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Product, Service & Design Innovation
A Catalyst for Cutting-Edge Change

It takes a village of visionaries and specialists to galvanize innovative ideas and bring them to fruition. In a recent webinar, Shaw examined a case study in organizations coming together to take a “people-centric approach to sustainability.”

When IKEA announced its team had developed an affordable solution to clean indoor air — an air-purifying curtain called GUNRID — it was the focus of conversations throughout the world. The technology behind GUNRID consists of a mineral-based, photo-catalyst coating applied to the textile; when activated by natural light, GUNRID breaks down common indoor air pollutants.

It takes a village of researchers, scientists, product developers, academics, designers and other specialists to galvanize these ideas and bring them to fruition. In an effort to recognize and learn from the wide array of organizations and ways we can each make a positive impact on people and the planet, Shaw’s Susan Farris hosted a webinar with Sustainable Brands in October 2019, called “Sustaining Human Ability: Taking a People-Centric Approach to Sustainability” — which featured HeiQ Group co-founder & CEO Carlo Centonze; Healthy Building Network’s William Weber; and Mary Dickinson, Co-Director of Perkins and Will’s Material Performance Lab.

Switzerland-based HeiQ Group is a leader in textile innovation, creating some of the most effective, durable and high-performance textile effects in the market today. Founded in 2005 as a spin-off from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the company improves the lives of billions of people by perfecting everyday textiles through scientific research, specialty materials manufacturing and consumer ingredient branding. The company includes more than 85 professionals in 12 countries — including research centers and laboratories in Australia, China, Portugal, Switzerland, Taiwan and the US; as well as manufacturing in Australia, Switzerland and the US (in Georgia and North Carolina).

The following three questions with HeiQ’s Carlo Centonze were excerpted from the webinar.

What is driving your efforts — what market needs, insights or shifts led to the initiative?

Carlo Centonze: We focus on solving problems and creating novel benefits — the next ‘it’ textile technology with a strong focus on sustainability. Of particular concern is indoor air quality. When HeiQ started 15 years ago, our first-generation products prevented odor generation in textiles by managing one of the sources of odor: Bacteria. That has expanded to looking at how we can absorb volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are harmful to people, like formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.

Our efforts are driven by our top executives. Our client, IKEA, decided that they wanted to improve their customers’ lives by developing cleaner or better technologies. That led to big decisions from the top management to engage in trying to identify ways to have better materials — more bio-based materials, or functional technologies that contribute to better products and also a better indoor life. IKEA and HeiQ then began working together to see what is potentially possible where we can have an impact on indoor air quality. We went to our global academic experts and looked for existing interdisciplinary technology. That effort allowed us to smartly package and re-combine in a unique and novel way several existing technologies from different application fields that could quickly go to market. It is a really good time for sustainable technologies — for all of us to try to make an effort to utilize the better products that are available or can be made available as readily as technologies in our markets.

Can you share a little about some of the challenges you faced through this project?

CC: Research and development never happens in a straight line. We are talking about solutions that had to be developed on textiles — which seem to be a simple product, but it’s actually a very complex product with a lot of intertwined manufacturing processes. So, the challenges have been to achieve the targeted performance while matching the application processes which are standard in our industry. At the same time, we are also trying to match the price expectations that IKEA wanted to give to their consumers — affordable, yet very functional and beneficial technology. And of course, when you do this development with a multinational Fortune 500 company, you are exposed to several countries, several languages and several cultures — requiring both teams to adapt to each other. Thanks to the willingness of everybody to create something better, we have overcome the hurdles that have been manyfold.

What were your keys to success?

CC: Transparently sharing with the people you're working with what the technologies can or cannot do — and addressing the issues you're facing in a structured innovation process. The key to success is really communication and sharing knowledge, if you are able, with partners and stakeholders around you. Something good will come out of that sharing — especially when everyone involved is focusing on creating a more sustainable innovation that will benefit consumers. There is also a strong motivation when intercompany relationships are running well — when people are having fun, creating better stuff and working towards the same goal to create better lives for people. And finally, another key to success is to be optimistic and enthusiastically share the gained knowledge and interesting findings with people around you.

This article is one in a series of articles recognizing 10 diverse organizations intently focused on products and initiatives that support the wellbeing of people and the planet, as part of Shaw’s sustain[HUMAN]ability™ recognition program.