Corporate Sustainability: The Global Push for Action and the IP Department’s Role

March 31, 2023

The world is currently undergoing a significant shift in focus toward sustainability. Companies, governments and the general population recognize the need to reduce their environmental impact and find ways to work and live sustainably. This shift has created new opportunities for innovation as consumers and investors seek solutions that are both effective and have less negative impact on the environment. The Intellectual Property (IP) department can play a crucial role in developing sustainable innovation and communicating a company’s commitment to corporate sustainability.

Why consumer behavior alone cannot be the answer

The world is facing significant sustainable challenges today. The healthcare sector, for example, is a substantial contributor to the carbon footprint, with activities such as the production of medical equipment and devices, the construction of healthcare facilities and the use of energy-intensive technologies. Globally, it is responsible for 4.4% of emissions.1

To maintain a sustainable environment and a planet worth living on for many generations to come, the United Nations has targeted to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.2 However, the reduction in emissions during the first pandemic year, where transportation activities greatly decreased, was only 6.4%.3 This shows that relying solely on changes in consumer behavior will not be enough to meet the challenge. Instead, innovative solutions are crucial to achieving emission targets.

How technology can contribute to a sustainable future

Due to the ongoing global pandemic, increasing severity of natural disasters and an ever-reducing resource pool, organizations are under growing pressure to prioritize sustainability. This has become a crucial focus for leaders and innovators tasked with taking swift action.

Technology can contribute to a sustainable future by enabling the development and use of renewable energy sources, promoting the efficient use of resources through automation and optimization, and facilitating the dissemination of information and knowledge to support sustainable practices and decision making. Improving sustainability can involve a variety of technologies, including:

  • Renewable energy technologies: Solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and biomass energy can provide clean and renewable sources of energy that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Energy efficiency technologies: Technologies such as smart buildings, LED lighting and efficient HVAC systems can reduce the amount of energy required to maintain comfortable living and working environments.
  • Transportation technologies: Electric vehicles, public transportation systems and bike-friendly infrastructure can reduce the dependence on fossil fuels for transportation, which is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Water management technologies: Technologies such as rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling and drip irrigation can reduce the amount of freshwater required for various activities, preserving the precious resource.
  • Waste management technologies: Composting, recycling and waste-to-energy facilities can reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, conserving resources and reducing the negative impact on the environment.
  • Agricultural technologies: Technologies such as computer-aided farming (CAF) and regenerative agriculture practices can increase the efficiency and sustainability of food production, reducing the strain on resources and improving the planet’s health.
  • Materials science and engineering: Developing new, sustainable materials and using life cycle assessment to minimize the environmental impact of production and disposal of goods can help create a more sustainable future.
  • Digital technologies: The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology can help improve sustainability by optimizing energy usage and reducing waste by creating more efficient systems.

Which Companies Own the Strongest Sustainable Technologies? 

In a first-of-its-kind report, learn which companies are the world’s leading patent owners with the potential to drive transformative innovation toward the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Patents: an ideal measure of business sustainability

Patents offer a unique window into the R&D efforts and future products of companies since they require the disclosure of the technology being protected and are often published many years before the corresponding commercial products hit the market. This makes metrics based on patent data objective and forward-looking. Patent data, hence, plays a critical role in this context as it can provide invaluable insights into global innovation and objectively evaluate corporate sustainability practices. Patents are an ideal measure because:

  • They offer evidence of a company’s capability to bring about sustainable change through its knowledge and expertise
  • Every granted patent has the potential to bring positive change to society through its protected invention
  • Authorities with policies and patent laws supportive of sustainable innovation will have more such innovations protected by law

Mapping patents to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: A one-of-a-kind scientific approach to better understand sustainable innovation

As sustainability has become a key value for investors, employees and consumers, companies around the globe are facing the challenge of objectively measuring and reporting their corporate sustainability efforts. Based on our research conducted in 2021, 75% of the 100 companies holding the largest patent portfolios indicated in their annual and/or sustainability reports that the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (U.N. SDGs) are relevant to their business strategy and goals.

An analysis to study the sustainability focus of a portfolio can be performed using LexisNexis® PatentSight®. Among the multitude of analytical features offered by the IP analytics and intelligence platform is a mapping of UN SDG targets and indicators to keywords and classifications of patents. Using this mapping along with our patent value indicators — the Patent Asset Index and its underlying metrics — delivers unparalleled insights into global sustainable innovation. It allows corporations to evaluate innovation across different technologies that address specific areas of sustainability. Such analysis provides crucial and reliable information for better decision making and reporting.

Objective patent analysis against the U.N. SDGs using PatentSight®

PatentSight analysis based on SDG mapping makes it simple for both patent and non-patent experts to access their area of interest and gain insightful information — whether to inform R&D, guide investment strategies or support communication of their corporate sustainability commitment to stakeholders.

How was the SDG-to-patent mapping conducted? A group of LexisNexis patent data experts objectively linked technology areas with active patenting activity to the SDG targets and their 231 unique indicators. These are global in nature, universally applicable and complemented by indicators at the regional and national levels developed by the Member States of the U.N.

The indicators that are supposed to be used for tracking the progress toward the accomplishment of the SDGs can be mapped to advancements in science and technology as expressed through patentable inventions. Territorial laws define the criteria for patents though the science in the patents is universal. This is in line with the SDG framework, where the global perspective is supposed to be implemented at the national level.

The technology areas with active patenting activity that can be explicitly mapped to the SDG targets and indicators are included. Each technology field is defined to retrieve patents and match those that disclose inventions specific to the technology areas and is clarified by the U.N. SDG metadata.

More information on how LexisNexis® Intellectual Property Solutions mapped patents to the SDGs can be found in our FAQ section.

Use cases: boost your sustainability efforts and communicate them effectively

The PatentSight UN SDG to patents mapping feature offers support in multiple ways:

  • Evaluate the value of sustainable technology patent portfolios you possess and determine areas where your business can grow in terms of sustainability.
  • Objectively measure progress toward achieving the SDGs: Determine the effectiveness of your investments in sustainable technologies and identify which technologies have a significant impact and which are less impactful.
  • Develop a strategy for investing in sustainable technology: Get a comprehensive understanding of the competition in sustainable tech and find partners and licensing opportunities to aid and speed up your sustainability endeavors.
  • Understand in which U.N. SDGs companies invest: Analyze the interrelations between R&D strategies and determine if your competitors are pursuing research in similar sustainable technology areas.

Click here to learn more about the UN SDG feature in PatentSight.

In the second part of our blog series on corporate sustainability, we will showcase real-life case studies and discuss how companies can leverage the PatentSight SDG mapping to improve their sustainability efforts.

Let’s collaborate to promote sustainable innovation

We’re eager to connect with you and hear about your IP challenges. Contact our skilled analysts to learn how to track and measure your investments in sustainability.

How a Global Science and Tech Company Assists Their Sustainability Strategy With IP

For Merck, KGaA a company that believes in science as a force for good, the ability to accurately assess its social and environmental impact is important. Find out how Merck leverages PatentSight to communicate their commitment to sustainability.

Was this post helpful?