Closed-Loop Innovation

Picture Source: T. Brown, Change by Design

To stop endless exploitation of natural resources and also reducing product generated waste we are seeking for new Business Models. Models that are not longer based on linear one-way ‘cradle-to-grave’ supply chains. Instead, it is the goal to create a loop system, called ‘cradle-to-cradle‘, which includes the way back to the company. Through recycling schemes companies like e.g. Nokia and M&S start entering this new way of processing.

Today, visiting a seminar hold by Sophie Thomas from the RSA and co-founder of the Great Recovery Project, I was fascinated by the fact that an electrical tooth brush is made by exactly the same materials as an i-Phone. A key message for me coming out of this talk is that it is technically feasible to extract the original materials of products through recycling processes.

Every year, 50% of households on the planet use at least one of Unilever’s products (Gowland, 2010). If Unilever would receive back all the products they sell through recycling schemes, the company owned a lot of materials. This owned stock of recycled materials could be reused again and again for the new products – an infinite recycling process with the same amount of materials. Exploitation of new materials and product waste could therefore be cut down radically. I could even imagine that this new created assets of ‘material stock’ becomes a new form of evaluation of future business value.

To push the idea of closed looped business models the Great Recovery Project brings together designers and material experts, manufacturers and resource managers, brands and retailers, consumers, policy makers and government, investors & academics to co-create closed loop innovations.



Sustainability & Storytelling

I was lucky and born on the country side. When I was a kid I can remember running over wide fields, fishing in the lake nearby, visiting the local farmer and sleeping outside under free sky. I really believe that these experiences and closeness to nature during my childhood is what me now makes fighting for it.

The question that challenges business and governments today is ‘How to engage people that lost or never had a connection to nature’ ‘How can we get people emotional involved and engaged in something which they have no relation to anymore?

We have to re-connect to nature to see the benefit in living a sustainable lifestyle.

Education plays a important role, but mainly aims for the next generation. How can we re-connect and engage decision makers and buyers already today?

Storytelling has proven to be a highly effective communication tool, for young & old. It is one of the oldest ways of gaining attention from an audience. Today technology offers us the opportunity to spread stories even faster. Everyone can be a storyteller to an even bigger audience. The problem is only that there are a lot of messages – so yours have to be really good if you want to engage a broad and connected audience.

Marketing with its image as a hidden and evil persuader – which tries to sell us more things we don’t need has now its chance to reposition itself. After Sir Martin Sorrell (CEO of WPP) marketing can be key in creating sustainable consumer behavior: ‘As the need for our planet to graduate from super consumption to sustainable consumption becomes ever more urgent, marketing skills will be key in persuading the world of the resulting benefits to both individuals and society as a whole.’’

Storytelling is one tool that marketing is (mis-)using to make messages tangible and narratable. This powerfool tool might be key to re-connect people with nature and sustainability.

The IUCN CEC is one of the latest attempts of using the power of storytelling. And instead of talking in the conventions of  ’apocalyptic dramatisation’ it rather emphasis of the importance of telling a positive story around sustainability.

In a second video of the IUCN CEC series makes the point that to re-connect to nature, storytelling has to be: personalise, humanise and publicised.

Personlise: Where are peoples personal touchpoints?
A study taken by Nike that argues that individualisation is important when it come to sustainable attitudes of young people: ‘Changing young people’s behaviour is most likely if it can be connected to or inspired by particular social leverage points: sport, music, art, film, fashion, etc.’

Humanise: Which tone of voice make them feel part of it?
The study also found out that for many of them the word “sustainability” has negative connotations. ‘More optimistic, positive, forward-looking language may be needed to promote engagement.’

Publicised: Which are the right channels to make the story been told?
As according to Nike ‘For young people, business transparency and honesty is the prerequisite for trust.’ To have an impact the story has to have the potential to be told. Therefore it must authentic and reliable.

‘Open Storytelling’ is another way of engaging people directly with in the conversation. Similar to Open Innovation it opens up the storyline and content to a wide audience. In ‘Open Storytelling’ everyone can be the narrator and the story can become even more persuading,  motivating more ‘like-minded’ join. In relation to Rio20+ ‘Date with history’ used this kind of storytelling by encouraging global youth to upload video speeches telling the world about the “Future We Want.”

