A complex conversation over the (business) world

A Helsinki Design Week’s Aalto University’s Designs for a Cooler Planet’s program Design Club talk on 10th of September about the topic “System Innovations for Business Sustainability” and how does the talk transfer into today’s global business environment with academic researcher Dr. İdil Gaziulusoy and business Dr. Heli Antila, the Vice President, Biobased Solutions at Fortum was highly interesting and complex. 

First İdil Gaziulusoy challenged us with her ideas of System Innovations for Business Sustainability. She shared us that the system innovation works in three levels aka Three Spheres of Transformations that are:  

Practical – > product, services, innovations, technology (technological responses) 

Organizational -> New business models (systems and structures) 

Socio-cultural ->  Zone of difficult questions, the role of businesses (beliefs, values, worldviews and paradigms) 

What is wrong in the current business world 

Normal businesses function in basic level and need to change to be able to keep in the run but to have the changes done in 5 years is too slow. Innovations are also done separately and system innovation for business sustainability is really hard to accomplish. Innovations happen in boarders, that might be only partly linked to companies strategies. Regulations work differently in different sections. Other problem is those multiple sectors and that sectors themselves are in silos .

A big problem is that we have imagination crises. We are in lack of time and lack of imagination. Innovation policy is made in short time frames in mind as well are political circles and decisions. One thing that’s holding us back is that there is only narrow idea of innovation, that is usually technological, when innovation itself is much more broader concept. We have the old models in our heads that also narrow the visioning. 

Transition to renewable energy resources could have been done earlier, but we have been keeping up funding the past world and old energy sources even though we have known for a long time that it’s not sustainable. Mainstream businesses work different because they have to undo their mistakes in the past.

We should not save the day, but save the future far away! 

We need to think not only if this is good for us but also for environment and society over all since no system innovation can be done alone. To built an ecosystem you actually need a huge network. Like university, regulation, non-governmental organizations, the state, government and so on. 

There is also need for innovations in innovation policy! And that is why we need strategic and creative foresight. That can be accomplished in cross-disciplinary vision workshops. We should get beyond the expert lines and to think over the boundaries. We need to have a real creative foresight! And have responsibility, take the initiative how can we make this happen. 

In circular economy for example new kind of business models are needed. From a company perspective it takes time, more than few years. You need to see what you can achieve from different perspectives and operators. In operational level we need new funding mechanisms, for example for research. University has an important role and should do also it’s basic research. 

Companies need be urged to think about business in a de-growth context. It’s companies who need to push for the regulations! We have to imagine how will our cities look like and have bold policy making since the businesses are ready for this. What companies should do then? Engage with researcher, connect with each other, push the policies, signal the market (like already done in mode) and have futures thinking.  

Some good examples 

To mention some examples of how different disciplines and sectors have successfully been brought together to jointly address global complex systemic challenges are already done in transition context and with collaboration, like urban and energy transition. One good example in Finland is also recycling plastic waste that has accomplished only in few years.

There are systematic changes in Fortum like in excess heat usage. Fortum also started to work for CO2 free products a long before it was regulated since it seemed “a good time to move to that direction”, already in year 2000. Even when the market didn’t support it. Fortum’s vision for the energy crises now is that in the future we will have a lot of solar and wind power and it will be cheap. But then we have lack of material that is hard even to imagine now.   

The micro enterprises are pushing the boundaries first. Nolla (a zerowaste restaurant) is a good example of that and we should not overlook micro enterprises and their power to make the change and create innovations that can be used in many sectors. 

We need innovations! 

Good news for service designers! The traditional role of designers isn’t diminishing. There are opportunities for designers, like role in transition concepts and other collaboration. We always need new innovators and innovations! 

Pic: How to participate in Design club talks during Covid-19. Photo by author.

Author: Iiramaria Virkkala, SD student.

To look for more info: 

Info of the talk
Information about Fortum
Nolla restaurant
Certified B Corporation

One thought on “A complex conversation over the (business) world

  1. I agree we need more of what you mentioned Iiramaria – more creativity and forward thinking on all levels of business and society, specially in the public sector. The policies are not changing as quickly as the environment and it feels that governments are only focused on short-term goals (usually within their mandate) and all decisions seem highly political. With the so-called trends of individualism and capitalism, it looks like everyone cares only for themselves (and not future generations).

    We need more people like Elon Musk (although I don’t agree with everything he says or does) that are brave and dare to imagine. And not only people that have a vision of the future that is different but also people that then actually do someting about it. And above all we need to start to collaborate on all levels – only together we can ignite changes and a potential better future.

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