Shipping flies the flag for system innovation

Sensemaking / Shipping flies the flag for system innovation

This week Forum for the Future is launching an ambitious new strategy: we want to create a step change in the sustainability of our food, energy and finance using system innovation.

21 Jun 2011
Our Sustainable Shipping Initiative is a good example of how system innovation works in practice. We are helping a pioneering group of industry leaders to plan action which will put the global maritime industry on a more sustainable path, using our significant change curve to guide what we do.

Shipping is an important global industry that faces complex challenges that are hard for any company to deal with on its own. For example, the high sulphur content of bunker fuel means it’s under pressure to find alternatives; and customers like Walmart and Ikea are pushing for better sustainability standards in their supply chain. Shipping also involves multiple interactions between owners, operators, charterers, ports and financiers, so the financial benefits of environmental and social action are sometimes difficult to reconcile.

We have brought together 16 leading organisations from all parts of the industry to tackle these systemic challenges. The members’ overarching ambition is to transform shipping so it is fit for a future of higher prices, greater transparency, climate uncertainty and consumer pressure. They want new financial mechanisms that reward investments in low-carbon technologies. They want shipping to enable a closed loop economy. They want to play their role in social sustainability by providing worthwhile and skilled employment. And they want higher sustainability standards that are applied globally.

We are working in a highly collaborative way to ensure that the industry leaders own the changes that result. In May members issued a Case for Action setting out why change is necessary and the levers that we can pull to have most impact. New technology, market pricing and customers will drive that change, but regulation will also be important in taking it to the mainstream. We are now working with our members to define what a sustainable industry looks like by creating a vision for 2040. These initial steps shape the level of ambition, help us find the right points to intervene and start to engage the wider industry.

The real innovation in the shipping system happens when members come together to find creative solutions to the shared challenges they face. We use a range of techniques to help them look at a wide range of issues including engineering and technical initiatives, policy proposals and marketing plans. At the same time, the companies themselves are pioneering new practice – Maersk’s super-efficient triple E ship, for example, or Cargill’s wind powered bulk carrier. The plan is to bring all of these approaches together to create wider change in the system. System innovation happens when a set of interventions are brought together to show a new way forward.

These solutions then need to scale – the second part of system innovation. Throughout the project we are considering how to encourage the mainstream to take up the innovations our leaders come up with. Regular communication with the wider industry is important, particularly on practical ideas, as is creating a strong network of leaders who others want to follow. We are involving some of the regulatory bodies early to engage them in the potential of a sustainable industry. We are also tracking the barriers to change so that we can find ways to tackle them as we move forward.

System innovation is a set of interventions that put a specified system onto a more sustainable path. At Forum for the Future we see it as key to accelerating the change we need to get to a sustainable future. Shipping is just one example. We are delivering a variety of approaches in food, energy and finance. And we are looking for progressive organisations and individuals to join us on this journey. So if you have a challenge that is too big for your organisation to tackle on its own we’re waiting to hear from you.

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

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