October 11, 2022
Founder and Principal, Moss & Mollusk Consulting
In the years since world leaders first established the historic Paris Agreement at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, 193 parties from around the globe have joined the pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As global temperatures continue to rise, leaders from both the private and public sectors are driving innovative sustainability initiatives to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
During the 2022 Sustainability and Circular Economy Summit hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, three of these sustainability changemakers joined Ellie Moss, Founder and Principal of Moss & Mollusk Consulting, to discuss how the business community is pioneering solutions to help reach global climate goals.
Economic Challenges Impact Innovations in Sustainability and Technology
When asked about the factors shaping the innovation landscape today, panelist Britt Harter, Partner in Sustainability Practice at Guidehouse, emphasized that the greatest challenges to sustainability are economic rather than technological.
“We already have almost everything we need to get to net zero,” Harter explained. “A lot of the innovation we need now [is] about how to take those technologies and make them practical in organizations, get them funded … [and] get it done.”
Hugh Welsh, President of DSM North America, added that economic uncertainty in the United States could halt the progress of sustainability initiatives even as government policies continue to encourage climate action.
“A lot of these sustainability projects … are long-term strategic goals of an enterprise that immediately get challenged the moment you face any sort of economic shock or financial crisis,” Welsh said.
“On one side, you have a lot of support at the moment from the U.S. government,” he continued. “On the other side, you’re starting to see some challenges from the market and from shareholders.”
Knowledge Sharing Can Help Companies Mitigate Risk in Innovation
Given the financial stakes involved in driving innovation projects, the panelists highlighted the role knowledge sharing can play in mitigating risk.
Mounir Alafrangy, Commercial Technology Development Manager at the International Space Station National Laboratory, explained the importance of learning from both the successes and failures of past initiatives.
“There’s data, and that data helps build a better experiment,” he said. “Then you move forward through iterations, and you build a great experiment, and then you … build something that can help humanity.”
Harter echoed the need to learn from and build off of past examples, explaining that for many organizations, innovation means adopting proven models of sustainability.
“You can manage the risk because there are lots and lots of analogs,” he said. “We’re moving these concepts from a few leaders down to all of the organizations in the world.”
Leadership Should Encourage an Innovation Mindset
Harter, Welsh, and Alafrangy all underscored the need for public and private sector leadership to foster cultures of innovation within their organizations.
“It starts with the culture of your enterprise,” Welsh said. “We look for folks who are collaborative, not competitive — who want to win, but want to win as a team — [and] who are insatiably curious.”
Alafrangy also stressed the need to empower curious and creative thinkers.
“We start thinking out of the box,” he said. “In fact, forget the box – start with crazy, then let’s start putting some math and science to it and figure out what we can do.”
Encouraging that kind of innovation begins with cultivating a culture where creativity is rewarded, Harter added.
“It’s easy to say we value innovation,” he said. “But it means that when people look around, they see people who had an idea or who took a risk … that maybe didn’t work out [and] were still raised up in their jobs.”
“That’s what makes people within an organization believe. That’s what helps them make their innovation mindset real,” Harter concluded.