Sustainability is one of the key emerging trends in recent years. But much like innovation, it is a maturing discipline with few established business practices and lots of evolving methodologies. Sustainability champions at organizations often face the same challenges that innovation champions do: lack of senior level buy-in, lack of process, lack of resources. The benefits of successful sustainability and successful innovation are similar, as well: a competitive advantage, improved profit margins, and better brand sentiment from employees and customers.

But some studies show that there may even be a causal relationship between sustainability leadership and innovation leadership. In fact, this report from Deloitte states that “sustainability leaders are more than 400% more likely to be considered innovation leaders.”

But why is that? The Harvard Business Review offers some clues as to why this might be as it explores the five stages of sustainable thinking that influence innovation:

Regulations Make Us More Creative

Sometimes using constraints helps us to reframe old problems in new ways. By viewing sustainability regulations as an opportunity, leaders might spur more creative thinking throughout their organization in helping address sustainability issues and beyond.

Expanding the Conception of the Value Chain

When creative thinkers start thinking about how to create positive change at their own organization, they might expand their thinking to further down the value chain in terms of how services are delivered or processes are executed. This usually impacts lots of positive incremental change like cost savings or efficiency.

Creative Thinking Beyond Initial Requirements

Instead of just building products to spec, designers start anticipating challenges from the start and begin developing products that include conceptions of the entire product lifecycle. It gives them more ideas and more opportunities to find points of improvement.

Considering Business Models

Once companies have begun the process of looking for improvements, they start seeing opportunities for improvement everywhere which could lead to the discovery of new markets or new value applications.

The Ability to Question Everything

Once critical and creative thinking is encouraged for one purpose, it can be applied to many purposes which can lead to an entire new generation of thinking and organizational conceptions. This allows everyone to draw connections between sometimes disparate ideas and source solutions in new places.

To learn more about how sustainability is related to innovation, download this complimentary infographic.

By Rob Hoehn

About the author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.

Featured image via Yayimages.