Some of the best ideas start out as trash. Literally.
And as the old adage goes, One persons trash is anothers treasure - or in this case, the planets trash is an innovators treasure.
This weeks intrapreneurial type stands as a reminder that innovation can start anywhere, anytime. And what might appear to be a dead end may just turn out to be the pathway to a surprising new beginning.
The re-imagineer is an intrapreneur who sees the potential in all things, no matter how old, worn out, and seemingly useless they appear. This intrapreneur doesnt just recognize social or environmental issues; he or she turns the issue on its head by creating a solution from the problem.
The re-imagineer is a master of recycling, seeing new, profitable uses for old items. But this intrapreneur doesnt just collect plastic bottles - the re-imagineer discovers ways to revolutionize value chains for the betterment of big businesses and local communities alike.
Fishing for Ideas
Miriam Turner and the Co-innovation team at Interface - a global manufacturer of carpet tiles and an environmental pioneer - know what it means to be re-imagineers.
The problem at hand was daunting: around 640,000 tons of fishing nets are discarded into the worlds oceans yearly, counting for 10% of the planets marine debris. This problem is particularly poignant in developing nations, where artisanal fishers dispose of their nets both on beaches and in the oceans.
This form of pollution is known as ghost fishing. The nets may haunt the seas for centuries, catching or injuring marine life and damaging the local fisheries of already impoverished communities.
Re-imagineers know that big problems need big solutions, and big solutions have wide impact. Such was the case that led the Co-innovation team to Net-Works an inclusive business partnership with conservation NGO the Zoological Society of London.
Its not new that fishing gear has gone into nylon yarn, Turner explained, pointing to the recyclable potential for the discarded fishing nets. What is new is the socio-economic and conservation benefit created by supplying this demand in a different way.
The idea began when Interface executives discovered that one of their major suppliers was purchasing nylon trawler nets to be filtered through their recycling plant. Sustainability Director Ramon Arratia suggested buying nets from communities in India with whom Interface had partnered in the past, and from that suggestion, Net-Works was born.
What makes Net-Works tick is its re-imagining of value chains. Fishing communities are incentivized to not only save old fishing nets but to also collect discarded nets found on the beach. They can now deposit these nets in community banks instead of cash, and in this way are able to save.
When you go crab fishing, you have to replace hundreds of meters of nets every few months, Turner said, illustrating how Net-Works could be conceived at the grassroots level. You had no idea this material was valuable to someone else. It turns out that for every two kilo of net, you could buy almost one kilo of rice.
The impact of this idea is huge. Communities in developing nations receive money for cleaning up the environment. By cleaning up the environment, these same communities ensure that their source of income - namely, the local marine life - stays healthy and intact.
At the same time, Interface continues its trend of sustainable production, working with its supplier Aquafil to turn harmful waste buried in the planets oceans and discarded on beaches into a product customers want.
Interested in learning how other innovators are re-imagining how to tackle the worlds biggest social and environmental challenges? Check out the winners of the Ashoka Changemakers competition The League of Intrapreneurs.
Words by Eric Clayton
Image from Tim Moffatt on Flickr