Innovation as the main driver for sustainability

I was sitting in the main room with the other WBCSD students when a tobacco company’s logo surprisingly appears on the giant screen. Everyone thought it was not possible. The most well-known global cigarettes company participating to a worldwide council for sustainable development? “Impossible”

Nevertheless, the spokesperson drives us to understand clearly how they have internalized the power of innovation, as a means to reach a long-term goal, to realise a win-win scenario to satisfy the new smoke-free customer needs. This concept is of a particular relevance, because it implies a redesign of product and a policy intervention.

Referring to the policy there is a twofold way of acting. In fact, on the one hand it is obvious that tobacco products should be subject to strict rules and enforcement, in order to decrease the use of it and to minimize the harmful consequences. Thus, the Government has correctly increased restrictions and taxes. But, on the other hand, the Government interaction should be seen as a way to overcome the considerable barriers to technological change, to go further in theoretical and in practical opportunities in order to increase both the economic profit and the outcomes in term of social impact[i]. Thus, even though the firm was born as a tobacco producer, it must be helped with a policy intervention. Since 2008 it has invested more than $3 billion in employing over 400 world-class engineers, students, and technicians with one unique goal: replacing cigarettes with smoke-free products[ii]. Being able to create the flagship smoke-free product -an electric chamber that instead of burning tobacco, vapourises it – the tobacco company has satisfied the new healthier trend. This pioneering product, gives the user a hit of nicotine like a cigarette would but without the unhealthy effects of smoking a real cigarette. It is also essential to consider not only the fundamental health impact of this breakthrough but also the appeal that this product has to provoke in the consumer. It delivers a pleasing flavor and sensory experience for the consumer, therefore helping them to switch from traditional cigarettes to smoke-free products.                              Confident of this future and this tangible achievement the CEO of the most globalized tobacco company stated:

By 2025 at least 30% of our volume will come from smoke-free products and at least 40 million cigarette smokers will have switched to healthier products.”

 In affirming this we found out how the cooperation between policy-maker, profit, non-profit organization and industry is fundamental. The compulsion for innovation should not be slowed down but it should be correctly addressed by a collective group of market operators, such as: NGO, the media, target groups, scientific organizations and economic society[iii]. Thus, it is obvious to expect in the next years a considerable support from the institutions listed above, in order to complete this articulated process and let tobacco producers become more sustainable.

Davide Baino

[i] Ecological Modernisation: Restructuring Industrial Economies, 2000, Murphy, Gouldson, [Online], Available:

[ii] Sustainability report, Communication on Progress, 2016, [Online], Available:

[iii] Ecological Modernisation: new perspectives, 2008, Janicke, [Online], Available:



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