Archive for July, 2011

Eco-friendly bioplastics inspire innovation

Packaging made by bioplastics (Cellulose-based...

Image via Wikipedia

I am very excited about the new developments in bioplastics research! Within the past few years there have been numerous new-to-market plastic products that either decompose in the landfill or make the recycling process cheaper, easier and more environmentally friendly.

One company from France has launched a plastic “coffee pod” (like the kind used in Keurig® and other machines) that is 100 percent biodegradable. Consumers can put their pods right in their backyard garden without any worries about landfill waste. And that’s just the beginning of more bioplastics ingenuity to come, as I wrote about in my weekly column. Check it out:

Via PostCrescent.com

How long does your trash live in the landfill?

For glass bottles, the time for it to degrade can be thousands of years or more. Plastics are an improvement, but many of them can still have a life span that is measured in decades. Fortunately new plastic materials being developed are shortening that time considerably.

Today’s new “green” plastics are being made of unconventional biodegradable materials — even milk curd. It’s all possible because of bioplastics, an innovative polymer technology that is transforming the plastics industry.

In spite of volunteer and mandatory recycling programs, environmentalists have long been concerned with the plastic that remains in the waste stream. According to Penn State University scientists, it may take up to 20 years for plastic grocery bags to break down, and some plastic containers will take 80 years to decompose. Some plastic, like those of the collars huddling six-packs can take an estimated 450 years before showing signs of decomposition.

In research labs around the world, we’re seeing bioplastic engineering teams that are making great strides in addressing this problem.

For example, Barcelona-based researchers have developed a bioplastic for food packaging that is based on whey protein. Whey is a by-product of cheese processing; it is essentially milk curd. The material dissolves in water, and this makes the plastic much easier to recycle and decompose. European cheese factories are currently discarding a large percentage of their whey, but if this “waste” can be utilized as a packaging material it is a win-win for both the factories and for the environment.

The development of whey-based bioplastics is another example of an effort that requires open partnerships. Fourteen different producers and researchers have come together to implement this technology on a larger scale to produce containers, trays and plastic films.

Bioplastics from agricultural materials like corn are also being injected into new consumer product spaces. In France, the Demetz company has launched the first biodegradable sunglasses, called B-wear. These eco-friendly sunglasses use polymers derived from castor oil and corn and are claimed to degrade in months in industrial compost or in just a few years in a natural setting.

Another French company, Vegeplast, is creating a splash in the coffee pod industry by launching its 100 percent biodegradable bio-pods. After using the coffee pod, it can be put into an organic waste bin or even composted in the garden. The company has also developed bioplastic components for products like golf tees, disposable spoons and forks, and even chewable dog bones.

Look for bioplastics partnerships and innovation to continue to grow and inspire new products in the months ahead. With more of these innovative products and more effective recycling programs, we can all look forward to a cleaner, tidier environment.

Will the Smart Grid change our lives?

July 21, 2011 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Innovation, Innovation In The News

Remember a few years ago when the utility companies sent meter readers from home to home to read and jot down energy usage? Not too long ago technology changed and a new process, the automatic meter reading, allowed meters to send a signal to a utility truck that drove through neighborhoods collecting the data.

Sounds smart, right? But it gets even better. We’re now seeing an advanced metering infrastructure able to send data to the billing department at your utility company and then back home to you, the consumer.

As this article explains, it’s just one of many ways the new Smart Grid systems are evolving our electricity. Read on:

Image via Mashable.com

The “smart grid” is a rapidly growing set of technologies, processes, devices and applications that affect and enhance the traditional electric grid. These advances are partially driven by exponentially growing demands worldwide for energy as expressed in a commonly repeated statistic that “global electricity demand is expected to increase 75% by 2030.” What’s happening with the smart grid also reflects developments made in communications, from Internet to cellular to wireless, as well as higher expectations from consumers regarding energy availability, rising energy costs and access to their energy information. A smarter grid will also help integrate renewable energy including wind and solar into the energy mix.

To understand the smart grid, you first need to get familiar with the 125-year-old electric grid. Most people don’t think about where the electricity they’re using comes from or how it gets to their homes and offices. The electric grid consists of several main touchpoints in an overall system that gets electricity from creation to the end user:

Read the rest via mashable.com, and let me know what you think i the comment’s area.

IBM culture fosters social media innovation

July 11, 2011 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Social Media

In one of my recent newspaper columns, I wrote about how IBM is doing something with social media that most companies wouldn’t dare try:  allowing their employees to speak for the company! While most corporations hire PR firms or rely on their communications director to carefully craft messages that appear on public sites, IBM lets hundreds of thousands of staffers speak out. Maybe that’s why IBM has celebrated so many birthdays — 100 to be exact. Read on:

Not many companies can say they’ve been around for more than a century. In fact, companies in the 100-year club are exceedingly rare — fewer than 500 of the more than 5,000 publicly traded companies in the U.S.

