Innovation for a Green Future

Farid Ahmad

9 May, 2020 12:00 AM printer

A wearer hardly considers that it takes around 7,600 litres of water to make a pair of jeans. The benefits of a car are clear to everybody. In addition to life’s necessities, they are a source of pleasure and social status. Both textile and automotive industries are one of the main sources of employment and economic growth. Nevertheless, they are being pointed out as major contributors to environmental pollution nowadays.

Why? Their respective strong dependence on large consumption of raw material and fossil fuels leads to environmental problems. Therefore, companies in these sectors have been trying different strategies to overcome these challenges; taking initiatives to reduce the environmental burdens from their uses and production process. Yet these changes have been insufficient to make the sectors more sustainable.

The major environmental concern in the 21st century is global warming, ozone depletion, scarcity of freshwater, raw material and land availability. All these have a great impact on how companies manage their business. Therefore, they are also a driver to innovation for a green future. For example, the inadequacy of land can increase the cost for land disposal, which might force manufactures to innovate a sustainable waste disposal system to evacuate their production sites.

According to UN Climate Change Conference (COP 25) held at Madrid in December 2019, Greenland’s ice sheet is melting seven times faster than in the 1990s.One fourth of the world’s population is at risk of water supply problems.  NASA showed that the planet has experienced the five warmest years ever recorded since 2010.

For many years, scientists, environmentalist, climate activists and academics have been addressing the human-induced climate change and advocating for slowing down Greenhouse Gases (GHG) — water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone) emissions to leave a planet liveable for the next generations.

The world leaders have failed to slow down the carbon emission. In 2019, Australia and Amazon forest saw the worst bushfire recorded in decades. Many were deeply shocked looking at the images —Fire is roasting kangaroos with their babies in the pouch.

In Bangladesh, we have failed to save our rivers and canals. The concentration of dissolved oxygen of Buriganga is often found almost zero. Textile, dyeing, tannery, printing, washing and pharmaceutical industries are main polluters. Our world’s longest sandy sea beach is filled with plastic bags and other waste materials. Periodic storms cause saltwater incursion, leaving millions with little to drink or eat. Rising seas are posing a looming large threat to our homes and livelihood near the coast. It will submerge one fifth of our land by two thousand fifty — a prediction.

Interestingly, GHG emission in China fell by a quarter during the first two weeks of February 2020. The air in many parts of the world including Dhaka has become strikingly clean. And the global GHG emissions have fallen surprisingly. Large lovely gardens and open fields are now covered by soft green grass, filled with butterflies. Here and there over the grass stood beautiful flowers like stars. The birds are flying about and twittering with delight. Dolphins are dancing in all beaches of the world. The roads are not dusty and perhaps no anthropogenic aerosols in air.

The Earth is perhaps healing its wounds, reducing its scars. It is breathing. Is the Nature healing itself? —No! The human race is currently battling against an invisible creature that can endanger human life at every hand touch with sneeze or cough droplets containing its particles. Now the world feels like a haunted place. The world's population is cooped-up indoors, not exiting their hedgehog holes as the foe is so ferocious and noncompliant. As humanity steps into the reality of life with COVID-19, life already feels drastically different. Coronavirus has now become the talk of the world — replacing the buzz about climate change. Due to isolation, social distancing and shutdown of activities, the roads are free of vehicles and factory chimneys stopped emitting smoke.

While these shutdown activities are providing legions of benefits to the climate, the sustainability is quite different to what is now happening around the world. While this is harmful for the world economy, yet from the standpoint of environment, we must understand that we are destroying our environment. “As a species, we are experts in problem solving”, hopefully, the pandemic outbreak will once subside, we will see multinationals and global economies pacing for a faster recovery. Therefore, it may produce more GHG than before in a short time. We immediately need a sensible solution to get rid of this impending horrid doom. For these reasons perhaps Swedish adolescent climate activist Greta Thunberg still calls upon all to save the planet and says "We must fight the climate crisis and the pandemic simultaneously." 

