Paths to more innovation and resilience
InnoReAct aimed to increase the resilience of the Life Sciences businesses (pharma, biotech, and medical tech) by fostering innovation capabilities. The project was a spin-off from the Life Science North Working Group Innovation, with industry and knowledge participants from the Northern German regions of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein.
How can businesses get started with circular innovations?
ILKA Entertaining new ways of thinking are a useful starting point, especially a move away from the fixation with Quick Wins. It takes a shift from the linear to the circular economy. Business models, material supply, and consumption patterns must be disrupted to exploit the potential of the circular economy. This process must be supported and controlled by senior management—so that the shift can occur quickly.
MICHAEL Companies need a deep understanding of the value chain and the possibilities of closing loops along the individual stages. For this, interdisciplinary work becomes even more crucial than before. We have identified 13 fundamental principles based on which we can close loops within a value chain or create the requirements.
This includes, for example, the modularity of products so that they can easily be deconstructed or repaired, reworking old devices, or the extension of use by upgrading with new functions or more performance.
Where are the challenges?
MICHAEL Luckily, the challenges are well-defined, and addressing key challenges includes, for example, starting with breaking up silos between business areas to developing new design standards and concrete problems to convert the internal software processes in such a way that, for example, a so-called reverse supply chain is possible. This means a supply chain for the withdrawal of products, the quality assessment of the parts, and integrating these resources into your production—or in other companies.
ILKA A big challenge with sustainable circular innovation is urgency. We have little time left to address pressing sustainability challenges. The corporate mind-shift process and establishing the necessary essential innovations capabilities has to take place in a short window of opportunity.
Sustainable Circular Innovation needs new entrepreneurial thinking and acting.
How can a circular economy approach be tailored to an individual company?
ILKA To promote the necessary mind-shift in the company, one should ask: ‘At which points in our value chain is ecological, social, and, thus, financial value lost?’ This is a critical first starting point for tailoring circular solutions to a specific company. The answers will be different for pretty much each company and provide a sensible starting point for further steps.
MICHAEL Yes, this very much depends on the individual corporate reality and operating context. Energy-intensive companies initially started to replace fossils with renewable energies. In general, two aspects should be checked: Where in the value chain for a product group is particularly great potential for improvement? And where is also freedom of maneuver for change? The latter can be limited, for example, by legal restrictions common in medical technology – a shared context factor for Life Sciences businesses.
The network concept.
Networks play a crucial role in circular innovations. Because companies need partners to develop the technologies, processes, and capacities required to implement sustainable circular innovation. The participation of the public sector is also needed for large projects.
Only collaborative approaches can create circularity that saves resources and money. Manufacturing processes are converted so that a supposed loss of value—i.e., a waste product—is used as an input for another.
Industrial symbiosis, as practiced in Danish Kalundborg, shows how this can be operationalized: here, around a dozen companies share multiple resource streams. From waste heat and wastewater to chemical waste such as alcohol from biotechnology or plaster from the flue gas sulfurism, these “losses” are used as manufacturing inputs by the partners in the network (symbiosis.dk/en).
Consumer goods can also be produced circularly: beer can be brewed from barley products from the bread industry instead of pure barley. Resources such as water and arable land are saved, and emissions are reduced (toastale.com).
MICHAEL I am thrilled to see how the Innovation working group developed under the umbrella of Life Science Nord. As a working group leader and innovator, it is a matter close to my heart to inspire this network with new approaches and expertise.
Click here for the final report, ‘Wege zu Innovation und Resilienz’ with more interesting articles, including Prof. Henning Vöpel, director of the Center for European Politics or Dirk Ploss, Senior Early Innovation Manager at Beiersdorf.