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Sustainability is the new innovation

Innovation is a crucial business success factor. It matters to both small and big, as well as new and old, businesses. Here Professor Kenneth Amaeshi explains that to remain competitive and sustainable, a business must embrace innovation and enable a culture for it.

A man surveys research results

"Innovation can come in the form of product, process, and or service innovation. It can be radical or incremental.  The Pebble smart watch is a radical innovation, revolutionising the wristwatch’s purpose to do more than just be a time piece. Incremental innovation, as the name suggests, is about gradual changes to existing practices.

Changing demands

"Innovation is also about adjustments and adaptations to changing demands, patterns, and social needs. The world is ever changing. Successful businesses often understand this and effectively align to make the necessary adjustments in time to remain in business. One of the current social pressures is the need to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are being mainstreamed and adopted by different countries and nations, including Scotland.

"A key SDG objective is to balance business and market interests against social and environmental needs. In other words, the SDGs require businesses and entrepreneurs to consider the social, environmental and economic implications of their decisions and practices in a balanced manner. This is a radical shift from a business system that has always prioritised economic outcomes or profits above social and environmental outcomes. It is at the heart of the sustainability agenda, which is changing the way business performance is measured. As such, sustainability has become the new leadership and a significant source of innovation.  

Significant inroads

"Scotland stands a very good chance to take advantage of the sustainability induced innovation and is making good use of it. Despite her rich engagement with fossil fuel, which is now known to have significant negative impacts on the environment, Scotland is reinventing, making significant inroads into renewable energy – especially from wind – for instance. This is not mere happenstance.


"Sustainable innovation in Scotland is supported by a raft of enabling network of policies, infrastructure, and practices. The presence of the Green Investment Bank in Scotland, for instance, and the investments the Bank has made, must have contributed to catalysing the growth of sustainability induced innovation in Scotland. In addition, the Scottish Government, through Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS), is significantly promoting the practice of circular economy – another sustainability agenda essential – as the new source of innovation and efficient use of natural resources. 

"It is believed that a strong capability in the circular economy will reposition Scotland in the global scheme of things. One of the aims of ZWS is to empower businesses and entrepreneurs in Scotland to position for the new future of innovation spurred by the demands of circular economy. This, in itself, is creating a new wave of businesses in every sector – including i’mPerfect, an Edinburgh-based innovative food waste management and reduction social enterprise.


"There are also other platforms promoting sustainable innovation for Scottish businesses and entrepreneurs. One of such platforms is the Sustainable Business Initiative (SBI) at the University of Edinburgh Business School. Beyond research, SBI is actively involved in capacity building and industry engagement. For example, in response to the growing demand for expertise in sustainability, especially by middle managers, SBI has developed an innovative programme – the Advanced Sustainability Programme – to fill this market gap. The programme will bring a global audience to Edinburgh in May 2018. It will present a good opportunity for sustainability professionals in Scotland to learn from, and network with, their peers from other countries. 


"This is not the entire story of the progress Scotland has made in this area. However, it points to the shifting nature of things and the growing relevance of sustainability, as the new innovation that is redefining the business landscape. In order to survive and thrive, businesses and entrepreneurs will, by necessity, need to be innovative and align with the sustainability agenda. It is obviously an inescapable option."

Professor Amaeshi is an international expert in sustainable financial systems. He is the director of the Sustainable Business Initiative, and holds a chair in business and sustainable development, at the University of Edinburgh.


Professor Amaeshi is holding an Advanced Sustainability Programme masterclass in May 2018. More information can be found on the University of Edinburgh Business School website:

Advanced Sustainability Programme

Related links

The University of Edinburgh Business School