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Feeding Sustainable Local Designs into Global Distribution Chains

Regional innovation programs to bridge the market divide between established companies and emerging technologies to reduce plastic waste.

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Designs and technologies to replace disposable, small-format plastics already exist, but have not successfully been incorporated into our global supply chains.  One perceived challenge is that alternatives to plastic tend to be locally-sourced materials within limited supply / insufficient supply to scale globally.  Other challenges include the external economic and internal corporate challenges to market implementation (please see my research submission for reference about such challenges). 

I propose creating a network of regional sustainable innovation programs or institutes to bridge the market divide between established companies in the region and sustainable designs (aka emerging start-ups) in order to increase the adoption of sustainable technologies that replace disposable small-format plastics locally.  I am part of a group of sustainable innovation professionals in the Pacific Northwest who have discussed forming such a center in our region. 

We understand that established companies frequently fail to properly connect with start-up technologies to solve sustainability challenges.  Often times the established company does not really know what it is looking for and their tech scouts are insufficiently prepared to understand the needed technologies.  The burden is on start-up companies to conduct high-risk discovery into established industry to understand their potential customer’s needs and adapt appropriately.   Start-ups have very limited resources to do this and frequently do not have capacity to scale up to supply an established company.  As a result, many feasible technologies fail to be adequately integrated into established industries’ supply chains. 

In the Pacific Northwest, for example, we have asked the question of whether we can utilize spent grain from our bourgeoning brewing industry (e.g. Oregon Brewers Association) to make disposable plastic substitutes that feed into our regional supply chains through companies such as Whole Foods.  Our design case study is Saltwater Brewery’s edible six-pack ring, which is safe to and edible by marine life.

We anticipate that our program would engage in proactive matchmaking and facilitation between established companies and emerging designs/start-ups.  We would conduct discovery into the needs of established companies as part of that process, search for sufficiently financed/mature technologies and designs, present potential candidate technologies /start-ups to established companies, and provide the parties with a sustainable innovation workflow navigator or process to help them collaborate effectively to get to market implementation.

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

I, along with my fellow sustainable innovation professionals in the Pacific Northwest believe that we need facilitation between sustainable designs (aka emerging start-ups) and established companies in the global supply chain in order to get to actual market implementation. Sustainable design alternatives already exist, the challenge is to scale and incorporate them into the global market. Our idea is to focus on making this happen so that sustainable designs end up in the marketplace.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

This idea applies to all of the disposable, small-format plastics use cases presented in this challenge and targets all geographic regions, although our pilot study is in the Pacific Northwest.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

Our idea is focused on overcoming scale-ability challenges with regional sustainable innovation programs focusing on local resources, local markets, and local companies with global reach. We would engage in proactive matchmaking and facilitation between an established company and emerging design/start-up. We would conduct discovery into the needs of the established company as part of that process, help identify a suitable partner technology, and provide the parties with collaboration tools.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Prototyping: You have conducted some small tests or experiments with prospective users and will continue developing idea through these tests.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

Funding from this challenge would provide us with the resources to move forward and for me to dedicate my time to this project. Our pilot would be a project in the Pacific Northwest. We anticipate that we would engage in proactive matchmaking and facilitation between an established company and emerging design/start-up, as described above.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

This idea emerged jointly from my software development and consulting work targeted at greening consumer products at my start-up, EcoValuate (please refer to my prior research submission), as well as my work with other sustainable innovation professionals in the region to form a Sustainable Innovation program. I spent some time developing the sustainable innovation workflow navigator and critical project discussion questions & team roles as a student of IDEO U’s From Ideas to Action class.

Tell us about your work experience

My focus has been on helping companies and organizations navigate the sustainable innovation process through visual tools, rapid iteration, and multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

EcoValuate is an LLC. The pilot project is envisioned as organized around a non-profit or a program within an existing non-profit (e.g. Oregon BEST).

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Hi @Kate Rushton, I am interested in continuing to participate in the refinement phase of the circular design challenge, but not necessarily committed to a specific project. I'm more of a big picture thinker. Any chance to chat about the possibilities? Thanks! Joanna

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