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13 Hot Business Model Innovations To Follow in 2013

Interior design à la TerraCycle: An office lounge featuring vintage furniture and upcycled clocks and mirrors | Image credit: TerraCycle

Last week we started a series of four "hot lists" outlining key developments worth following in our community this year. Our first installment highlighted 13 hot sustainable products; today we look at 13 hot business model innovations that are creating new markets or transforming existing ones. Here they are:

  1. A new 3D printing service by Staples  named ‘Staples Easy 3D’  delivered by the office chain store in partnership with Ireland-based 3D printer manufacturer Mcor Technologies. Thanks to this new business line, users will be able to upload CAD or CAM files online before walking over to the nearest 3D-printing-enabled Staples to pick up respective objects coming out of a high-end 3D printer. As far as input materials go, Staples is starting out with paper objects only; however, designers, artists and many other creative types are surely already thrilled.
  2. Sprint’s BuyBack program, a profitable take-back program that gives customers credit for trading in their old phones, while helping close the loop on some valuable materials. Have a look at the in-depth description in this video for insights into the strategy and ecosystem of partners Sprint has utilized to collect four phones for every 10 it sells.
  3. SupperKing, a unique new iPhone app that aims to disrupt restaurants the same way Airbnb has disrupted the hotel industry. In the spirit of the trendy peer-to-peer economy so well-utilized by the likes of Lyft and TaskRabbit, this model allows you to sell seats at your dinner table to anyone who’s up for your cooking as an alternative to restaurants. On the other side of the two-sided markets are, of course, the users who can check out what’s cooking, book a seat at a stranger's table, rate the meal and make some new friends in the process.
  4. ParkingPanda, another (mostly) peer-to-peer play, which has found ways to alleviate parking anxiety in busy metropolitan areas by making it convenient to reserve parking from any computer or smartphone, at home before the ride or even while on the go minutes before the need to park arises. Anyone is welcome to offer their private parking space and, in addition, ParkingPanda is also partnering with many commercial parking lots by featuring their empty spots on the platform, thus helping them optimize their demand. Win-win-win.
  5. Johnson & Johnson’s Project Phoenix has taken on the unexpected and highly impactful challenge of turning a "waste co-operative" (think waste picking or scavenging, sometimes known as ‘landfill mining’) in Brazil into a sustainable business enterprise. The company has provided recyclers with economic visibility through formal employment, salaries surpassing minimum living wages, and improved working conditions. On top of that, J&J has implemented a pilot program to create a package with post-consumer recycled material sourced from recovered waste. Other scavenger cooperatives in and around the Sao Paulo metropolitan area are now lining up, as well.
  6. All of these companies were represented at SB'13
    Fooducate’s sophisticated yet easy-to-follow, on-the-go grading system for all kinds of food items  anything with a bar code you can pick up at the local supermarket, really. The app provides simple, concise explanations and a letter grade, helping you pick the healthiest options in any aisle. Brilliantly convenient.
  7. The ever more intriguing extensions of TerraCycle’s upcycling business model, which takes previously non-recyclable or hard-to-recycle waste, collected and shipped by more than 20 million people from over 20 countries, and turns it into various types of gift items, bags, office supplies and toys, to name a few. Of particular appeal lately are the company’s upcycled interior design services  a neat way to bring a unique modernistic style to any office space at a low cost.
  8. An innovative multi-stakeholder investment in natural capital in Latin America known as Water Funds. Conceived by joint efforts from forward-looking businesses such as FEMSA, The Nature Conservancy, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the scheme creates public-private partnerships pooling funds together to finance the protection and restoration of forests and grasslands across Latin America. Water Funds incentivize voluntary contributions from large downstream users such as water utility companies, hydroelectric companies and beverage companies  all with the goal of using collected revenue to preserve key lands upstream that control water supply, minimizing downstream treatment costs in the process.
  9. The pre-competitive collaboration between UPS and USPS targeting ambitious reductions of both companies’ carbon emissions. USPS takes advantage of UPS’ global transportation network and UPS in turn benefits from USPS’ ability to deliver to ‘the last mile’  residential addresses in small or remote towns in the U.S.
  10. The Fibershed Marketplace, which aggregates fibers raised by local farmers and ranchers within 150 miles of San Geronimo, CA, to be processed by artisans of the same region into a finished "fibershed garment." There is a lot to be said about the power of resilience and efficiency benefits in a distributed network built on the principles of local sourcing, and leaders of The Fibershed Project have learned many valuable lessons already.
  11. A new breed of cross-sector innovation efforts aiming to integrate home appliances and plug-in electric vehicles currently entering the market. Multiple such partnerships are springing up, but the most complete at this stage seems to be this one involving Ford, Whirlpool, SunPower and Eaton, among others. We are excited by the potential this type of cross-sector business model holds for speeding up progress towards more sustainable consumption for all.
  12. Participant Media’s smart ways of nurturing thriving social action campaigns associated with the studio’s many award-winning feature films and documentaries. Have a look at their inspiring philosophy.
  13. SideCar, yet another trendy representative of the rising peer-to-peer economy. It is actively trying to complement, and potentially even displace, the taxi cab industry in San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Austin, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Brooklyn and Washington, DC. And the company is joined in that seemingly promising market by a whole slew of competitors such as playful Lyft and fancy-looking Uber, among others.

We are fortunate to have the change agents behind all of these business model innovations  and many more  confirmed as speakers for Sustainable Brands ’13, and we can’t wait to have them share insights and advice. As always, we would love to hear your comments and opinions, so feel free to let us know what you think in the comments section below!


Dimitar is the Director of Content Development at Sustainable Brands. He joined the team after earning a Master’s degree in Management Science & Engineering – focused on sustainable business – from Stanford University. Before Stanford, Dimitar worked in international development… [Read more about Dimitar Vlahov]


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