Topic Name Description
Course Syllabus Page Course Syllabus
1.1: Innovation and Sustainability Defined Page An Economic Case for Protecting the Planet

We all share one planet: we breathe the same air, drink the same water, and depend on the same oceans, forests, and biodiversity. Watch this video to learn how economist Naoko Ishii sees it as her and our mission to protect the shared resources (known as the global commons) that are vital for our survival. In this eye-opening talk about the wellness of the planet, pay attention to the four economic systems Ishii says we need to change to safeguard the global commons: 1) change our cities into green cities, 2) change our energy system, 3) change our production-consumption system, and 4) change our food system.

What types of resources make up the global commons? How can we create new social contracts to protect the global commons? How can we change our economic systems to preserve and sustain the global commons?

Book Introduction to Sustainable Business

This chapter will introduce you to how businesses are increasingly acting with concern for the environment and society. Read Chapter 1 to see how companies can play a positive role in sustainability, follow legal and regulatory concerns, lower costs and increase profits, and achieve competitive advantages in the marketplace.

How can businesses play a positive role in helping to solve environmental and social problems? What are some examples of sustainable business practices? What does the term "triple bottom line" mean?

1.1.1 Innovation Book Sustainability Innovation in Business

Sustainability innovators create new products and services designed to solve problems created by the collision of economic growth, population growth, and natural systems. Read this chapter on the changing conditions for business and how sustainable innovation concepts can be applied to deliver goods and services to create a healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous global community.

What is the definition of sustainability innovation? How do sustainability design criteria differ from conventional business approaches?

1.1.2 Sustainability Page What is the Problem?

Sustainable development means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future. This video introduces the problem of unsustainability, then explores the importance of sustainability in business. Sustainability requires us to study ecosystem services, resource depletion, the effects of business on society, and planetary and societal boundaries.

What does it mean for something to be sustainable or unsustainable? How is our current lifestyle taking away from future generations to live comfortably and thrive?

Book The Science of Sustainability

Common sense tells us that air, water, food, and shelter are fundamental to the survival of humans and businesses. However, the pathway to healthily integrating the two remains a challenge. Read this chapter to explore the important interrelationships between the environment, society, and economics and their importance to sustainable business. What are the merits of both views of economics with limits versus no limits to growth? How do businesses and individuals threaten ecosystems and the environment? What roles can businesses play in addressing environmental challenges as well as the limitations?

1.2: Innovation and Sustainability Integrated Page The Value Proposition

The value proposition is the cornerstone of a company. Traditional businesses view value as economic performance, whereas sustainable businesses include social and environmental responsibilities as part of their definition. Watch this video to see how real companies organize around the value proposition. Where does sustainability fit in the value proposition? How do businesses translate the concept of sustainability into real actions? How can these actions lead to a competitive advantage?

Book Framing Sustainability Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Even as humans have sought to dominate nature, the reality is that business systems and the economy are subsystems of the biosphere. Read this chapter to discover the four key "meta-concepts": sustainable development, environmental justice, earth systems engineering and management, and sustainability science. You will also find practical frameworks and tools businesses can apply to develop sustainable innovation.

What is the difference between eco-efficiency and ecosystem solutions? How can the meta-concepts, frameworks, and tools be applied to identify sustainable business practices?

1.2.1: Ecosystem Services and Biomimicry Page Biomimicry in Action

When solving a design problem, look to nature first. You will find inspired designs for making things waterproof, aerodynamic, solar-powered, and more. Watch this video, which reveals dozens of new products that take their cue from nature with spectacular results.

How can biomimicry and the natural genius of nature inspire sustainable innovation? What if every inventor asked: how does nature solve this? What are some other problems worth solving?

Book Management Innovation According to Nature's Genius

This article highlights how a "take, make, waste" economy is not tenable in the long term and that it's time to reinvent. By looking at the 3.8 billion years of planetary evolution and the genius of nature, we can find examples to use as blueprints for products, processes, and system organization that help us create a healthier, more resilient future. Read this article to discover practical approaches to biomimicry.

How can the seven principles of life be applied to help companies adopt nature's way and create sustainable innovation? What can we learn from nature to change our "take, make, waste" ways?

1.2.2: Life Cycle Analysis and Design Book The Food Systems Approach: Sustainable Solutions for a Sufficient Supply of Healthy Food

Systems thinking is an interdisciplinary approach that broadens perspectives when designing sustainable solutions for issues like food supply. This article discusses the usefulness of mapping food systems and how applying systems thinking to food security and production helps identify the best opportunities for more efficient use of natural resources while shedding light on the tradeoffs between different intervention strategies. 