Wondering why I am talking now about climate change? Because this year’s World Intellectual Property (IP) Day campaign— Innovation for a Green Future —takes a closer look inside how IP rights can support the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy. The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) celebrates World IP Day on April 26 every year across the globe to create awareness on the role of IP to encourage innovation and creativity that drives human progress.

A few frequently asked questions may be answered here to create awareness on IP. What is IP? According to WIPO, IP refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works and symbols, names and images used in commerce. IP is divided into two categories: industrial property includes patents for novel inventions with industrial applicability, distinctive trademarks, industrial designs and geographical indications for origin, qualities or reputation. Copyright covers literary works such as novels, poems, plays, films, music, and artistic works. What are IP rights? IP rights are like any other property right. They allow creators or owners of patents, trademarks or copyrighted works to benefit from their own work or investment in a creation. Why promote and protect IP? An effective IP system can foster economic development, spur the creation of new jobs and industries, promote foreign investment, innovation and creativity and professional marketing of a product or service, and enhance the quality of life. There is a positive correlation between economic development and IP rights protection.

Having a roadmap to a green future is a modern-day imperative. The 2020 World IP Day campaign puts — innovation and the rights that support it — at the core of the efforts to build a green future. Tackling the global climate crisis is a Herculean task. Each country needs to address it and build a green future. And everyone can play his part in building a green future. Because the choices we make today will determine our future. The Earth is our Mother and we must love her.

Technology — along with the wise and austere life style austere — is increasingly recognised as the mainstay of the solution and the key to a smart green future. Nations need to intensify efforts to establish robust national innovation systems and enable access to effective national IP systems that support the development and deployment of the technologies, products and services needed to transition to a green future. Business models have a role to play in this transition. All these technologies and businesses that lead to the green future are subjects of IP.

A green innovation may be defined as those innovations in the products, processes or in the business model that lead the company to higher levels of environmental sustainability. For clarification a green innovation of car manufacturer BMW may be mentioned here. BMW innovated water-based paint to reduce emissions of harmful substances and implemented landfill gas-project to have combined heat and power for BMW’s production facilities. Thus, BMW reduced carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to removing 61,000 automobiles from US highways and saved millions of dollars.

The new business model and government policy prompted use of solar technology in USA. Green diesel is being researched to obtain oils from algae, jatropha, tallow etc. since bio-fuel is considered renewable and less harmful to the environment. However, in many cases natural market forces may work against such a transition. Countries need to start moving with policy approaches such as taxation, expenditure, regulatory and institutional to promote a transition to green industry for combating climate change. International support must foster and incentivise technology transfer and knowledge sharing across developed and developing countries.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) play a significant role in a developing economy like Bangladesh. Sustainable production through green innovation is a must. Governments need to provide SMEs with knowledge-sharing platforms, tools and funding needed to test and demonstrate eco-innovations. Transitioning to a low-carbon future is indisputably a complex and multi-faceted endeavour.

But we have the collective wisdom, ingenuity and creativity to come up with environment-friendly technologies and cleaner production like hybrid cars, biofuel buses, plant-based diets, artisan, and natural fibre clothes. And the IP system has a pivotal and enabling role in supporting us on this journey to a green future.

World IP Day is a great opportunity to get people interested in such issues. This year, amid the pandemic outbreak, WIPO will not organise any physical events, and encourages the world community to move celebrations to virtual channels. The Intellectual Property System, however, is not beyond criticism. For example, pharmaceutical patents prevent alternative life-saving drugs from entering the market, thus, maintaining high prices for medication. COVID-19 is a crisis; it is dominating the world. Yet it is giving us an enormous chance to learn proactive-reactive management and build a better safety net for its next stage. There is light shining at the end of the tunnel. Many companies and academic institutions are racing to make a COVID-19 vaccine.  Certainly, the first innovator will file a patent. Hopefully, WIPO will look into these issues for the sake of humanity.


The writer is Assistant Professor and Principal Proponent of Technology Transfer Office Project, BUET and Reviewer of Advances in Business & Economics, HRPUB, USA