Business innovation | Opinion

2021: Innovation matters more than ever before. How we plan to contribute

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Will COP26 prove to be miles better?

Here’s a brief note from Innovation Forum on our plans for 2021, with a link to our new statement of purpose and details of our new action research programmes

2020 was set to be a big year for business sustainability. Many companies had set deforestation and other commitments that were not on track, despite real progress. Then coping with a global pandemic meant all bets were off, and it became the universal focus for everything, at least for a time. 

Whilst, of course, the global health emergency remains very much the focus of attention, there is a growing sense that 2021 needs to be the year that matters for companies and sustainability transformation. 

The UN COP26 summit has been rescheduled for this coming November in Glasgow, Scotland. Business, more than any other stakeholder, will be expected to show it is willing to play its part. Innovation matters more than ever before.

With that in mind, we’ve rethought and redefined who we are at Innovation Forum, and our purpose. You can find our short statement here

The Innovation Forum team has been busy developing our programme for 2021. There’s more detail about our spring events series and our new action research programmes below. 

And, as ever, through our weekly podcast and newsletter, and other audio and written content, we will give our community some useful and relevant insight for their own challenges throughout the coming months. 

Sustainable food matters

Innovation Forum’s future of food event series in the spring will again focus on identifying the areas of opportunity and innovation in the food and beverage sector, particularly in the light of the severe pressure put on global supply chains during 2020. ]

As last year, we will convene two events in 2021, the first in March aimed at discussing the challenges more specific the US sector and the second in June taking a more European perspective. The discussion at the Europe event will unpick the implications of the ‘farm to fork’ strategy, as well as the entire European green deal, for the agriculture sector.  

Producer voices 

One of the benefits of online conferences is, of course, the greater ease of access to events, and Innovation Forum was delighted to be able to include producers in panel sessions during 2020. Getting the perspective of farmers themselves is so important, and 2021’s future of food sessions will feature their thoughts again.  

Producer voices will also be a crucial element in the discussions at Innovation Forum’s sustainable apparel and textiles event in April. With debate around shortening supply chains and consumer demands for sustainably sourced and manufactured products, the relationships between stakeholders in the sector have never been more dynamic. Factory transformation and the route to real circular economy solutions will be among the innovations we will debate with leading players.    

Climate focus 

Completing the spring conference programme is the new climate innovation forum in May. The steady flow of companies committing to net zero emissions on ever-tightening timelines has been a definite highlight of the past year – but achieving this is going to require, in many cases, both process innovation and technology rollout. There are practical steps to take to deliver on, for example, tough scope 3 targets and exciting innovation across all business sectors. The climate forum will be primarily focused on supply chain emissions and how to drive those down. 

Innovation Forum events coming up in the autumn will include our annual examination of the future for plastics and our flagship sustainable landscapes and commodities conference, with a major focus on forestry, smallholders and natural climate solutions. 

Action research: smallholders 

We also recently set up our ‘Innovation Accelerator’ initiative. This ongoing action research project focuses on genuinely resilient and sustainable smallholder supply chains. Supported by a small group of partner organisations, the first report from Innovation Accelerator was released in December. You can find that here. And here’s a brief podcast about it, and a short summary article.

Following up the report, the work will continue to dig more deeply into the questions which remain unclear, and explore the approaches and strategies that might address those challenges. This will include the development of a sustainable commodities country issue matrix, and of a sustainable goods marketplace to match those wanting to sell sustainably-produced goods with those wishing to buy them. 

We will also create approaches to engage more broadly within businesses, for example with those in procurement, and develop recommendations to inform public policy debates. (For more information about getting involved with Innovation Accelerator’s research, you can get in touch by clicking here.) 

Action research: apparel 

Separately, building on the work of Innovation Accelerator is our new Sustainable Apparel Barometer, which will result in an annual state of play report into the apparel sector as it works towards ethical and climate-positive fashion. 

It is has become very clear from the discussion and debate at Innovation Forum’s annual apparel event that the sector is under intense pressure to do more to improve both environmental and social impacts. The barometer will tease out the best practices that work from in-depth research in collaboration with a small group of partner organisations, as with our Innovation Accelerator programme. (You can click here to get in touch for more information about how to get involved). 

The Innovation Forum team looks forward to working with you this year. Our best wishes to you all for 2021. 

Across the work of Innovation Forum, we are always looking for new partner companies or organisations to work with and learn from so that we can be better at helping all those we engage with meet the critical business challenges. If you think there’s more we should be doing in a particular area or if you’d like to be involved with an event, in our research, or you’ve got something to say on our podcast or in our newsletter, please get in touch here.  


Upcoming events See all

The Future of Climate Action

Calendar icon Virtual

Location icon 25th - 27th May 2021

The Future of Food

Calendar icon Virtual (BST Time Zone)

Location icon 15th - 17th June 2021

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