How can a systems approach lead to better policymaking and more sustainable solutions?

Book Case Study: A Product Line Analysis for Eco-Designed Fashion Products

Since fashion is one of the most polluting industries on the planet, every stage of the fashion and textile supply chain threatens our planet's well-being. Read this article to learn how eco-design is an important part of sustainable supply chains. The researchers conduct a product line analysis of the outdoor sportswear brand, Patagonia, and its use of organic, recycled, and traceable materials in its eco-product-line development.

What is the impact of eco-design on product line development? How do sustainable fashion firms manage eco-design in the supply chain? How will consumers evaluate eco-design?

1.3: Organizational Vision and Values for Sustainability Page The Supply Chain

This video describes a company's relationship with and responsibilities to its suppliers throughout the global supply chain. It sheds light on the challenges and opportunities for sustainability, the need for long-term strategic supplier relationships, and the company vision and values that act as core drivers of innovation and sustainable supply chains.

Why is long-term thinking essential to developing sustainable supply chains? How do a company's vision and values act as drivers for innovation and sustainability?

Page Breakthrough: From Innovation to Impact

Throughout this course, we will explore real-life case studies on how to transform ideas and inventions into innovations that make a real difference. We will use examples from an international network of leaders, entrepreneurs, and scholars to examine the mechanisms that lead to genuine breakthroughs. This section explains the framework used to analyze the cases, which can be applied to all innovation processes.

What is the underlying structure of the innovation process that makes success tangible?

Page Qualitative Analysis

The underlying research in these case studies is a study of generic factors that play a role in innovation and breakthrough processes. Read this section which presents the research methods used in the qualitative analyses and graphs for the case studies. Familiarize yourself with how qualitative analysis provides context to innovations and breakthroughs.

Page More on Innovation and Impact

We will be revisiting these real-life case studies throughout the book. This section explains the framework used to analyze the cases, which can be applied to all innovation processes.

What is the underlying structure of the innovation process that makes success tangible?

Book More on Qualitative Analysis

The Qualitative Analysis section in Breakthrough: From Innovation to Impact Volume 2 presents the research methods applied in the case studies in the book. In this section, gain an understanding of how advanced qualitative analysis provides context to innovations and breakthroughs.

1.3.1: Eco-Social Values and Worldviews Book The Circular Economy: From a Linear to a Circular Economy

This case study describes how to move from a profit-driven organization to a multiple-added-value organization using an applied scientific approach. It sketches the developments from moving from a linear economy to the circular economy, shows new developments, structures, and strategies, and discusses how to translate them into real-world practices.

What are the values and new perspectives that companies need to embrace in a circular economy? How do society- and value-based business models support circular economies?

Book Marketing and Sustainability: Business as Usual or Changing Worldviews?

How can we reconcile the industrial worldview believing in unlimited economic growth, free markets, and the value of continually increasing consumption of products and services with sustainability goals? This article focuses on business schools and marketing academics and the related perpetuation of overconsumption that works against sustainability.

What are the institutional challenges in changing worldviews and values in the production-consumption system? How can we transform social paradigms and worldviews to meet dematerialization goals?

1.3.2: Stakeholder Management Book The Circular Economy as the New Normal

This case study explores the steps that must be taken to apply circular thinking in the real world. It gives examples, shares experiences, and discusses the importance of a multi-stakeholder approach. It also describes the need for upscaling and innovation from a pragmatic and programmatic approach and shows how implementation gaps can be bridged.

Why is cooperation in the value chain needed at a multi-stakeholder level? If capitalism and industrialization are responsible for social and environmental degradation, what economic reforms are needed to create a circular economy?

1.3.3: Ethics Related to Innovation and Sustainability Book Case Study: Exploratory Assessment of Sustainability Capability of Textile and Apparel Corporations in China

This study explores the highly polluting and resource and labor-intensive features of the textile and apparel industry. It reveals four key areas or goals in corporate sustainability: environmental protection, labor relations, operation improvement, and public welfare involvement. Only 22% of Chinese textile and apparel corporations can be considered "Truly Sustainable Corporations", leaving ample opportunity for improvement.

What moral responsibility do corporations have when producing goods? What factors determine the degree to which a corporation takes on social and environmental responsibilities?  What factors would account for lack of consistent, long-term commitment to sustainability by a company?