To create a future we all want, we have to tell the story first.


Save the Future – not at H&M


This weekend I did what I generally hate and I now know why that is again. Shopping in Oxford Street is the most stressful thing you can do at the weekend. And I even went to H&M – the Mecca of Stress. But still I was seduced to walk in and of course buy more than I planned. While digging within thousands of shirts I randomly found the Climate Week shirt designed by Katherine Hamnett. By saying ‘ SAVE THE FUTURE’ this shirt is supposed to communicate the future of fashion – shirts that are produced to the highest ethical and environmental standards using renewable energy. It was sold mainly during the Climate Week during March. But honestly, even when the message is nice – I couldn’t spot any other signs of the predicted future of fashion in H&M. I also asked myself – who really wants to wear this shirt? Well, I understand – it is only there to communicate an important message. BUT, if H&M offers me no choice to really save the future then the message makes no sense and is misplaced in the mountains of clothes that are not produced in a sustainable way. Why isn’t there at least a whole fashion line behind this message and the shirt only a hook-in? For H&M the Design of the shirt was a great opportunity to create a whole story and show some environmental leadership within the fashion sector. But chance missed. Now for me this shirt in the middle of other 9.99ers with a high Co2 footprint was just ironic and felt like a joke. The only message I received: Don’t buy more in his consumption-mecca because here you definitely don’t save the future.



Picture: James Wojcik in Wired Magazin

It’s been a while since my last blog post and lots have happened in between. Not only that I am changing my academic direction, I am also trying to make a shift in my eating habits. Being vegetarian or even better a vegan was something that I could’t imagine for myself in the past. I loved meat. Especially in Germany meat is a must on every dish.

My recent ‘meat-criticism’ evolved in a way through my focus on sustainability in my studies.Being part of a Climate Innovation Summerschool and becoming friend with a vegan increased the frequency of the question popping up in my head during every grocery shopping: Meat or no meat!

Either I am super sensible for meat alternatives since then OR I am part of a big movement!

Suddenly a fast food store called Hummus – ‘the alternative to meat’ opens just in the street I live. In the middle of Camden, just next to a Kebab store. Great – I found my first meat substitute! But not only this. Recent articles that attracted my attention felt like even the Guardian just wants to seduce me into a life without meat. I found the bold message even on Pret’s packaging – an illustration of a cow tells me: ‘eat less of me’! Why all this tam-tam around meat?

Because, we are heading into a massive food crisis. According to a recent article of The Guardian the world’s population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages. The current eating habit s of the western world are not sustainable and they won’t be able to satisfy in future. Our cultivable agricultural is maxed out. And here lies one of the reasons why being a vegan is the right thing to do. Instead of using the agriculture for cultivating crops for people directly we use water, space  for feeding our food that that feeds us. Food that in its short lifetime creates a lot of methan which also leads to less cultivable agricultural through Climate Change. Find the mistake. Under the bottom line – its much more efficient to use the land directly for cultivating human nourishment.

Regarding the Stockholm International Water Institute we derive about 20% of our protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people. “There will be just enough water if the proportion of animal-based foods is limited to 5% of total calories and considerable regional water deficits can be met by a … reliable system of food trade.

The food crisis is not something that will affect us only in the far future. Even now increasing droughts lead to high food prices. Prices for staples such as corn and wheat have risen nearly 50% on international markets since June, triggered by severe droughts in the US and Russia, and weak monsoon rains in Asia. It’s only a matter of time until meat will be something very extraordinary and expensive.

That’s why I am making it easier for myself and getting used to a mEAT-less life already now. Trying to eat less meat and in case eating regional and well sourced food.

