With the global population expected to hit 8.1 billion people by 2025 (U.N. estimate), there’s general recognition that more value will need to be extracted from our limited resources. Over the last few years we’ve seen innovations that unlock the value of existing resources, deriving more from them, as demonstrated by companies such as AirBnB and Zipcar, where consumers took advantage of rentable space in strangers’ homes and sharing—instead of owning—cars that may go unused most of the time during a day.
Now this mindset is being applied to achieve greater utilization from other untapped assets. Take RelayRides.com, for example. Not satisfied with only facilitating consumer-to-consumer car rentals, which it started doing in June 2010, Relay Rides recently moved into utilizing the potential of unused cars sitting in airport parking lots all over the U.S. With availability at 100 airports in some 30 states, car owners can receive free airport parking, car washes, and shuttle service in exchange for the use of their vehicles while they’re traveling. So what was once an under-utilized resource (unused cars sitting at airports), now becomes a value-generating asset.
Rooftops offer another plentiful, typically unused asset that exists all around us. Canadian start-up, Local Garden, recently transformed a parking garage roof into a state-of-the-art sustainable farm in the heart of downtown Vancouver. With only 6,000 sq ft and their patent-pending “vertical growing technology,” the Local Garden operation produces 3,500 lbs of fresh greens every week. That’s comparable to what a traditional farm does with 5 acres of land. And according to the company, its vertical growing technology uses less than 10 percent of the amount of water consumed by traditional farming methods. Further, the process doesn’t use any chemical pesticides and there’s virtually no transportation required. Local Garden says they can transform virtually any unused space (e.g., vacant lots, unused warehouses, or even factory rooftops) under any climate conditions into a local farm with their technology.
Never being one to sit on the sidelines when it comes to sustainability, Austin-based Whole Foods Market is following a similar model and building its first commercial scale greenhouse on the roof of its new Gowonus-Brooklyn store, scheduled to open later this fall. This 20,000 sq ft greenhouse will generate enough produce for several Whole Foods Markets in the New York City area. Here, too, the operation will use significantly less water than traditional farming methods, and because of special building materials and electrical equipment, it will consume less energy, too, making the entire operation that much more sustainable.
So today’s roofs are tomorrow’s local farms. And what about our floors? Companies are also reimagining how we extract value from such everyday elements of our environment. For example, Rotterdam-based Energy Floors has created a Sustainable Dance Floor (SDF), which takes the kinetic energy of dancers and converts it into electricity. When dancers step on SDF flooring, a subtle flex in the floor is converted into energy, with each floor square (about 30 inches x 30 inches) able to generate about 35 watts of energy. While the initial concept appeared in clubs around Europe, current applications have been brought to health clubs, museums, convention centers, and other types of hospitality spaces.
Finally, in the hospitality space itself, we find unused capacity turning into the new concept, “Pop Up Hotel,” conceived by PinkCloud.dk, an international architecture collective founded in Copenhagen. The concept, inspired in part by the commercial real estate crisis in midtown Manhattan, uses modular hospitality furnishings and amenities to transform ordinary office space into fully functional hotel, entertainment, bar/lounge, exercise, and restaurant space. With approximately 17 million square feet of unused office space in midtown Manhattan, the founders of PinkCloud.dk saw an immense opportunity to transform an area of post-recession decline into a vibrant, stylish hub of entertainment just steps away from Times Square, one of the most popular tourism areas in New York City.
For marketers, the application of this philosophy—extracting value in plain sight—is vast. What’s the untapped potential of your product or service? How can you unlock more value from what might already be within your existing asset base or supply chain—from product to marketing? Can you re-purpose your product, such as its packaging, into something of greater value? With paradigms and business assumptions being successfully challenged all the time, now’s the time to challenge your own assumptions. Do it before your competition beats you to it, knowing that you’ll win the respect and admiration of your consumers, who now more than ever expect their favorite brands to be engaging them with creativity and leading innovation.