Study Sessions URL Study Session: Unit 1, Part 1
URL Study Session: Unit 1, Part 2
URL Study Session: Unit 1, Part 3
URL Study Guide: Unit 1
2.1: Public Policy and Sustainability Practices Book Government, Public Policy, and Sustainable Business

Read this chapter to find out more about the interplay between individuals, organizations, and governments in shaping public policy.

How are policies influenced? What factors affect the policy-making process? How does public policy affect innovation and sustainability practices?

Page The Tradeoff Between Economic Output and Environmental Protection

Due to macroeconomic resource constraints, the traditional view is that governments must consider tradeoffs between economic output and environmental protection. However, leaders who promote 21st-century views show that a nation can have both. What are the potential challenges and rewards of choosing prosperity and the planet? How do societal values influence our choices?

Book The Future of Energy

Sustainable energy is a global issue. In this wide-ranging interview on the future of energy with the former CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, he argues that a shared international vision is needed to bring governments and industry together to manage innovation processes and make renewable energy commercially viable. Read this chapter to learn how visionary leadership can bring forth genuine innovations in energy sources and systems.

Why is it difficult to reach consensus at the international level? What roles do global sustainability frameworks and international organizations play in helping to shape policies? 

2.2.1: U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Book Implementing the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

In 2015, leaders from 193 UN member countries came together and announced an ambitious set of global goals to transform our world. Known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), these 17 goals are a call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and improve everyone's lives and prospects as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Today, progress is being made in many places, but action to meet the SDGs is not advancing at the speed or scale required. This section evaluates some strategic tools available to support organizations engaging with the SDGs.

How can goal conflict within the SDGs work against one another? What are the opportunities to achieve the SDGs by 2030 within planetary boundaries?

Page Policies for a Prosperous and Sustainable World

This video discusses how we can build a robust future without wrecking the planet using the Earth3 model. This new methodology combines the UN SDGs with the nine planetary boundaries, beyond which the earth's vital systems could become unstable. Watch this talk to learn more about the five transformational policies that could help us achieve the SDGs while keeping the earth stable and resilient.

How can goal conflict within the SDGs work against one another? What are the opportunities to achieve the SDGs by 2030 within planetary boundaries?

2.2.2: The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Book The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) produces globally recognized sustainability reporting frameworks and offers tools to help organizations set goals, measure progress, and manage sustainability performance. Read this article that gives an overview of the GRI and its reporting guidelines.

How does an organization begin to approach measuring sustainability improvements? How can these be compared to other organizations and communicated with transparency and trust to stakeholders?

Book Global Goals That Work

Over the last decade, there has been a proliferation of sustainability indexes and frameworks. This report attempts to bring greater alignment between actors and better ways to measure progress using our planet's health and people's well-being as the yardstick, rather than Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or profit alone. Read the report to learn how sustainability is measured at government, business, and societal levels, and how it can be aligned to the triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) and the SDGs.

2.2.3: Green Business Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Page The Growing Demand for Transparency in All Building Spaces

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Read this article, which gives an overview of green building rating systems, including LEED, and their environmental transparency levers.

2.3: International Organizations as Leaders in Innovation and Sustainability Book Business and Sustainable Development Commission Report

Read this report, which demonstrates the business case for the SDGs and the US$12 trillion a year market opportunity available to companies that embrace the mission and lead with a strategic vision.

Book The UN Sustainable Development Goals and Business

This article discusses how one company, Novozymes, successfully aligned its purpose, strategy, and long-term targets directly with the SDGs. Novozymes says the SDGs are a gift to business because the economic rewards for delivering on the SDGs are very significant. Read this article to find out more about Novozyme's journey to SDG alignment and its many benefits.

2.3.1: Multilateral Government Initiatives Book Driven by Nature: The Future of the Arctic

Because of climate change, the Arctic is transitioning to an ice-free future that will open new trade routes and exploit the polar region's vast natural resources amid the receding ice pack. Russia, Norway, Denmark, Canada, the United States, and international organizations are all vying to access these resources. Read the qualitative analysis in this chapter to explore the complexities of international treaties that govern the Arctic and the prospects of innovative multilateral agreements.

How does the changing landscape create a need for political and environmental balance? What are some new opportunities for businesses, economies, and human development?

2.3.2: International Business Practices Book Case Study: A Vision for Unilever

In 2009, the multinational company Unilever adopted a new strategic vision that integrated societal and environmental responsibilities. The company's Sustainable Living Plan was the center of this strategy. This plan aims to help more than a billion people improve their health and wellbeing, decouple Unilever's growth from its environmental impact, increase its social impact, and enhance the livelihoods of all those involved in its supply chain. Read this chapter to discover how Unilever merged sustainability with profitable growth.

