Last week I was in Portland with 150 others at LAUNCH – a collaboration between Nike, NASA, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US State Department that accelerates new solutions for a better world. This was system innovation in action – bringing players from across the system of materials in a room and using tools like gaming and system mapping to evoke new ideas and new collaborations. As a facilitator of system shifting processes, it was great to be a participant for a change.
Over the next seven years, LAUNCH plans a revolution in sustainable materials. Clothing is a US$1trillion/year business, employing 40 million people. By 2015 it is expected that the global apparel industry will produce 400 billion square metres of fabric a year – enough to cover California. And as Hannah Jones, VP of Sustainable Business and Innovation at Nike said at the event, this also means big impacts: “About 60 per cent of the environmental footprint of a pair of Nike shoes is embedded in the materials used to make them. When you multiply that across our business, and across the industry, it’s clear that innovation in sustainable materials is a huge opportunity, not just for Nike, but for the world.”
The first thing we did at LAUNCH was to play a game – system innovation is supposed to be fun after all. Along with colleagues from R&D and brands, I was running a chemicals company (part of the T-shirt supply chain) having to turn a profit and make the best investments for the future. Our investments had to maintain our finances and significantly improve our environmental performance and standing in the community. But to win the game, your whole supply chain needed to be profitable. It was a lesson in innovation, scaling and collaboration. Only by working with others did you get the real benefits of your investments, and you had to experiment and pilot first, to win big later.
The game accelerated the groups’ ability to collaborate. So when we were focused on bringing our collective expertise to bear on the real materials system – mapped out by Forum Associate, Marshall Clements – we were more than ready to innovate together. There was real energy moving the group towards new solutions ranging from a combined R&D fund for bio-mimicry to a system of land credits to optimise land use for things like cotton. From these discussions, new ideas emerged and new partnerships formed that have the potential to really change things.
This is just the beginning of the LAUNCH materials challenge. The next step is for initiatives to be submitted to the incubation process. In August, ten of the best will be taken forward and scaled. Clearly the proof will be in the pudding, but I am optimistic that this will create real impact and shift the materials system for two reasons: Firstly, LAUNCH has form. It has already supported game-changers in water, health and energy. The Bioneedle, for example, is a biodegradable needle that delivers vaccines and then dissolves allowing mass distribution and minimal waste. Secondly, LAUNCH itself created a profound appetite for change. It brought together inspirational people and ideas and took them through a process focused on shifting the whole system. That demands a radical response that should come through in the submissions.
We all need the ambition of LAUNCH in our work. I would like to see all Forum partners aiming as high as Nike and others – working for sustainable supply chains and radical improvements in the critical systems around us. That is what Forum for the Future is all about. There are lots of ways to do that, but by bringing the system into the room and really aiming high we are all capable of creating this sort of impact.
This piece is cross-posted from Nikeinc.com