If you're a Shark Tank junkie, like I am, you've probably noticed that some of the best ideas the sharks invest in are pretty mundane and straight-forward.
Take the for example the ridiculously popular Scrub Daddy sponge. To date it has been the single most successful product to be funded by a Shark.
Yet, there is nothing new about sponges, scouring materials, and scrubbing utensils. Which is why everyone who walks by a Scrub Daddy store display--which usually takes up its own aisle--says, "Heck, I could have done that!" Cleary, you didn't, and I'll bet if the idea had ever come to you it would have been summarily dismissed as just not radical enough to have value. To be fair, its inventor, Aaron Krause, was awarded several design and utility patents for Scrub Daddy, but fundamentally it was a simple repurposed product that pretty much anyone would have considered unremarkable.
"...at a time when we seem to measure innovation by how quickly we can move product from the store shelf to the landfill, reuse may be one of the most critical paths to only sustainable innovation but a sustainable planet."
Isn't that the case with so many good ideas? We ignore the simple innovations which reuse what we already know or already have because it just doesn't seem like we're creating something "new" enough. However, I can tell you from my own experience with hundreds of companies struggling with innovation that reuse is likely the most often ignored and yet the most valuable approach to innovation; especially at a time when we seem to measure innovation by how quickly we can move product from the store shelf to the landfill, reuse may be one of the most critical paths to only sustainable innovation but a sustainable planet.
Which is what caught my eye when I recently learned about a UK tech company, bio-bean, which is collaborating with Shell to create a partial diesel fuel replacement out of....wait for it....coffee grinds!
In London alone, over 600,000,000 pounds of waste are produced yearly from coffee grinds, an otherwise useless byproduct which not only has zero residual value but creates added costs for disposal. According to bio-bean, waste coffee grounds, typically disposed of via landfill, emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. I'm not implying that our insatiable appetite for coffee is to blame for climate change, but it certainly has an impressive carbon footprint.
Just to put things into perspective, the total global production of coffee yearly is about 19 trillion pounds. That's a lot of coffee grinds that end up in landfills and waterways when they could be mined as a valuable fuel source.
Bio-bean is already producing bio logs and pellets which can be used for heating. As it turns out, coffee grinds have an incredibly high caloric output, burning hotter and longer than wood and, according to the company, have 100% carbon-neutral environmental impact.
Bio-bean's products are interesting however it's the approach that I see as even more significant because it looks at innovation from the standpoint of a business ecosystem, leveraging the growth of, and waste output from, one industry into the fuel for another. In many ways that simple approach of creating value from what would otherwise be waste or a latent asset is becoming the driving trend in the future of innovation. When you stop and think about it that's exactly how biological ecosystems work, nothing goes to waste.
Whether its Uber increasing the utilization of idle automobiles or bio-bean repurposing coffee grind waste into fuel, innovation is often less about inventing something entirely new than it is about simply rethinking how to repurpose and create greater value from what already exists.