The business case for sustainability is a well-worn litany of benefits, both tangible and intangible: cutting costs, improving quality, attracting and retaining talent and enhancing reputation, among others. Somewhere on that list is innovation — sustainability’s potential to create opportunities for companies to tweak or radically improve their products and services in a way that reduces their environmental impacts, often while delivering new features and benefits.

Sustainability spurs innovation in at least a couple of ways. One is that it can provide a different lens for thinking, helping companies to approach situations differently — for example, thinking about supply chains through the lens of reducing suppliers’ environmental impacts. This, says Aronson, “can unlock companies’ innovative potential,” enabling them to see situations from a different point of view.

Sustainability also can drive innovation by adding constraints — reducing weight or packaging, improving operating efficiency or allowing for takeback and disassembly, for example. “The constraints imposed by sustainability can actually serve as an impetus for companies to think differently and therefore innovatively,” says Aronson.

Sterilmed, a unit of Johnson & Johnson, is an example of how sustainability can add value through innovation. Sterilmed — which offers products and services including single-use medical device reprocessing, equipment repair and pre-owned equipment sales — was hearing more and more from customers looking for it to bring additional solutions to market that would align with their sustainability strategies.

“SterilMed already does a very sustainable thing,” explains Aronson. “They take these devices that are designed to be single-use, and they re-process them in a way that they can be used again, which saves money, because it costs less than making new ones.”

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