Archive for the Tag 'New Product Development'

Sustainable New Product Development

Point: Make sustainability decisions at the start of new product development.

Story: “Seventy-five to 90 percent of a product’s environmental impact is determined in the product development stage,” says Kevin Myette, director of product and supply chain sustainability at outdoor gear and clothing retailer REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.).

Given that fact, it’s extremely important for product designers to have access to information about the sustainability of materials when making decisions about which materials to use for new products.

For example, which do you think is environmentally more damaging: wool or polyester? Intuition might point you to rank wool as the more sustainable product, because it is natural. But, the processing of wool uses chemical washes, and wool as a material in apparel requires much more washing and energy use after purchase. Thus, although polyester uses more energy during manufacture, its lifetime energy usage is lower. Even better, polyester can be recycled. Nike used this information to design uniforms made from recycled polyester for the 2012 European Cup soccer championships, thus earning them high marks on sustainability.

A tool that’s helping the apparel industry with this problem is called the Higg Index, which lets manufacturers and brands score the environmental impacts of their garments across the apparel life cycle (materials, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, use, and end-of-life).

Getting industry-wide agreement on the metrics has been key. “As our CEO says, ‘sustainability is a team sport,'” Myette told me. “We’ve been working collaboratively with partners and competitors alike, pre-competitive, to develop the language and metrics of sustainability.”

Internally, to help its product designers make the right choices, REI implemented a product lifecycle management system that gives its designers a dashboard view of how materials rank across the lifecycle for sustainability.

Myette is encouraging REI’s suppliers to use the system, as well using a dyeing process that requires no water and using patterns that minimize scrap waste. “Five percent of our landfills are just textiles, apparel,” Myette says. Avoiding scrap material and encouraging recycling of apparel is vital for reducing this waste. Few consumers know that it takes 10 times more energy to produce textiles than to produce glass. Greater awareness could spur consumers to demand retailers offer recycling of their synthetic fabrics.


  • Think about sustainability before you design the product, not just after you have the product and want the best suppliers
  • Consider the entire lifecycle of the product:

— your suppliers’ footprint for the raw materials
— your footprint of your production processes (and customer services, too)
— your customers’ footprint when using your product
— the recyclability/reusability of the end-of-life product (and any scrap produced along the way)

  • See if your industry has something like the Higg Index.  And if not, help create one!
  • Think holistically — perhaps something that seems unsustainable (e.g., fossil-fuel-derived polyester) might be best if it enables greater sustainability in other parts of the system (e.g., washing, dying, end-of-life recyclining)
  • Finally, keep looking for improvements, such as bacteria that can make biodegradable polyester


Personal interview with Kevin Myette

Higg Index:


Note: this post originally appeared in the Huffington Post: Mitigating Environmental Impact of Apparel: REI

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Kraft: the “$40 Billion Start-Up” Spurs Innovation

Point: Open innovation can accelerate new product development

Story: When Irene Rosenfeld took over as CEO of Kraft, she saw an anemic innovation pipeline. IrenePhotoThe company had 2000 corporate R&D staff — scientists, engineers and chemists — but new products weren’t flowing rapidly enough.   Her solution to encourage innovation?  To get everyone to “Think of Kraft as a $40 billion start-up,” she said at the World Business Forum on October 7, 2009.  One way to emulate start-up thinking is to be open to new ideas from anywhere and quickly turn them into something valuable. Kraft reached out beyond its corporate R&D to enlist the help of employees across the whole company, as well as suppliers and partners, to spur innovation.

For example, Kraft runs an online “Innovate with Kraft” program whereby anyone can submit product ideas.  Although skeptics call such programs gimmicks or fads, Rosenfeld maintains that they’re not gimmicks if the programs and the ideas generated from them are being used.

Kraft’s recent new product introduction, Bagel-fuls (frozen bagels pre-filled with Philadelphia brand Cream Cheese), for example, came from an unsolicited idea from a third-generation bagel maker in a niche market. The idea was a win-win for both companies: it solved some technical challenges that Kraft had faced in delivering a bagel and cheese combo, and it expanded the bagel-makers product beyond his niche.

Rosenfeld also mentioned the value of platform-based innovation (ideas that span multiple brands and geographies) in the innovation process.  Now, “Our innovation pipeline is quite full,” Rosenfeld remarked, with new products coming out in four core areas: Snacking, Quick Meals, Premium and Health & Wellness.


  • Look for ideas in the corners: reach out to employees and suppliers, especially niche people, to uncover obscure ideas that merit more widespread use
  • Celebrate the use of submitted ideas to show the value of participation in innovation submission programs.

For more information:
Irene Rosenfeld at the World Business Forum on Oct 6, 2009 #wbf09

Staggs, Sandy. Foster Innovation at Kraft Foods, Oct 27, 2008.

New York Times, Sept. 9, 2009

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Bear Experiences vs. Bare Products

Point: Innovate the experience, not just the product ckprahaladwif

Story: At the World Innovation Forum today, C. K Prahalad asked the audience about their experiences with “Build-a-Bear” — an e-commerce company that lets kids of all ages design their very own Teddy Bear. Audience members reported spending as much as $200 in choosing the look of the bear, the amount of stuffing in the bear, adding a custom sound to the bear, getting the bear’s birth certificate, buying clothing for the bear, and buying accessories and siblings for the bear. This culminates in making “The Bear Promise” to care for this personalized stuffed animal. Discussing the depth of the experience and the simplicity of the physical product revealed that the bear embodies both negligible product costs and priceless customer experiences.

One of the “trick questions” for job interviews is to ask the candidate, “How would you redesign a Teddy Bear?” This example shows that the design of the bear may not change much, but the design of the experience of buying the bear may be where the real opportunities are. In fact, Build-a-Bear is more about the customer redesigning the Teddy Bear than it is about the company redesigning the Teddy Bear. Therefore, C. K Prahalad recommended that companies think more about experience innovation to complement and enhance product innovation.

The Build-a-Bear phenomenon is not unique to toys. Other companies provide experience-intensive products. These include Medtronic’s pacemaker (the device is augmented with remote monitoring, health records coordination, and provider networking services), Bridgestone Tires (by-the-mile fleet usage pricing with value-added vehicle usage services), Nike’s iPod-connected shoes (shoe sensor feedback that drives work-out feedback and performance). The point is to think about the value chain of the experience, rather than the value of chain of the product.


  • Seek to solidify customer relationships through well-designed experiences
  • Innovate to improve the value of the experience, not just the performance/cost of the product
  • Leverage customer innovation through co-creating experiences and products
  • Create an ecosystem of collaborators to support the experience

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