Sustainable Innovation for Business Starts at Home

SustainAbility has long recognized and advocated the need for fundamental shifts in business practice – including in business models – both to drive necessary progress toward, and to unlock business value from, sustainability.

In order to address climate change and live better lives, we must think ‘outside the model’ to consider business model innovations that can transform the way we build, power and use our homes.

But while innovative products and processes provide important, if incremental, sustainability gains, business model innovations allow companies to transform whole value chains. Airbnb, for example, has disrupted the value chains of the hotel industry, transformed the travel industry and altered how people think of and use their homes.

What other business model innovations exist that can help stimulate climate solutions and better living conditions within a complex economic system of homes?

BEHAVIOR CHANGE

A classic behavior change business model innovation is that of Opower, a software company that empowers its customers with knowledge about their energy consumption. By leveraging proven behavior-changing techniques (e.g., social proof, commitments, and fear of loss), the company is changing the way people think about their energy use and driving further engagement between consumers and utilities. The company is now serving more than 95 utilities, has saved over US$1 billion on energy bills and over 12 billion pounds of CO2.

Home is an important place, and a place we often don’t want to leave when we are feeling sick or need healthcare assistance. While many companies are working on developing better home-based access to healthcare and products, Science 37 is focusing on a physical to virtual model that uses mobile technology to allow patients to participate in clinical trials from their homes.

Not only is the model more convenient, but with 15-20% of clinical trials never enrolling a single patient, a significant portion of important research never occurs. By removing geographic barriers, Science 37 turns a home into a vehicle for important research towards better cures and treatment.

And lastly, Habito has adopted a freemium model to assist with one of the largest purchases most people will make in their lives – purchasing their home. Using a proprietary technology, Habito offers a fully automated brokering service that helps find the most suitable mortgage and makes an application. The service is free to the homebuyer, but takes a commission from the eventual lender.

HOME OPPORTUNITIES

Those are just a few examples of interesting business model innovations that are creating new value for people and the environment via the home. But there are countless others that must be created in order to deal with today’s challenges:

– With energy needs expected to increase 56% by 2040, could shared resource community solar, like that company NRG is investing in, meet energy demand without detrimental environmental and social effects?

– As 66% of the world’s population moves into cities by 2050, can produce on demand business models provide 3d-printed homes without the high emissions caused from construction?

– Can new crowd-trusting models enabled through blockchain technology allow discrete transactions, from homeowners insurance to deed registries, that operate without (sometimes corrupt or unethical) third-party agencies?

Business model innovation offers many opportunities to go beyond just creating new objects and services for our home, to creating completely new ways to access and offer value throughout our residential ecosystem

Although impactful, stimulating business model innovation can be difficult and often requires certain conditions in order to be successful. One of the most important elements is collaboration.

In order to tackle many of the grand challenges presented by climate change, resource scarcity and global inequality, thinking beyond current business models is essential, as is learning from each other and working together.

By starting at home and collaborating with our communities, cities and nations, we can all contribute to adapting safely to climate change and finding new ways to improve our lives and those of others.

 

This article was originally posted as part of the Home2025 project by The Climate Group.