Oxfam and the UN prepare for a possible second global food crisis in five years. So, we need alternatives and innovation:

New ‘mEAT-less’ startups sprouting everywhere, new alternatives are growing. Next to the Hummus alternative, Camden also offers an already well known vegan restaurant. But don’t think this movement is only taken place my little Camden-Universe. Especially in the U.S. mEAT-less start-ups offering futuristic alternatives. Beyond Meet a startup that makes vegan meat analogues, is manufacturing products that purportedly taste and feel like real meat. With bold visions like ’We want to get into the multi-billion-dollar meat industry with a plant-based meat.’ these new businesses are the wave riders of the mEAT-less movement. Another one called Lyfe (LOVE YOUR FOOD EVERYDAY) Kitchen is co-founded by Mike Roberts – a former president and chief operating officer of McDonald’s. He wants to use all the tricks he learned from old-style fast food to offer a more healthy and sustainable choice to American eating. LikeMeat, an european project aims to create a respectable meat analogue and is also looking at alternatives to soy. Organization including university scientists and 11 different food companies are involved in this project that figured out that boiling and slowly cooling down a combination of water and plant proteins creates a fibrous product that’s similar in texture to meat. Another similar project is run by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging. A system produces an endless centimeter-thick piece of “meat” that can be sliced, diced, or molded into any form imaginable.

The opportunities are endless as soon as you forget that meat has to come from animals. Lab-grown meat is cheaper than dealing with whole animals, there are none of the ethical issues associated with factory farms, it can help prevent the spread of animal-borne diseases, and according to the studyEnvironmental Impact of Cultured Meat Production’ by the Stanford and Amsterdam University, cultured meat production generates up to 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional meat production. The impact of choosing those alternatives is hugh when you consider that 51% of the worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs and poultry.

Next to the positive environmental impact, the good thing about eating mEATless – it makes you feel better, healthier and stronger. I can resists and its fun. As long as you don’t have access to lab grown meat alternatives the same rule for an empty fridge applies – with less utilities you get more creative!

Let’s play again!

Remember these days of childhood when playing was totally accepted and part of your everyday life. It was fun! Beside that,  playing is also very important to develop imagination and creativity. While playing children realize the world and the future, develop empathy and pleasure.

” Imagination is necessary for learning about people and events we don’t directly experience, such as history or events on the other side of the world. For young kids, it allows them to ponder the future, such as what they want to do when they grow up. For instance, there is evidence that imagination and role play appears to have a key role in helping children take someone else’s perspective”

(Source: The Power of Magical Thinking)

Children are prototyping all the time to imagine “what if…”, test things and also realize that some things don’t work.

(Source of pictures: The Central Importance of Play & Flickr )

They fail all the time and rebuild again to make it better.

The design thinking process is nothing else: you start with a goal and an idea, that you then test and prototype. After that you realize it is not perfect yet, it breaks together, it doesn’t work as expected, so you rethink, rebuild, redo it until it is perfect. In the innovation process the development of empathy, scenario planning and prototyping is key. To create innovation with pleasure we have to learn to PLAY AGAIN!




Rethink capitalism!

Recently this interview of Michael Porter, the famous business strategy professor of the Harvard University, was published. Here he is talking about a new model of capitalism that includes social values. I think and hope that his vision will influence the businesses world in future.

In his interview he points out an ongoing shift in capitalism. He describes the model of a fusion of social value and business profits. He reckons that instead of thinking “What is good for business, is good for society” it makes more sense to think “What is good for society, is good for business”. Rather than selling products that people don’t really need, he suggests selling products that are good for people. That, he says will ultimately end in an economic value. In future the purpose of companies should be to mobilise economics for solving global human problems. As a result businesses can create a new shared value that fulfill the needs of all stakeholders. But where to start a business to follow this vision? Porter suggests analysing the supply chain of your business and think about the point at which the company fulfills a social need and set a focus on this. If there is no point – create one! If you don’t, your business won’t succeed in future. As a driver for an increasing demand for products that offer an environmental or a social benefit for society, Porter names the increasing awareness in sociey and politics. I agree with Porter that shared value, or rather the triple bottom line is the way to a future-oriented business.

Of course capitalism keeps our system running and has to be stable to ensure high standards of health, education and living. But I think there is a big opportunity to reshape the integrated value system of businesses to drive an even bigger system. And of course it is for the consumer to really push this change as well. But to do so he has to be aware of it and be offered solutions to act sustainable. Here is where an Innovation Manager can interact. It will not be possible to stop consumption, but definitely to change it. By questioning consumption habits and the criteria under which we as consumers choose products, the market will change. I think we are part of a big revolution—revolutions in social structures, power systems and technology.