Among them is supercomputer company IBM, a technology giant that turned 100 last month.

If you were to look at all of the things IBM has done to remain strong over the years, you’d see a string of innovations from time clocks and butcher scales to typewriters, personal computers and even a supercomputer that recently won the game show “Jeopardy!” And there is also the spirit of innovation you don’t always hear about.

I believe IBM can credit its longevity and success not only to the introduction of cutting-edge technology, but also to its embracement of communication, including today’s social media.

I recently did a case study on the company’s unique, decentralized social media approach that is driving unprecedented collaboration and innovation. Many companies today have a corporate blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and even possibly a YouTube channel.

Usually organizations communicate in the faceless, nameless “one voice” that tells the story of a brand. But at IBM it is thousands of voices, and that is the way they want it. Employees are encouraged to not only speak for the company, but share ideas that even the VPs might not grasp.

IBM lets employees communicate internally and with the public without intervention. They do have social media guidelines and employees are individually responsible for what they create, and releasing proprietary information is prohibited.

The approach is succeeding. Today, an internal informational wiki and a user-generated media library generate an incredible amount of online activity. There is also a flood of people that blog for the company.

IBM lists all of its blogs in a simple directory sorted by the name of the blogger. They share thoughts, ideas, presentations, photos, videos and more. The social stats are incredible: thousands of internal blogs and more than 50,000 members on “SocialBlue” (a Facebook-type community for IBM employees). That doesn’t count the many external bloggers and thousands of participants in their occasional company crowd-sourcing “jams.”

Free sharing via social media has been part of the corporate culture since the early 2000s, when IBM conducted its first Company Jam, where employees came together to lead their own three-day discussion forum.

Three years later the concept was take to the next level with an “innovation jam” where participation included not only by employees, but also family, friends and clients. Internal company research projects were discussed and explored, and the ones deemed to be best went on to become IBM-funded incubator businesses.

With a culture as diverse and distributed as IBM’s, getting employees to collaborate and share makes good business sense.

IBM is a company that has lived through changing technology and intense competition but continues to survive and remain at the forefront of innovation. With their innovative approaches to communication I don’t doubt that they will be celebrating quite a few more birthdays to come.

Via Cheryl Perkins Column, Post-Crescent Newspaper

How customers drive co-creation

July 5, 2011 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Open Innovation

I’ve just come back from hosting an incredible conference in Phoenix, where I met some of the leading innovators who have broken down walls to collaborate with other companies to deliver innovation and customer satisfaction. Here’s  my newspaper column this week on how co-creation can work in organizations of any size:

This week I had the pleasure of participating in and moderating aspects of the first Social Product Development and Co-Creation Conference in Phoenix Arizona. The conference was focused on exploring new “co-creative” approaches to product development and innovation.

The way value is being created is changing dramatically. It isn’t just about new products and services delivered in isolation, but can also come about from new business models where companies partner, or “co-create”, with customers, suppliers, employees, and the communities or networks they operate within.

For the conference we were able to bring together a diverse group of organizations to explore how companies of all sizes and types are approaching innovation and creating value. The program featured representatives from companies such as American Express, Quirky, Threadless, Harvard Business School, Intuit Labs, Make Magazine, Kimberly-Clark, Microsoft Design Studios, Hallmark Cards and Wired Magazine, to name a few.

Local Motors and Hallmark for example are embracing social product development to get their customers involved. They are leveraging their target users to redefine traditional business models and even redesign many aspects of their business – not just product design. This is not to say that these companies do not still have internal resources focused on innovation and design, but the lines between the producer and user are blurring.

We have talked about Local Motors a few months ago – a company based in Chandler, Arizona that allows customers to design and build their own vehicles and passionately share the designs with other designers, engineers and automobile enthusiasts from all over the world. Local Motors is one example where co-creation is creating rich customer interactions through the growth of user-generated communities and networks.

Leveraging social media vehicles like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are just a few examples of ways to ignite collaboration among customers, suppliers and communities. These avenues can permanently change the relationship between an organization and its stakeholders. It allows organizations to engage end users much earlier in their processes and contribute in novel unexpected ways.

You can capitalize on this change in how to innovate by using co-creation to transform traditional product development into new mutually valuable experiences. Companies of many sizes are reaching out to consumers to empower them to create and build products and help them take their niche products mainstream.

If you what to explore how companies are designing platforms for connecting with customers and other stakeholders, look at company websites and search for where they are inviting people to contribute to their development efforts.

Hallmark recently had a great example at hallmarkcontests.com, a place where anyone could meet and interact online with the company and participate in card contests to win cash prizes. Visit it and check out the section where the cards created by consumers themselves are sold.

Customers have always had the final say on what gets bought, now thanks to co-creation they are getting to more directly participate in the process of deciding what gets sold!