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.