What steps did Unilever take to re-engineer the company and implement the Sustainable Living Plan successfully? How did sustainable innovation play a role in helping Unilever achieve its goals? What were the results?

Page Profit's Not Always the Point

You might not expect the chief operating officer of a major global corporation to look too far beyond either the balance sheet or the bottom line. Watch this talk, where the COO of Unilever makes the argument that including value, purpose, and sustainability in top-level decision-making is not just savvy; it's the only way to run a 21st-century business responsibly.

How can selling soap change lives? How can businesses make money and do good? How can company values lead to improvements in societal shared value?

2.4.1: Regional Government Initiatives Book Case Study: A Man-Made Blue Zone in the Netherlands

This case analysis shows how inter-organizational collaborations can lead to improvements in policymaking and real-world outcomes. It looks at how the Healthy Ageing Network Northern Netherlands (HANNN) was created as a 'triple-helix' network organization with partners in research institutes, government bodies, and businesses. 

How can more collaborations like this lead to sustainable innovation for societies?

2.4.2: Regional Businesses and Industry Practices Book Case Study: Dutch Marine Ingenuity

Read this chapter to learn about a family-owned dredging and marine engineering business that has managed to survive and prosper over 150 years due to entrepreneurial ingenuity and continued commitment to its people and environmental sustainability. It takes you through the company's evolution and the challenges of being profitable and responsible while aiming to achieve four SDGs.

As a marine dredging and engineering company, what challenges does Van Oord face in attempting to be profitable and protect the environment? How does the company leadership and culture inspire entrepreneurial ingenuity?

2.5.1: Local Community Initiatives Book Citizen-Driven Innovation

Read this guidebook, which explores smart cities through a lens that promotes citizens as the driving force of urban innovation. It presents different models of smart cities that show how citizen-centric methods can mobilize resources to respond innovatively to challenges in governance. The living lab approach encourages agile development and the rapid prototyping of ideas in a decentralized and user-centric manner. How can mayors and public administrators create partnerships that drive value in their communities through citizen-driven innovation? How can sustainability be integrated into municipal strategies and solutions? How can city leaders join forces to learn and network globally?

2.5.2: Individual Entrepreneurs and Small Business Practices Book Creative Community Spaces

Communities of entrepreneurs create positive social, environmental, and economic changes in local communities. Creative community spaces (CCSs), which are physical spaces that encourage innovation by bringing entrepreneurs and start-ups together, are at the center of these changes. This article showcases a selection of 13 CCSs worldwide that contribute to building a sustainable and entrepreneurial community while helping advance industry-specific and sectoral issues. How can creative community spaces support sustainable innovation from the root level? What are some best practices in creating entrepreneurial ecosystems that lead to sustainable innovation and local impact?

2.6: Ethics Related to Innovation and Sustainability Policies and Practices Book The Responsible Society

Read this interview with one former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, who shares insights into the evolution of sustainable innovation and government programs.

How do the sustainability themes in this course lead to a responsible and moral society? How do leadership behaviors and long-term thinking support environmental and societal success?

Page The Footprint of Companies

View this video, which introduces the footprint of individuals, companies, and other organizations. It sheds light on how footprints on society and the environment can be both positive and negative. Currently, we are collectively living in an unsustainable way, causing an ecological debt to future generations. Since companies are part of the problem and can be part of the solution, we need to reduce negative side effects and increase positive side effects through innovation.

How do footprints help us understand our sustainability problems and challenges? How can innovation move us into a more sustainable future? How are footprints an ethical issue individually and collectively?

Study Sessions URL Study Session: Unit 2, Part 1
URL Study Session: Unit 2, Part 2
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3.1: The Sustainability Entrepreneurial Process Page The Concept as a Generic Factor

This section describes an innovation methodology that can be applied to match capabilities with resources to achieve sustainable goals. It connects the creative phase (idea, vision, innovation, and breakthrough) with the operational phase (mission, strategy, planning, and execution).

How can this concept be applied to real-world sustainable innovation and entrepreneurial initiatives?

Page Circular Business Models

This video introduces circular business models. It discusses how a circular economy necessitates the design and implementation of cascading models, where the same resources are used again and again, and the sharing economy where one resource is used by many. It discusses types of circular business models, including rental, reusing, recycling, refurbishing, and modular design, by applying them to sectors such as apparel, transportation, and sporting gear.

