Sustainable Innovation

Social impacts of products

Underpinning company mission


An important reason to start measuring social impact is to underpin a company mission. More and more companies define company aspirations in terms of social impact. Take for instance Danone, that has a dual mission of business success and social impact. Philips aims to improve the lives of 3 billion people. And L’Oréal strives with its ‘Sharing Beaty for All’ program for all its products to have a social or environmental beneift. It is  important to substantiate these goals with tangible examples and report on progress based on solid metrics. How to do so?

Learning from NGOs and philantropy

Social progress is the ‘raison d’etre’ for Non-Gouvernemental Organisations (NGOs) and philantropic organisationsFor NGOs it would be unthinkable not to track the number of people lifted out of poverty, the income generated for small holder farmers or the number of girls educated. A number of tools and guidelines have become available to forecast and track progress , for instance those ‘Global Impact Investing Network’. The reporting guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative provide inspiration as well for companies that wish to steer on social impact. However, these type of guidances do not always provide the level of granularity needed to steer the social impact of products.

Social impact through products

Companies can create the largest positive impact with their products and services. Through products companies have the ability to create the most significant impact in society: billions of end-users are reached, manufacturing processes can be changed in own organisation and supplier organisations. The choices companies make for their products have a direct effect on the impacts the products have on the planet and people. These impacts are created in all stages of the product life cycle from extraction of raw materials – all the way to the producten, use phase and the end of life of a product.

Life cycle approach

The impacts created by products can be related to all stages of the product life cycle, .’Life Cycle Analyses’ have become a common methodology to assess the environmental impact of a product. Take for instance the standard defined by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) for life cycle assessments in the chemical sector. It is also possible to assess the social impacts along the life cycle. If you wish to integrate ‘people perspectives’ a good source is the Handbook for Product Social Impact Assessments developed by a group of industry peers.

Better for people and planet

DSM strives for products and innovations to be measurably better for the planet (Eco+) and people (People+)  based on a life cycle approach. By 2020 65% of DSMs products should be ‘Brighter Living Solutions’, measurably better for planet or people. Some examples:

  1. Alpaflor® Edelweiss is a personal care ingredient. It contributes to better skin health and comfort, and is sourced in a very socially sustainable way, contributing to good working circumstances and prosperity of farmers in the Swiss Valais region.
  2. Synthetic chains made of Dyneema® used for marine structure mooring are 8 times lighter and 70 times less noisy than steel chains. Users experience a safer and more comfortable use, shipping companies report improved operational efficiency.
  3. Medical gowns reinforced with breathable Arnitel VT® contribute to the protection of surgeons against virus and bacteria in high risk hospital environments, and allow surgeons to work in a comfortable way.
  4. Decovery® is a plant based and waterborne paint ingrediënt for paints. It is a solvent free and low odor product, and reduces health risks of the people involved in production and the users of the product.

Benefits of social impact measuring

Social impact measuring is useful to underpin company missions. Life cycle assessments can be instrumental to spot new innovation opportunities and business differentiators. They also help to train product developers and sourcing managers to choose the most sustainable alternatives, and marketeers to communicate the differentiators in a balanced way. More about business benefits here.

– based on the earlier published article by Karen Maas (Academic Director Impact Center Erasmus) and Jacobine Das Gupta (DSM Corporate Sustainability) in Dutch for NRC Live Impact Day



Wishing you an inspiring 2011

Thank you for your reviews, comments and ideas in 2010. To stay tuned in 2011 on new articles, do not hesitate to subscribe on the left hand side.

Among the blog entries in 2010 were articles on Best Practices of Sustainability within leading private, public and non-gouvernemental organisations throughout Europe, following interviews with senior managers, among them at Philips, DSM, Redevco, SAP, Eneco, Nokia, Shell, Bouygues Telecom, Ericsson, association ADN, the Dutch municipality of The Hague and Rotterdam Floating Pavilion, as well articles on measuring social impact, new CSR reporting rules in France and new social impact product labels.

Sparkling little LEDlights on the Champs Elysées, December 2010, Paris.

I wish you an inspiring, healthy and  prosperious 2011. I look forward to continue our cooperation and exchange.

The Green Take. Implementing Sustainable Innovation.

Best Practices in The Netherlands

‘What about The Netherlands ?’  

How are Dutch companies dealing with Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability > There should be a sense of urgency with respecto to sustainable matters, knowing that a large part of the country is situated below sea level. As well, there are quite some entreprises that have started 10 years ago with CSR and Sustainability policies. 

What to learn from the Dutch entreprises ? It will be subject of the next series of articles.


Water Civil Works (Zeeland) and canels in Amsterdam (The Netherlands Capital)

I am talking to the Senior Managers that are responsible for the Sustainability or Corporate Responsbility Policy. In Dutch , this is called ‘Maatschappelijk Verantwoord Ondernemen’ (Societal Responsibly Entrepreneurship) or ‘Duurzaam Ondernemen’ (Durable/Sustainable Entrepreneurship).

Group and Trading Community Roots. The Dutch Society can be characterised as a ‘Group Community’  and a ‘Trading Community’ (1), consisting of interacting groups and individual. There is a high sense responsible for both their individual tasks as well as the groups objectives. People are very aware ‘Opportunities’ and ‘Threats’ for the maintenance of the (trading) business.

Extensive Negotiation Rounds leading to Consensus Decisions. Whereas the French society can be characterised by a ‘Royal Culture’, with a top-down structure, The Netherlands is certainly not. There is a long tradition of negotiations : between public organisations, entreprises, trade-unions, consumer pressure groups and ONGs, the ‘Poldermodel’. Politics and industry Leaders are valued for their negotiation skills and their capabilities to bring and keep everybody together. Socially Engaged Entrepeneurship (or Sustainable Development) does perfectly fit in this model.

Dutch companies have understood quickly that CSR is a license to operate. Stakeholders dialogues have always been essential for surviving as a business.

Dutch Best Practices. In order to understand the business principles and processes in The Netherlands, I have interviewed Dutch senior managers responsible for Sustainable or Corporate Responsible Development. I have used questions similar to the ones asked to the French counterparts  :  How are CSR goals created ? Does it stimulate Innovation ? How does the economic crises effect Sustainability ? What are outlooks ?  How were the Sustainable Innovations conceived ? How have the stakeholders been involved ?

Enjoy the next series of Best Practices; those about Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability in  The Netherlands.

Source 1 : ‘Hoe dromende fransen en efficiente Nederlandse samenwerken’, Pieter Kottman, NRC 3 October 2003.

Best Practices that Inspire
September 30, 2009, 2:01 pm
Filed under: Best Practices in France | Tags: , ,


‘Developpement Durable’ has become a significant trend in France. Most French companies have defined now a ‘Developpement Durable’ strategy. Many have created a dedicated DD department. What are their strategic goals ? How is Sustainable Development implemented ? What are best practices ?

Best practices based on interviews. Currently, I am interviewing People-On-The-Job. They are all responsable for Sustainable Development in their respective companies. I have started with large Francophone Corporate Companies.

The best practices are meant to inspire you in the process of Sustainable Business Innovation !