showing the way. The challenge is now for all of us to follow their lead and be part of the solution, and not the problem.