Product system innovations are those which have a unique way of retaining customers over time, as they create deep and tightly interwoven connections with the user.
Even in creating product system innovation, we can consider creating open product systems (think Google's android, or IFTTT, which we will examine in a moment) or closed product systems (think Apple's elegant connectivity between its devices... and only its devices).
From The Ten Types of Innovation:
Product System innovations are rooted in how individual products and services connect or bundle together to create a robust and scalable system. This is fostered through interoperability, modularity, integration, and other ways of creating valuable connections between otherwise distinct and disparate offerings. Product System innovations help you build ecosystems that captivate and delight customers and defend against competitors.
Product bundling, or taking several related products and selling them in a single package, is a common example of a Product System innovation. In the twenty-first century, technology companies in particular have used this type of innovation to build platforms that spur others to develop products and services for them–including app stores, developer kits, and APIs. Other Product System innovations include extensions to existing products, product and service combinations, and complementary offerings–which individually work just fine on their own, but are far better together (even ones as humble as peanut butter and jelly).
Product System Innovation in the Sustainability Space
First off, please know IFTTT is pronounced "ift" as if you are saying "gift" without the "g"... hopefully, this will save you improvising pronunciations that may sound somewhat like an angry cat.
If you're not familiar with IFTTT, it stands for "if this, then that," and is at the core of "the internet of things" you hear about. In essence, IFTTT is an open platform that allows connecting different apps and devices to each other to be used as triggers. These "if this, then that" statements are called "recipes," as they allow you to combine different devices, trigger and action ingredients, at will. Many of these recipes can be used in smart homes, and there are many ways IFTTT can be used to make smart devices in your home even smarter and more efficient.
For example:IF my iPhone is farther than 20 miles from my home, THEN automatically turn the Nest thermostat in my home to Away Mode, thereby saving energy. IF my Adam soil sensor shows soil moisture below a certain point, THEN to send my neighbor a text to check on my garden, as she is an expert gardener and can tell if it needs some water while I am away (instead of automatically triggering my drip irrigation from the soil sensor). IF the summer evening forecast is to be less than 70 degrees, THEN change the color of my Philips Hue smart led bulb to a certain shade of blue to remind me to open the windows.
IFTTT is now the connecting logic hub for devices from Apple, Amazon (Alexa), Google (Nest, et al.), Samsung (Smartthings) and hundreds of others, so it is a massive system with amazing potential for making many facets of life more efficient and sustainable.
While this video covers the "Works with Nest" platform, all of the interactions they cover can be accomplished with IFTTT today. Please watch the following 4:12 video.
Video: Introducing Works With Nest (4:12)
Canadian Refillable Beer Bottle
It may seem simple, but the Canadian refillable beer bottle product and service system begins with the Canadian beer industry agreeing in 1992 to unify on an Industry Standard Bottle (ISB 341ml AT2), a specific design, which can be refilled up to 16 times before being recycled. Although the Canadian brewers had partnered on refill programs since 1927, the AT2 can be given much of the credit for making the system efficient and modern.
This seemingly simple unified system approach to collecting and refilling beer bottles has resulted in Canada having a tremendously successful and beneficial program.
From the wonderfully detailed article by Isabel Teotonio at the Toronto Star:
The Beer Store, co-owned by Labatt Brewing Company, Molson Coors Canada and Sleeman Breweries, will take back anything it sells at its 447 Ontario locations: bottles, caps, cans, cases, kegs, plastic bags. About 94 per cent of all containers and 99 percent of all refillable beer bottles are returned.
The Beer Store's deposit return system began in 1927. Since then, it has recovered 75 billion beer bottles.
In 2007, the province introduced the Ontario Deposit Return Program and The Beer Store expanded its recycling program to accept containers purchased at the LCBO and wineries for a refundable deposit of 10 or 20 cents.
That first year, 63 per cent of containers were recovered. By 2012, the return rate was 81 per cent.
The fact that all of these beverage containers aren't being created from scratch is a boon to the environment — and wallet.
According to a TBS report, in 2011 both The Beer Store and the Ontario Deposit Return Program diverted 454,478 tonnes of beverage alcohol containers from Ontario landfills, saving 2.9 million gigajoules of energy, and avoiding 205,090 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of removing 40,210 cars off the road for a year.
Keeping those containers out of garbage bins and blue boxes saved Ontario taxpayers about $40 million in waste management costs. Please watch the following 1:26 video.
Video: A day with a beer bottle (1:26)
While the article notes some of the reasons why refillable bottles fell out of favor in the US–transportation to increasingly distant breweries being one–we can hope that the surging market share of craft and local breweries may bring back a renaissance of the refillable glass bottle.