Creating your Roadmap for Transition in Sustainability

Reading Time 8 minutes

Roadmap for Sustainability: The problem is beyond urgent.

How do we transform our companies, our commerce and society to become a sustainable one?

This is a hard problem and one we are demonstrably well behind on as a society and which needs a monumental effort just to catch up.

The Book 6 Degrees: Our future on a hotter planet by Mark Lynas spells out in grim detail and consequences of +1, 2, 3… degrees average climate heating up to 6 degrees Celsius.

Now, forget the 1.5c Paris Agreement target.

At the time of its draft in 2015, insiders talked about it being a politically acceptable, and probably unattainable endpoint.

Instead, the probabilities suggest saying we are heading to a 2.5-3 c rise. See graphic.

Predicted Global Temperature Rise

And this is problematic, which makes the transition to our industries beyond urgent.

The Advanced Materials Show 2022 attempted to find some answers in the conference theme of Roadmap for Sustainable transition.

My presentation and the panel barely scraped the surface of this problem, let alone the real solutions.

But I offer a way to think about a strategy for transformation through the framework of the strategic roadmap.

Such a framework helps us to consider the Why, Why and How of a situation by adding in a time dimension, the when.

Where do we want to be? Where are we now and How do we close the gap?

I’ve written about the advantages of strategic roadmapping as a thinking tool LINK.

Strategic Roadmapping is also an organising framework; a marshalling imperative and provides a story-telling narrative function.

As the panel discussion went, technology is the easy part.


Technology development and its innovation cousin are hard tasks in their own ways.  I’ve written about why technologies can so often fail to launch LINK.

These reasons snapshot the big and urgent problems for industrial sustainability; knowledge, risk, change, people, organisation and leadership.

But the challenges in a company are far, far simpler than exacting global societal change.

In addition, there are deep structural reasons why sustainability transition is hard to do.

Global capital has built an economy on an expectation of continuous and relentless growth.

‘Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist.’ 

Manufacturing companies have for decades been built and continue to be rewarded by making and shipping “stuff”.

And then the stuff breaks. More stuff is made and more stuff is consumed…

The make-use-dispose of stuff to make more money paradigm is well explained by circular economy thinkers.

The panel hit on a solution for companies; to close the circular economy loop and build a business model with service dimensions.

No longer do we have to make and sell as much stuff as possible growing GDP every year, but reconfiguring our offers with services so we can make even more compelling and competitive solutions for customers while selling less and less Stuff.

A vital role in governmental and intergovernmental policy is critical. These are the only bodies that can reset the rules for a market failure scenario.

Companies playing in new markets need to establish a strong vision and strategy for their sustainable transition.  Look up Unilever as an example.

And, for the role of technologies, industrial digitalisation technologies with products and processes dramatically shift the thinking about design at the start and thinking about end-of-life materials recovery or repurposing.

I talked recently with a world-leading FMCG manufacturer who is keen to develop their strategic roadmap of transition away from oil-based feedstock to non-fossil based. This needs to harness an entire feedstock production supply network – effectively the business ecosystem.

Strategic Roadmap Thinking

Consider the feature of a roadmapping framework.

Roadmapping Framework

At the top Layer: The societal, market and business needs are addressed with topics like Circular economy, regulation, public expectations as well as strategic and corporate objectives.

In the middle layer: The value creation offers new and transformational products, processes and associated services. In universities, it may be knowledge as value.

In the bottom layer: Are the technologies, capabilities and resources to enable the new products and services. These would be IDTs, university centres, corporate partnerships and financing, for example.

The Vision: A compelling one for where we want to be that is attractive to customers and our staff in the fierce war for talent.

Example 1: Sustainable Materials for the Energy Transition for Henry Royce

I gave the example of the roadmapping exercises in 2020 for the UK’s Henry Royce Institute the collaboration of the Universities of Cambridge, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool and Imperial where I was one of the IfM Engage design and facilitation team.

Over 220 academics and industrialists developed key documents as a plan for Materials for the Energy Transition 2050. Twenty workshops used the Strategic Plan (S-Plan) framework developed by the IfM over several years.

The far-reaching activity brought together over 220 material science experts to create roadmaps that:

  • Provide an understanding of the currently-deployed technologies for each topic
  • Define significant technical challenges and barriers to impact on net-zero targets
  • Define future challenges in contributing to net-zero targets
  • Identify solutions to these challenges
  • Identify the desired performance targets of those solutions.

Topics in Materials for Energy Transition

Five topics were preselected as having significant development potential for the energy transition,


Executive summary

Example 2: Industrial Foundation Industries Materials Producer.

In a second example, a global materials producer wanted to significantly improve its standing in its sector to become a far better and more respected innovator.

The link to sustainable materials was around the business model, the adoption of digital technologies and, the most impact is the process innovation to switch out of fossil-based fuels for hydrogen-based processes.

Again, the key organising framework, was the strategic roadmap, at a corporate level and market level.

Example 3: Industrial Equipment Producer.

In a third example, a large industrial equipment manufacturer wanted to double revenue while slashing its environmental footprint.

An innovation process was designed to explore the industrial and business opportunities in a shift to sustainable products and operations – including services – and then use strategic roadmapping to frame the very specific and tangible products and services and the associated technologies.

But, and I think critically, by thinking about the kind of organisation you need to become, only then, can a company find the pathway to a sustainable transition.

Handling the change is vital. Read more about how to do that. LINK

Benefits of this Structured Approach

I’ve been working on these examples over the last 4 years with leading industries and universities that recognise the imperative for sustainable products and new materials.

They are grappling with the implications for the business and the role of technology in their transitional roadmap.

A key point is that to transition, you have to start.  Strategic roadmapping is a framework that can help you to make sense of it all, potentially catch u and possibly even accelerate your business.

The benefits of this structure’s approach respond to the problem I highlight in managing new technologies. Across all three examples, it gives,

  1. A process to generate evidence and communicate investment needed to stakeholders
  2. A coherent narrative for collaboration and research
  3. A legacy of conversations for “Solving the Problem”


Want to know more?

If you want to develop a strategic roadmap for your company or sector, let’s talk.

Rob Munro delivers strategic innovation services to companies, universities and government agencies giving business and innovation leaders the practices, tools and confidence to achieve best-in-class innovation results. Please contact me to discuss ways to bring greater effectiveness to your innovation processes. This article is partly drawn from his association with IfM Engage at the University of Cambridge

Read more about my service to organisations for innovation planning in improving innovation results.

Download a free guide (note it will take you to an IfM Engage page where you need to enter some basic data to receive it)


Liked this article?

CLICK HERE to stay ahead and get regular Innovation Success Insights delivered straight to your email box