Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Process Innovation and Sustainability

The European Union Official Journal stated in 2006 that promoting research, development and innovation “(R&D&I)” is an important objective to its common interest. Research and Development (R&D) has long been a familiar notion in the market process, but Innovation in particular is a recent phenomenon taking on new meanings.

These days, Innovation is often cited to bridge between scientific discoveries and development of services or products with market success. On one end is the field of diverse knowledge, ranging from the precise motions of a sloth to the possibilities of harnessing anti-matter, put together by clever people who see ways to combine discoveries into a unique pattern resulting in useful products and services; on the other end is the market place of consumers buying up whatever it is that they need or want to perpetuate their beautiful lives. In between is this bridge—Innovation, a long and arduous journey starting from creating market ideas, refining the ideas based on market research, raising capital, getting to market, competing and establishing a new value proposition (or improve on an existing value proposition) to the consumers, and then surviving the consumer trends.

A man can get lost on this bridge. It's a big bridge, and neither end has calm waters. Research dollars are ever shrinking driven by market demands that make no sense. The market place continues to be influenced by the media frenzy for narcissistic attentions. Sharks swarm in both ends and currents are unpredictable. Let's face it, Innovation is no vacation. Take health care for example, once a profession that is purposed to heal the wounded and cure the sick, now reduced to a model of innovation for shareholder value, prolonging diseases, or worse creating new ones. To help mitigate our vulnerabilities when sick or injured, policy makers put regulations in place. But the pharma regulatory environment does little to actually incentivize new and improved cures. Instead, it is focused on fierce competitions, development silos, and contributes more to indirect costs on layers of bureaucratic fat making drugs more expensive and less accessible.

So it is a good thing that we are starting to pay attention to the Innovation process, if our goal is to figure out market improvements towards sustainable goals. In all of our current market madness, there is opportunity to improve our existing market infrastructure and the innovation process to change market and human conditions for the better. In fact, talking Process and Innovation in a single context is putting capitalism to the test and incorporating proper balanced social and environmental mechanisms to strive for sustainable outcomes. Here's our common ground: that we are all after the same thing—a better way of getting science to market with a sense of responsible market choices driving forward R&D and impacting our societies for the sustainable better future, together.

Innovation in this sense is all about process improvement, isn't it? In fact, almost every sovereign nation recognizes this for its people. China for example, is in its New Normal of slower economy (down from the double digits to around 5-6%) hoping to achieve some sort of maturity and deliberation in its new market. It is focused on intellectual capital, service based economy, and Innovation. Here at home, the United States is also seeing a new wave of incubators and accelerators and business, college, and private sector alliances to jump start our local economies focused on Innovation. Worldwide, we are seeing alternative funding mechanisms (e.g., crowdfunding, digital currency, etc) and more transactions driven by the new possibilities of technologies and collaborative efforts to bridge R&D with Innovation. A 2006 EU official journal article defines Innovation as “a process connecting knowledge and technology” exploiting market opportunities for new or improved products and services. Like the EU, other parts of the global community recognizes the importance of a process based approach taking on not just economic bottom lines, but also taking on environmental issues, and social justice issues, to Innovate. In this context, risk is a significant factor to consider when identifying market opportunities. Opportunities not just found in the global climate changes that risk the entire earth's ecosystem, but also in the global social changes that risk the stabilities of global economic and governance developments. If we fail to recognize these risks, we would not identify the opportunities where Process Innovation can make an impact to clean the air and water, eliminate global poverty, and deliver sensible health care solutions. But to recognize those risks means we have to put Research, Development, and Innovation together in a context of sustainable developments (focused on environmental, social, and economic risk mitigations).

Process Innovation and Sustainability are therefore one of the same thing. The former is the infrastructure and the latter its substantive content to a path forward. This is a game where we the players can change the way we play for the better. Innovation is not about the cliché game changers.

Innovation is about the people who would want to change the game – ready players.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Leading The E-Waste Industry (Cincinnati Health Care Driving the Sustainability Change)

E-waste is discarded electronics – the latest and greatest of technology just a few years into their life cycle doomed by the newest upgrades. Our narcissistic need for trendy gadgets has increased the demand and reliance on raw materials, rare earth and precious metals. But our material supply is limited and much of the electronics currently in circulation are not being recycled. The depletion of natural resources itself is bad enough, but the vast amount of e-waste in landfills is also polluting at their worst.

In 2014, one study estimated 41.8 million metric tons of e-waste was generated – “an amount that would fill 1.15 million 18-wheel trucks. Lined up, those trucks would stretch from New York to Tokyo and back.” E-waste is the fastest growing municipal waste in the United States. Globally, the volume of e-waste was expected to rise by 33% between 2012 and 2017. The problem is amplified by illegal dumping into developing countries like China, India, and African countries. E-waste buyers in those places are often unregulated despite stringent laws in place. They extract commodities from e-waste using the most horrendous methods. Their people pay the price with their health and safety, but the world suffers from their poor environmental and social practices.

Enter the responsible e-waste recyclers. Domestic players who process e-waste locally and creating jobs, putting value back into commerce. But the US e-waste industry is no rose garden either. A recent HuffPost article pointed out that industry workers in the U.S. have been documented to have “taken home” contaminants (e.g., lead) to cause health problems in children exposed to the contaminant particles. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does require e-waste recycling facilities to provide protective clothing and respirators to their employees. But the lack of proper training among other things have attributed to detectable health effects. Or, the current protective standards are not sufficient and we need to improve those and reflect the changes in our policies and regulations.

The HuffPost article named a Cincinnati resident impacted by this “take-home” contaminant problem. Cincinnati Children's Hospital made the medical discovery. There are other e-waste recyclers in Cincinnati who are part of the responsible business community and are more than happy to hear medical data is now available to help improve our standards and hold accountable our performances. This may very well effect policy changes and put Cincinnati on the map for being the e-waste expert. Cincinnati's health care industry also can lead the world in medical research on this topic, further strengthening Cincinnati's credentials.

Remember: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Did you know Americans dump over $60 million in gold/silver every year in just cell phones. For every 1 million cell phones, 35,274 lbs of copper, 772 lbs of silver, 75 lbs of gold, and 33 lbs of palladium can be recovered. 

One estimated the value of e-waste to be worth $52 billion in 2014.