Cutural Hacking

Physical Apps.

This design student project is an interesting example for an approach that influenced me in my studies: Cutural Hacking.

What is Cultural Hacking?

Cutural Hacking can be understood as an infiltration of consumers or artists into systems and the changing of their coding. It is often critical and even a subversive game with cultural codes, messages and values. Its more then just a critical expression. Cultural Hacking can adopt strategic dimensions with the goal of innovation. These Cultural Hackers can also be described as Bricoleurs (tinkers). They intervene in cultural systems, orientate themselves inside them to hack and deform them afterwards. Discovering cutural hacking behaviour is an opportunity to observe and predict new cultural changes -  in the end trends.

Source: T. Düllo & Liebl F. : Cutural Hacking:Kunst des Strategischen Handelns; Wien / NewYork (2005), Johannes M. Hedinger (Blog: Cutural Hacking), Harriet McDougall



Even during my childhood I remember being fascinated by astronauts. Up there, they had a chance to see our planet from a unique perspective. A perspective that surely changed their understanding about the world and the multitude of systems that run it.

I think planners have something in common with astronauts. Especially now, as we become digital, entering an entirely new dimension, we need the astronauts perspective. In this new era we need to be able to take a step back and envision the system as a whole, taking advantage of the opportunities that it offers while keeping in mind that this system also comes with rules. In the words of an astronaut we could say there is a completely new world to discover.

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Being John Malkovich

With some research methodes we try to get closer to consumers’ minds for example by interviewing. Now the smoothie brand Innocent came up with a new way to look through the eyes of the consumer. The consumer camera is placed on a hat on top of the head of participants. One benefit would be visibile in the POS design. It would be very interesting to fit some of the focus group participants with these cameras to observe their daily usage of the brands products. Because I believe that in the daily usage and in the consumers changing of function, the détournement,  there can be a lot of hints for new products and signs how the consumer perceives the brand. Its a way to find out how the brand is anchorded in the everyday life of consumers which can be very important for the brands strategy. It could be a new tool for ethnografic research, I would love to test it. Maybe somebody should work on the design of the installation. Have a look.

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A new universe

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The lines between virtuality and reality are blurring

Another interesting example of cultural hacking.

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Imagination is about realilty

Imagination is about storytelling


Storytelling is something humans always have done and always will. Because its one of the strongest communication tools we came up with. Storytelling makes things tangible, credible and drives creativity. It creates imagination and  believes. Stories are made to be told and this is why they are even stronger today. Through digital communication ways as  Social Media storytelling experiences a revival. Because here stories can be told fast and effective. It’s a way to strengthen an existing story or to let people tell a story all together. Stories are directly linked with imagination and reality. So think about which story you want people to talk about and believe in. Storytelling is a tool for change and why not for a change we all want to believe in.

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Imagine what Augmented Reality could mean for brands.

I read a blog entry about perception and wondered how the fusion of reality and virtuality could change the perception of brands. I remembered the Toyota augmented reality case and thought about the new opportunities for brands due to the new technologies. If it’s my goal as a brand to stage every touchpoint to surprise my customers, then the stage is much larger now. The fusion of digital and real world offers new ways to get closer to my target. Closer in a sense like being there – for example in your living room and in the sense of building brand relationship.

Gaming can change the world – brands too.


Have a look at this : Gaming can make the world better by Jane Mc Gonigal

In a university project of mine we also decided to use the fusion of virtuality and reality to create something good. We called it a social impact game. The game designer here goes a step further. She talks about the great opportunities and solutions for the real world problems. According to her we just have to channel the optimism and power of gamers into the real world. We have to find ways to empower the generation of tomorrow in the same way games do. She inspired me to think about opportunities for brands. And how great it would be to empower people to do something great with this amazing power and engagement with a brand. If brands would give you the opportunity to channel your power and optimism to do something good – together, a new kind of brand relationship would emerge. Useful for the brand, for the person and the whole world.

It’s all about imagination.

Imagination raises questions.

About human beings.

About people and their behavior.

Imagination is the extension of our thoughts, of our brains – of our whole being.

Imagination can make a lot of things easier,

it makes things understandable and realizable

and let us think a step further.

It’ all about imagination!

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