How can companies deliver and capture value by using circular business models? How does this require new ways of thinking about value capture?

Book Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Sustainable Business

Albert Einstein is credited for saying that "we can't solve the world's problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them". Read this chapter, which explores how integrating entrepreneurship, innovation, and sustainable business can help solve the world's challenges.

Book Entrepreneurship and Sustainability Innovation Analysis

Sustainability, innovation, and entrepreneurship involve traveling across new ground and pushing through current limits to reimagine our world. Read this journey through entrepreneurial processes and methodologies that will help you see sustainability solutions to existing problems. 

How can systems and molecular thinking open new product and process design opportunities? What does it mean to strategically apply weak ties, adaptive collaboration, and radical incrementalism?

3.1.1: Identifying Opportunities That Can Solve Sustainability Challenges Page Abundance is Our Future

This talk makes a case for optimism – that we'll invent, innovate, and create ways to solve the challenges that loom over us. How can optimism shift people from scarcity to abundance thinking and help solve our current challenges? How can technology and bold thinking help solve sustainability issues?

Page Responsibility and Opportunity

This video discusses the dual roles of responsibility and opportunity in the design of more sustainable business models. It describes how some companies improve their sustainability because they see themselves as responsible for managing their own social and environmental externalities. Some companies see profitable growth opportunities by addressing social and environmental externalities they do not necessarily have responsibility for.

How would you describe the dual roles of responsibility and opportunity in product design and innovation? How can a company identify and deliver more positive than negative externalities through design and innovation?

3.2: Creativity and Innovation Page Fostering Innovation

Read this article that highlights ways to encourage creativity and support innovation. What management practices are effective in creating a culture of innovation?

3.2.1: Techniques for Encouraging Creativity Page The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers

How do creative people come up with great ideas? This talk discusses three habits of "originals" (thinkers who dream up new ideas and take action to put them into the world), including embracing failure. How can people develop skills that enhance innovation or originality? What methods can you adopt to increase your creativity?

Book Creativity Training in Organizations

Certain creativity techniques facilitate idea generation and increase the originality of those ideas. This article provides a ready-to-implement creativity training concept with design thinking elements you can practice on your own or lead with a team of co-creators. Try out some of the exercises to see how many new ideas you can develop related to innovation sustainability.

File DIY Toolkit: Innovation

This toolkit includes ideas for all stages of the innovation process. While the entire toolkit is very long, for our purposes, focus on the Creative Workshop, Fast Idea Generator, and Thinking Hats sections.

3.2.2: Sustainability Innovation in Society and the Marketplace Page Towards Social Sustainability

This video introduces the concepts of social sustainability and social entrepreneurship. It sheds light on the societal boundaries companies operate in and the social sustainability problems they face, including human rights abuses, corruption, inequality, and poverty.

How can social entrepreneurship contribute to society as an extension of a company's activities in the marketplace? What are some examples of social entrepreneurship in the marketplace?

Page What Next for Digital Social Innovation?

Digital social innovation means using technology for good to tackle real-world social challenges, such as health, refugees and migration, or the environment. Watch this video, which highlights the work of digital social innovators and how these organizations are making positive changes in society.

3.3.1: Specific Level and Sector Evaluation and Need Identification Book Sustainable Energy and Smart Grids: Breakthrough in Thinking, Modelling, and Technology

One of the greatest challenges modern society faces is the supply of sustainable energy. One fundamental issue is finding the right portfolio of energy sources that are environmentally safe and cost-effective. This case study discusses the challenges of electric energy systems and how to integrate sustainable energy resources and smart grid developments.

3.3.2: Proposed Product Solutions File DIY Toolkit: Product Solutions

As you are nearing the end of the course, you likely have ideas for product solutions that could contribute to people and the planet. As part of this process, read the Evidence Planning, SWOT analysis, Business Model Canvas, and Problem Definition sections of this toolkit.

3.3.3: Ethical Considerations Related to Proposed Product Solutions Book Impact Investing and Social Renewal

Throughout this course, we have covered why we need sustainability innovation, what needs to change, and how sustainability can lead to a more abundant world. Another important area is impact investing and social entrepreneurship. This section demonstrates how social enterprises have the potential to connect financial values with the public good. Read this chapter to learn about the work of six social enterprises and their services.

  • How do value-driven social enterprises and impact investors differ from profit-driven enterprises and traditional venture capital firms?
  • How do social enterprises include ethical considerations in their product solutions?
  • How can business be a force for good and transform our world?
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