Can Open Innovation Save the Planet?

Imagine if you could tap the brainpower of proven innovators from around the globe to help your company create its next business breakthrough and enhance its environmental record. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) announced today that it is teaming up with InnoCentive, a global leader in crowdsourced innovation, to help companies do just that through a new Eco-Challenge Series to accelerate green innovation in business.

Breakthrough ideas can—and often do—emerge from bringing a new and diverse perspective to a familiar problem. Having that "fresh set of eyes" is one way that EDF has been able to catalyze and spread environmental innovations like redesigned packaging with McDonald's, hybrid trucks with FedEx, and next-generation solar technology with Walmart.

The folks at InnoCentive have taken this idea—that diversity of thought yields better outcomes—into the 21st century. Recognized as a global pioneer in Challenge Driven Innovation, InnoCentive's web-based platform and methodology help organizations formulate their most intractable problems, and gives over 200,000 entrepreneurs, inventors and scientists around the world the chance to solve them. With the likes of Eli Lilly, NASA, Procter & Gamble, and The Rockefeller Foundation using the platform, it's redefining the innovation process.

InnoCentive's unique approach to innovation is already solving tough environmental problems. The Oil Spill Recovery Institute used it to find a way to keep oil and water on oil spill recovery barges from freezing into a solid blob. The solution came not from the oil industry, but from a chemist who once spent a summer pouring concrete. He realized that the vibrators construction crews use to keep concrete in liquid form might also do the same for the frozen oil and water mixture on the barges. And it worked.

Another organization called SunNight Solar used the InnoCentive platform to create a dual-purpose solar light that serves as both a lamp and a flashlight in African villages and other areas of the world without electricity. The solution came from an electrical engineer living in New Zealand.

Now EDF is joining its environmental expertise with the InnoCentive global innovation platform to find and tackle business sustainability challenges. We're looking for companies to join us in launching a series of open innovation challenges designed to inspire new solutions that are good for both business and the environment. They could focus on a range of sustainability issues and opportunities including reducing water, energy, or other resource inputs, redesigning products, replacing materials, and creating new business or manufacturing processes. Successful solutions will also generate tangible business benefits like operating cost reductions or increased market share.

Our economy is global, our communications systems are global, and our environmental problems our global—so why do we look no further than our own R&D labs to solve them? Let's bring together the collective intelligence of the world's most creative thinkers—and get to work on solving our toughest and most important challenges.

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