Today's complex sustainability challenges require ambitious, joined-up solutions and a shift from standalone innovations to deliberate collective action at scale.
This requires businesses, foundations and other organisations to take the lead.
Individual innovations, projects or initiatives can only take us so far. In order to create a more sustainable mainstream, organisations must deliberately combine their efforts to take action that fundamentally shifts entire markets.
To help organisations bridge the gap between innovation and large-scale impact, Forum for the Future and Shell Foundation have co-developed a framework for collective action, based around a set of eight building blocks.
The framework identifies how scale has happened in the past and pulls out common factors – the eight building blocks. The value of this tool is in combining the approaches to suit your challenge. Take a closer look...
Find, develop or create new innovations for the current market that better meet consumer needs whilst also addressing sustainable development challenges– have something worth scaling.
Ensure quality by establishing a ratings scheme or similar to promote continual improvement of standards across the market. Encourage a level playing field and reward high performance through competition.
In practice: Unilever and WWF created the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard for sustainably sourced fish, co-developed with the fishing industry, scientists and conservation groups. Numerous case studies highlight beneficial commercial and environmental impact.
Develop a business model that others can adapt or replicate, which matches the consumer need with the social or environmental need and leads to impact as well as market growth.
In practice: Unilever reduced the unit cost of its Lifebuoy programme to enable wider roll-out and reach. Lifebuoy offers affordable, accessible soaps to help communities around the world improve hygiene through handwashing.
Exploit existing infrastructure, or develop new access. Depending on the challenge this might be anything from distribution networks, physical infrastructure or increased availability of data.
In practise: Nike created the MAKERS App, originally powered by the Nike Materials Sustainability Index. The app gives designers consistent information about raw materials to enable informed decision making with environmental impact in mind.
Analyse your supply chain and identify leverage points for better performance. Build capacity to meet anticipated demand through partnerships with organisations, such as local government, industry bodies or educational institutions.
In practice: Cotton Connect creates more sustainable cotton supply chains by examining business models in the global supply chain and providing information, risk capital and training to suppliers in the developing world.
Encourage consumer, customer and competitor demand through promotion or by identifying the behaviour change required and by working with enablers such as brands, marketing and partners.
In practice: Levi Strauss created a pilot product, Water<Less Jeans, and stimulated market demand through a marketing campaign which looked at the full product life cycle, including the responsibility of the consumer. More than 13 million products have been sold to date.
Convene a wide spread of organisations, including unusual players, in order to mobilise capabilities and resources to address barriers to scale and ensure a flow of new solutions.
In practice: Nike created LAUNCH, a partnership with NASA, USAID and the US State Department, to accelerate innovation in the materials industry. They found that there wasn’t a pipeline of more sustainable materials, so they brought organisations with a shared challenge together to share knowledge and resources.
A policy can be a key barrier, therefore a change in policy can really enable activity. Work with policymakers and other stakeholders to build influence and address regulatory barriers.
In practice: Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves aims for universal adoption of clean stoves and fuels. They raise awareness and support from policymakers, donors and private, public and non-profit stakeholders. This range of activity can be prohibitively expensive for one stakeholder to tackle, best undertaken collaboratively.
A notable example of impact at scale is the global increase in access to pro-poor financial services since the 1970s. Early innovators in microfinance (provision of small loans and other services to the poor), and subsequently in mobile phone-based banking, paved the way for a wider movement. today there are more than 7000 microfinance institutions.
Conditions, initiatives and enabling technologies collided to enable this shift, which we can map across the building blocks...
Early pioneers in microfinance, such as Grameen Bank, provided new and effective approaches to meeting the needs of the 'unbanked'.
As approaches proliferated there was a need to record information and ensure quality. Specialised ratings agencies formed, such as Microfinance Transparency.
Inclusive finance began as an unprofitable model, surviving on subsidies. As subsequent institutions replicated the model, reaching financial sustainability became easier.
M-pesa, mobile banking, capitalised on existing 'infrastructure' – good access to mobile phones – to overcome barriers to accessing finance.
At first, supply was reshaped through grants, and later through new financing streams, such as online peer-to-peer lending sites like Kiva.
Demand for these financial services still outstrips supply, but increasing awareness, understanding and financial literacy has been critical to success.
Key protagonists like The World Bank, certain foundations and organisations, continue to strive for better infrastructure, regulation and standards to support both microfinance and mobile money.
Tell us where you're trying to scale your impact, and the challenges you're facing.
Understand the surrounding system and use our building blocks to find areas for action.
Work in dynamic cross-sector coalitions to implement market-shifting solutions.
From your organisation's perspective, which sustainability challenge is in need of, and ready for, a big push to get to scale? Download our full Scaling Up Impact guide and get in touch.